Whitehawk Ranch: Laid-Back Sierras' Attitude Adds To Golf Enjoyment Away From City

By David R. Holland, Contributor

The Golf Club at Whitehawk Ranch might just be the best golf course you've never heard of - designed by the best golf course designer, Dick Bailey, you've never heard of.

But then, that was the plan all along.

Low-key. Laid-back. Is that possible in California? You bet.

"I live an incredibly hectic work life in the Bay Area," said Jim Smith of Oakland, CA. "When I give myself time off to slow down this is the area where I head. When you pass Auburn on I-80 things just seem melt into slow motion. And when you take the turnoff onto Highway 89 from Truckee, the important things just come into focus. It's time to relax and enjoy the scenery and play some great golf."

But this golf experience was so good the word had to get around. Golf Digest named it the 18th best golf course in California. What? The same state that has Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Spanish Bay, Aviara, La Costa, Torrey Pines and all those Palm Springs winners?

There are other days when visiting golfers tell head pro Van Batchelder that his domain is even on a par with Edgewood Tahoe. "That's a pretty zippy deal to be mentioned in the same breath as Edgewood," says Batchelder.

What's almost as incredible is that a majority of this golf course was pasture land for the MacKenzie Ranch just six years ago. Then Bailey, a first-time designer, waved his wand to create an award-winner that is sculpted through the Mohawk Valley, through tall pine, fir, cedar and aspen trees - dotted by ponds and water hazards. And in June there's a profusion of hybrid lupine, blooming in a purplish hue, along with the native grasses and other wildflowers.

Bailey's first effort is pretty impressive, although he has years of experience as a land developer, and worked with Tom Weiskopf on the Forest Highlands project in Flagstaff, AZ.

"We decided we would offer a golf experience that's first-rate, but not too flashy," said Batchelder. "The first two things golfers appreciate about this experience are our friendly staff and the condition of the golf course."

You might want to make a list. Your first note concerns the neatly-stacked pyramid of Titleist golf balls on the range. Then the marshal will personally escort you to the first tee and help you decide which tees on this 6,950-yard, par-71 are best for your game. There are no ball washers, but he will give you a wet towel.

The next news you hear is the dreaded "cart-path only" announcement. "People marvel at the great condition of this course," Batchelder said. "The reason it is in such great condition is that the carts are on the paths and not in the fairways."

Many of the holes are tree-lined and even though the terrain is primarily flat, there's some mounding that can cause uneven lies. Sand bunkers can come into play, but your biggest problem could be the thick rough.

The bentgrass greens are undulating, fast and some are large. Water hazards (creeks, streams, lakes and ponds) come into play on eleven holes, including No. 2, a 418-yard, par-4 with water all down the left side of this dogleg left.

The back nine begins with the toughest hole on the course, another long par-4 hole, 464 yards from the back, with water all down the left. No. 15, a par 5, 558 yards has both a target bunker on the left side and Sulfur Creek flowing along the full length of the fairwa.

The finale should be your favorite hole. There's a view of Eureka Peak and cows graze on ranch land to your left. It's 558 yards from the back with huge pines towering and guarding the right side of the par-5's fairway. Traps on both sides of the fairway squeeze the landing area about 220 yards from the two-tiered green.

The Golf Club at Whitehawk Ranch is in the glorious Sierra Nevada boondocks near the Plumas National Forest, north of the Lake Tahoe area. The Wild and Scenic Feather River is nearby. And it's not too far away from Sacramento or even the greater San Francisco Bay Area, that city folks looking for an escape can make the easy drive up I-80vHugh White bought the property in 1979, the master plan was approved in 1982 and now with his daughter Marcia White heading the project, Whitehawk Ranch, laid out on 956 acres, is a dream-come-true. Aside from golf, this retirement community has tennis, an equestrian center, great hiking and sight-seeing opportunities, including historic mining areas.

Whitehawk Ranch has become a secluded golf community that has become a favored getaway city professionals and active retirees who value a relaxed lifestyle in a forested environment. Cool mountain air, calmness, and moderate summers, almost devoid of thunderstorms, are but few of the reasons they have chosen Whitehawk Ranch for their primary or second homes.

And now golfers looking for a getaway have The Lodge at Whitehawk Ranch, the first lodging to open on the property. Eventually there will be 20 modern cabins to pick from.

Get your reservations in for next spring and summer soon, because the brand-new cabins at Whitehawk will be busy. Eric and Sheila Hickman are your hosts for continental breakfast and for 4 p.m. wine and cheese. You also have the use of a pool, Jacuzzi, tennis courts and fly-fishing pond. Special golf rates are extended to guests of The Lodge at Whitehawk Ranch with a confirmed reservation and a two-night minimum stay.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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