Life, traffic slows down on Gold Country golf outing
AUBURN, Calif. -- Anyone who has ever driven the back roads of the Golden State discover something quickly - Interstate 5 might be a breeze, but get off on a scenic byway like Highway 49 and you better not be in a hurry.
This is the Mother Lode route, where on a chilly morning early in 1848, James Wilson Marshall, a New Jersey carpenter, picked up a few nuggets of gold from the American River at the site of a sawmill he was building for John Sutter near Coloma. Needless to say, a few months later there were 4,000 miners camping out in the hills above the mill.
Today, the wandering tourist or golfer can engage in some historic 49er ramblings or 18-hole afternoons along this rugged, twisting highway. Hook on at Auburn, on busy Interstate 80, playing DarkHorse and The Ridge, then go south counting the times your speedometer passes 30 heading toward Placerville.
Close to Coloma, in spring, look for the flowering white dogwoods, olive-colored oaks and rustic cedars, spaced among the old stone cabins and buildings that used to house mining equipment, and stamp mills that were used to crush gold-bearing quartz.
The Ridge Golf Club in Auburn hosts the LPGA's Longs Drugs Challenge, won by 20-year-old Christina Kim last September. This Robert Trent Jones II layout rolls through 170 rugged acres measuring 6,734 yards and par 71. Century-old blue oaks, rock outcroppings, and rustling creeks dare you to be heroic, like Anna Acker-Macosko, who set the course record with an 11-birdie round of 60 during the tournament. The secret to a good score here is pinpoint drives through tight fairways and putting prowess on smooth surfaces.
DarkHorse, north of Auburn on the way to Grass Valley, opened in 2002 and has been winning awards ever since. Golf Magazine listed the 7,203-yard, par-72 course No. 85 on its Top 100 You Can Play List. Golf Digest picked it for its America's Best New Courses list and Golfweek tabbed it for America's Best Courses, 2004.
DarkHorse designer Keith Foster believes golf should be a strategic game and you will see that here along with a natural rhythm to the land void of bulldozer work during construction. It was like they built courses in the 1920s, Foster said.
Hours more south on Highway 49 look for Angels Camp, a historic Gold Country bump in the road and home of Greenhorn Creek Resort. The resort welcomes guests with private cottages among heritage oaks, overlooking another Robert Trent Jones II redesigned 18-hole golf course. This Sierra Nevada foothills trek takes you 6,749 yards through the rolling landscape and includes GPS carts. Stay and play packages are affordable and after golf take a dip in the pool, play tennis or use the exercise facilities, walking and hiking trails, and gaze on the star-studded night skies.
Black Oak Golf Course, only minutes from Auburn just off Highway 80, is known for its cool shade offered by a forest of black oaks on a lush, green, hilly course known for its affordable green fees. Some have said this is one of the toughest nine-hole courses in the state - it's short, but the 130 slope can be dangerous.
Apple Mountain Golf Resort was carved through tall stands of pines, cedar and madrone trees in Camino. This 6,176-yarder comes with views of snow-capped mountains and countless trees to dodge. Be accurate here because the terrain is undulating, and there are few level lies. Once on the fast, multi-tiered greens, be precise - three-putts are common.
Camino Heights Golf Club is just above Placerville on Highway 50 and brags it is just above the fog and below the snow. Originally designed by Burt Stamps in 1965 the setting is at 3,000 feet, surrounded by panoramic foothills views and lush rolling land. The nine-hole experience measures 3,715 yards.
Indian Creek Country Club in Loomis is a family-owned and operated par 32, executive 9-hole golf course with creeks, ponds and other natural hazards daring the novice or beginner to be bold. There are five par 4 holes and four par 3 holes and silky-smooth greens. Hitting it straight is imperative here.
Mace Meadows Golf & Country Club in Pioneer is another fun, scenic course set in the cool mountains 18 miles east of Jackson on Hwy 88. Douglas fir, oak, ponderosa pine, and cedar trees abound on this 18-hole Jack Fleming semi-private course. Sloped, fast greens, narrow fairways and uneven lies make this a strict test. Located on the historic Mace Ranch, founded in 1852, descendant Ray Mace could be seen playing here in knickers before his death in 2000.
Forest Meadows Golf Course above Murphys is another fun, without stress executive par-60 course. It's 18 holes designed by Robert Trent Jones II in an idyllic mountain setting at 3,000 feet. Tall pines, cedars and majestic oaks line the scenic fairways.
Meadowmont Golf Course is a 9-hole, par-36 golf course in the mountain town of Arnold on Highway 4. At 4,000 feet in a land of big trees you can enjoy a cool round of golf on the oldest course in Calaveras County. The course was developed in the early 1960's on an apple orchard, nestled in a meadow where Reas Creek meanders.
John Sutter tried desperately to find ways to profit from the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill, but both he and John Marshall never enjoyed the wealth, power, and prestige they felt they deserved.
Stay and play
When scheduling your golf ask the course if they have their own lodging packages. If not, log on to The Gold Country Bed and Breakfasts and Country Inns at bbonline.com/ca/region8.html. You will find hidden gems of the lodging world on these internet pages.
Dining along Highway 49
Log on to historichwy49.com/business.html for choices in dining while traveling Highway 49.
January 20, 2005