Winchester Golf Club in Meadow Vista attracts exclusive company

By Jeffrey Weidel, Contributor

MEADOW VISTA, Calif. -- This was the last of seven collaborations between father and son, two gifted golf designers. And sadly, Winchester Golf Club became the final project for Robert Trent Jones Sr., who wasn't around to witness one final brilliant bit of planning.

Winchester Country Club
Winchester Country Club in Meadow Vista: Welcome to a golfing paradise.
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Winchester Golf Club boasts a championship course that was a collaboration between Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Jr. The foothills of the Sierra Mountains serve as the backdrop to the course, which sits at a convenient elevation of 1,800 feet that puts it right above the fog but below the winter snows. The golf course also enjoys panoramic views of the Sacramento Valley.

18 Holes | Private golf course | Par: 72 | 7144 yards | ... details »

Like the last at-bat for legendary Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, it might be said Senior hit one out of the park in his final time at the plate as well. What he helped create is a gorgeous track that any golfer would love to play.

Assuming you are not an esteemed member, one of the problems is, not everyone will get the opportunity. Due to a county ordinance, the golf course must allow some public play. That "some" amounts to three foursomes a week. The cost is not cheap, either. Winchester Golf Club is easily the priciest round of golf in the region.

But forget about golf for a minute. Just taking a leisurely walk around these magnificent grounds would satisfy most people, assuming they have the stamina to navigate this hilly terrain. Tucked into the forest of the Sierra foothills above Sacramento, this is one stately location.

Trees are everywhere, streams run thought the course, there are lakes to avoid, granite outcroppings to gaze at, plus deer, hawks, coyotes and perhaps even a bobcat or bear sighting along the way.

Welcome to a golfing paradise.

"This is my favorite course in the area," said Gary Traynham, a longtime golfer from Woodland. "I love the way the course sits, in its natural beauty. The grooming is wonderful, plus all the fantastic work moving the rocks around. It's just a beautiful setting for golf."

Apparently the folks at Golf Digest felt the same way. It did not take long for the publication to rank Winchester No. 13 among over 3,000 golf courses in California. It also considers the Trent Jones collaboration one of the top three Northern California courses of the last 35 years.

Truth be revealed, Junior's fingerprints were all over the design while his father, who passed away over two years ago, simply dabbled. Still, Senior could put Winchester Golf Club on a loaded down resume that includes the design or redesign of over 500 courses in 40 states and 35 countries. Peachtree in Atlanta, Spyglass Hill and Hazeltine National are some of the more famous creations of Robert Trent Jones Sr.

"Senior definitely put his stamp on this golf course," Winchester Golf Club Head Professional Jeff Rau said. "He was active in the project, coming to the site three times. Supposedly the last sketch he ever did was of our 12th hole."

In typical Trent Jones style, his final hole design fits the pattern. He designed courses for good golfers and demonstrated no sympathy for high handicappers. Winchester's 12th hole is a tough par 4 that dog legs up the hill and features two fairway bunkers that lead to a diagonal green.

The truth is, when judged against the other 17 holes, this one does not stand out. No slight on Senior. That's how good the course was designed. Signature hole? Take your pick, the choices are numerous.

"You keep walking up to the tee saying 'another beautiful hole,'" Traynham said. "They are all so distinct, they all possess a different look."

Another common theme is finishing a round and immediately wondering how you can play another one. The lure of Winchester Golf Club is addicting. It's not easy, considering the club only hosts about 40-55 rounds per day.

Heading into late August, there were only five homes built on the expansive Winchester grounds. Another 50 permits were awaiting approval.

Even contemplating a home or joining the club requires some deep pockets. Considering the steep prices, the current green fee doesn't sound so high. Apparently word of mouth sells Winchester. "We don't do any advertising, but we're getting a lot of calls from people wanting to play the course," Rau said.

It goes without saying, bring the "A Game" to Winchester Golf Club, especially if the back tees become the choice. They go long, measuring 7,144 yards. There are also four other sets of tees, ranging from 6,819 to 5,289 yards.

If the longer tees are played, the driver must come out of the bag. Winchester does not put added pressure on the drive, it's fairways are reasonably generous. But anything too far left or right is a goner.

What seems most critical in the round is putting the approach shots in the right spot. Get on the wrong location in these multi-tiered greens and trouble ensues.

"The greens are tough, but not ungodly so," Traynham said. "Everything about this course is very fair."

A hole to remember is the 15th, a scenic par-3 (192 yards, blue tees) that must carry a sizable lake and settle on a green that is deep, but not very wide. The shot plays slightly downhill, putting a premium on club selection. Pick the wrong one and a wet landing could be the result.

The round finishes with another scenic hole. The 18th starts from an elevated tee looking down at a well-manicured fairway that has a huge boulder in the middle, plus some other ones down the left side.

This is a pretty hole, but happens to be one of the easier ones, a par-5 that measures 494 yards. Keep it in the fairway and there is a good chance of finishing with a reasonable chance of birdie.

One more thing to know about Winchester G.C.: Show up with a dirty car and you will drive away with a clean one, which is washed while you golf. The charge is zero, part of the extra service this elite golf course wants to provide.

"We're trying to create that wow experience here," Rau said. "Washing the cars has become one of our trademarks as far as service. We want to service you to death."

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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