Rolling hillside and great value reign at Castle Oaks Golf Club in Ione
IONE, Calif. -- There are not an abundance of reasons to seek out this tiny foothill town. Frankly, many of the long-time residents like it that way, a notion that tends to bother the locals hoping for a bit more progress.
Of course, nothing is keeping the semi-malcontents from heading to more aggressively marketed nearby towns like Sutter Creek and Jackson, which make no apologies for trying to attract the tourist dollar that arrives 45 minutes away from Sacramento, Stockton and a bit further for Bay Area residents.
In this sleepy town, even its fine municipal golf course gets neglected a bit. According to Castle Oaks Golf Club Head Professional Dominic Atlan, nearly 70 percent of the tee times to golfers from the Sacramento region.
"Most of the regulars from Ione play here in the afternoon," Atlan said.
The rolling hills of Amador County have more to offer than golf, which might explain why Ione residents spend their leisure time at other activities. There are 21 major lakes in the area, which means an abundance of fishing and boating opportunities.
Another popular hobby is hunting. Deer, small game and birds are the main lure, along with ducks and geese.
In that's not your thing, try visiting some of the 20 Amador County wineries. For curious shoppers, towns like Sutter Creek and Jackson are the place to go. There are an abundance of restaurants to visit as well.
Although not the sort of structure that will get people flocking to its city limits, the Preston Castle is another recognizable Ione landmark. This sizable dwelling once served as a reform school for boys. Part of their rehabilitation was working the nearby farms, which now are part of the expansive layout of Castle Oaks Golf Club.
The castle serves as a reference point for the golf course, part of the scenic background on this friendly track. The layout is situated amid the rolling hills of Amador County, which features 568 square miles in elevation ranging from 200 to 9,000 feet of mountainous terrain.
Nothing cramped about Castle Oaks Golf Club
Castle Oaks Golf Club is not one of those links courses. Nothing cramped about this layout. "One of the great things out here is you never see another fairway," Atlan said.
The front and back side of Castle Oaks are quite different. Most golfers will prefer the first nine holes simply because they rest amid the many stately oaks, where golfers can enjoy the peaceful sounds of nature.
There's nothing wrong with the back nine, where some of the course's more interesting holes lie. Yet they are situated among the numerous homes that have sprung up over the years in this planned golfing community, starting at the 12th hole.
Other things have changed since Castle Oaks began sending golfers down its wide fairways in 1994. Back then, the competition was minimal, which is one prime reason the course enjoyed its best season until last year.
The competition was simply not around eight years ago. Sacramento had only a few public courses in Ancil Hoffman, Bing Maloney and Haggin Oaks. Although located an hour away, those courses were no match for the new kid on the block.
"We were the first of the high-end courses," Atlan said. "There weren't courses like Turkey Creek, Twelve Bridges and all the other courses that have been built since then. We are not one of the A courses, but I think we're the best B course around considering the conditions and how we keep the price down."
Many would agree the Sacramento region is now overrun with golf courses. Still, there are golfers who still put Castle Oaks Golf Club high on their list. That is the case for Aaron Telford, a low handicap golfer from Rancho Murieta.
"This is a challenging golf course, even from the white tees," Telford said. "The course has a lot of water and you need to place the ball. Just because some of the par 4s are short doesn't mean the course is easy."
Castle Oaks measures 6,739 yards from the back tees and drops to 6,356 from the blues. While nine of the 14 par 4s from the blue tees go 400 yards or less, that is part of the lure. This is no cookie-cutter course. Tricky, short par 4s are frequently followed by longer ones with some character.
One of the shorter holes is No. 4, which goes 352 yards and dog legs to the right. Hit a tee shot too far left and you will be hunting for your ball in the berry patches. Location is an obvious key and so is club selection. Big hitters can put away the driver or gamble they can take it deep and land it accurately.
Another club selection arrives at the next hole as well. Cut the corner off the tee and this par 5 (500 yards) shrinks in size. Go too far left and the trees will play the hidden ball trick. The safe play is a slight fade to the middle of the fairway. Most golfers will appreciate having the choice.
"This is not just a grip-it-and-rip-it course," Telford said.
The first two holes do not require major thought, but can get the round off to a poor start. A par 5 (554 yards) awaits at the first tee. The challenge comes with water on either side, plus an enormous oak that blocks part of the fairway on the second shot. Another oak near the green also can be troublesome.
At No. 2, the challenge is hitting the ball over water and a huge bunker that guards this par 3 (178 yards). Club selection on a hole that can get windy is crucial.
Perhaps the two most talked about holes reside on the backside. For sheer beauty, the 16th has plenty to offer. The statuesque castle is in clear view off the tee box. Golfers can see the castle better than the hole, a par 3 that is only 145 yards away, but requires a long carry over a bushy area that has grown more dense over the years. A couple of bunkers discourage hitting short. Anything long can wind up down a hill and result in a penalty shot.
The finishing hole is thought provoking. The longest par 4 (416 yards) is rated Castle Oaks' second toughest hole. Water discourages a straight drive to a landing area that shortens the hole. Many golfers stay to the right, which means a long second shot must avoid a man-made lake and three sand traps that guard the green. This is a scary trip home with par being a very good score.
Castle Oaks Golf Club can be a feel-good course that is not too tough on the wallet.
April 22, 2003