Cherry Island Golf Course: Welcome to Target Golf in Sacramento

By Jeffrey Weidel, Contributor

This is not the favorite location of many area golfers. Cherry Island Golf Course receives no rave reviews. In fact, critics frequently lambaste the unusual layout and put it on their "won't play" list.

Open for public play in the spring of 1990, this Sacramento course was immediately greeted with skepticism. It was easy to spot the problems. The round starts out with a par-4 that should come with directions to the hole, which is a mere 295 yards on the back tees. It concludes with an 18th hole that is a bit bizarre as well.

The Sacramento county municipal facility has recently come under the umbrella of Empire Golf, which operates five courses in the Northern California area. Director of Golf Curt David understands there are problems to overcome as Cherry Island strives for better acceptance.

"Cherry Island has a reputation it hasn't been able to shake," David said. "We're trying to make the golf course more playable. Only four of the 18 holes have a problem."

Yet those four holes arrive at crucial junctures in the round, starting at No. 1. The ninth hole features a funky trip to the green and the 10th might be the most difficult and detested hole on the course. The round closes with a questionable final hole as well.

What is required on this golf course is patience, good decision making and most importantly, some accurate irons. Welcome to target golf, where keeping the driver in the bag is a must at several locations.

Once those principles are firmly in place, Cherry Island is not such a wicked place to spend four or five hours. For a municipal course, the conditions are fine. The greens are fair and typically run true.

Two more important things concerning Cherry Island: The price is cheap ($20 walking, $32 with cart) and getting a tee time is rarely a hassle, even on the weekends. It's a formula that works for Tim Tidyman of nearby Citrus Heights, who calls Cherry Island his home course.

"I like the cost and it's real easy to get on out here," Tidyman said. "I have never come here (without a tee time) and waited more than a half hour."

Learn the course and its nuances and this can be an enjoyable journey. The average golfer can have a solid round and the low-handicapper might make a run at producing a career round.

Yet it can be a place where the high handicapper becomes extremely frustrated. Accuracy, which few bad golfers possess, is required. There is water on several holes and trouble lurks in a number of locations.

"It can be a problem for people who don't play it often and spray the ball," David said. "Cherry Island is more of a target golf course. It better suits a low handicapper who can make shots."

It has been over 10 years since Robert Muir Graves drew up the plans for Cherry Island. Rumor has it design changes were made late due to some environmental factors and that put the layout at a disadvantage around the clubhouse, hence the troubled four holes.

Empire Golf is still trying to make amends. On the first hole, a sizable landing area has been put in place at around the 180-yard area. Hit an iron there and all that is left is a wedge into a green that is well guarded with bunkers and a creek in the back. It is also a hole that tempts the long hitters to go for the green, which is truly a risk, considering the number of oak trees in its path.

The front side concludes with another short par-4, a dogleg left that measures 341 yards (all yardage is quoted from the back tees). The trouble starts with a carry over water of 125 yards. More bothersome are the three huge bunkers in the center of the fairway, about 220 yards out. And aiming at the green is a gamble unless you can hit a high and long tee shot.

"We're thinking about filling in the bunkers and adding more landing area off the tee," David said.

More landing area is also being considered at No. 10, a sizable par-4 (425 yards) that demands a lay-up in front of the Dry Creek, which runs along the course. That means a huge second shot to the green that must carry through a chute of oak trees. If this sounds like a bogey hole or worse, you're right.

The final black mark on this layout comes at the 18th (par-5, 501 yards), where another lay-up off the tee is the smart play. The second shot goes over the creek, navigating a narrow fairway. It's not a easy hole, but two good shots can result in a sand wedge to the green and a birdie putt.

"We just need to make the course more playable, get the problems cleared up on those front holes," David said. "We won't ever be a top 10 course, but I think you can have a pretty good experience out here. You can have a nice round of golf with decent playing conditions and hopefully good service."

Bargain hunters certainly will enjoy the twilight rates, which run a mere $11 walking and $20 with a cart. Rounds typically go quickly, rarely heading into the dreaded five-hour mark.

There are some holes that any golfer will enjoy. The favorite one here is the 13th, a beautiful par-3 (158 yards) that requires skill and concentration. The tee shot must go over the creek and through an opening of oak trees.

The next hole is also a favorite, a dogleg par-4 that goes 376 yards. The tee shot at No. 14 needs to clear the fairway bunkers. Accomplish that and the next shot is a short iron into the green and perhaps a birdie attempt. Don't go long or you're dead, landing out of bounds.

Another fine par-3 awaits at the 17th (168 yards). This tee shot also travels over water and a menacing trap guards the front side. The green is wide, but also narrow. Birdies here aren't easy.

On the front side, the second hole is the No. 1 handicap on the card. There is a lateral hazard along the entire right side, while the tee shot must carry 150 yards. An elevated green makes the second shot a chore. Par here is a good score.

The first par-5 challenges golfers to hit a straight tee shot at No. 3, avoiding a large lake that will put the fear into anyone with a tendency to hook. The hole is a dogleg left and can't be reached in two, measuring 543 yards.

At No. 8, another challenge awaits on this 393-yard, par-4. The hole sets up with a slight dogleg right. Avoid the heavily tree-line area down the right side. Go long on the approach and your ball is in the hazard.

"This is not an easy course, but if you play smart, it's not a hard course, either," Tidyman said. "Overall, I like the course and for $11 you can't beat it."

Cherry Island Golf Course
2360 Elverta Road
Sacramento, CA. 95678
Phone: (916) 575-4653
Director of Golf: Curt David

Jeffrey WeidelJeffrey Weidel, Contributor

Jeffrey Weidel has been working in the Sacramento area as a sportswriter since 1981. An avid golfer with a 10.6 index, he is currently the Assistant Sports Editor of The Press-Tribune, a three-day a week paper in Roseville.

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