Greenhorn Creek Resort in Angels Camp: Mining for birdies in California Gold Country
ANGELS CAMP, Calif. -- When it comes to mixing a margarita or setting the seating arrangement for your first daughter's wedding, there is no such thing as the perfect formula for a successful event.
The same applies to a golf getaway trip. What makes a memorable two- or three-day excursion? Is it the course or the accommodations? The chance to cram in 36 and maybe 54 a day or the chance to relax in physically beautiful surroundings?
In my book, I like two main components outside good golf: First, one-stop shop places, meaning golf, food and post-round relaxation have to be very near. Second, variety of golf choices. In that perspective, Greenhorn Creek Resort in Angels Camp, about 45 miles east of Stockton, meets the criteria.
The Greenhorn Creek Resort golf course sits amidst real estate development on rolling terrain in California's Gold Country. Former miners' camps dot the landscape (you have to look for them), and a stone wall from the Miwok Indians divides the two-part, downhill, par-5 fourth.
Some people had complained, but many golfers must have not played North Berwick in Scotland where a stone ball guards a small green. Ask the Scot caddie about that, and he just nods in a way that says, "Deal with it."
Greenhorn Creek: The golf course
This course, designed by Don Boos, opened in 1996 but has since been re-worked by Robert Trent Jones II as the centerpiece of a development that has become popular for retirees looking for a close-but-separate location from the Bay Area or Sacramento.
It's an easy walk but carts make it easier, particularly on the hilly back nine. The elevation changes allowed Jones and crew to emphasize their knack for creating demanding short par 4s.
The last six holes on the front nine form a loop around a lake that guards the fifth hole, one of the toughest. It's only 350 yards from the blue tees but a well-placed fairway wood through a gap in the oaks must hold the slanted fairway that kicks the ball towards the water. A short iron approach must find the right region of the canted green, and being above the hole is, in the words of friend, "no bueno."
The short, dogleg-right, par-5 ninth can be an irritant in that the real estate boundary lines can come into play. The par-5 10th plays as a reverse camber hole, bending right as the land slants left. The par-4 11th is long and must dodge giant oaks.
Greenhorn Creek Resort: The verdict
Greenhorn isn't the most challenging course, but it does help to be familiar with it, and in that line it is a facility whose on-course accommodations include small condos that are geared for golf groups who want to play more than once.
The clubhouse includes a large restaurant and lounge, and there are side rooms meant to cater to special groups. What's more, the Saddle Creek Resort, but an easy 20 minutes away down Highway 4, has a reciprocal arrangement with Greenhorn Creek.
In my book, that puts key elements together for a great golf trip. First, there's a centralized accommodations (condos that sleep four or more) that make it easy to cook a quick pre-golf breakfast or grab a snack (or adult beverage) in the middle of the round. After golf, a quick shower and a walk to the clubhouse brings dinner. Leave the car keys on the coffee table.
With Saddle Creek Resort so close, it makes the "36-in-a-day" that much better because of the variety in the courses.
"We are really set up well for the golf trip," said General Manager Mike Kristoff. "We have many groups come back year after year because it's so easy for them."
The facility went so far to turn a large office building into the "Caddyshack," a large shed-like building that sleeps up to 12, has a 54-inch flat screen TV, large kitchen, outdoor barbecue area and the ambiance of, in Kristoff's words, "the perfect man cave."
Stay and play Angels Camp
From Sacramento or Oakland airports, Angels Camp is an easy drive, ranging respectively 90 minutes to two hours.
Both Greenhorn Creek and Saddle Creek offer on-site accommodations. The area is rich in history, and just to the north is a burgeoning wine country specializing in deep reds such as petite syrah.
The drive along Highway 49 towards Murphys is a chance to dip into California's Gold Rush days.