Mather Golf Course: Traditional Course Has Stood the Test of Time

By Jeffrey Weidel, Contributor

This area first came into prominence during World War I when Air Force pilots were being trained for battle. Aspiring young pilots understood the ramifications that took place at Mather Field. Learn your craft well or perhaps pay the price later on with your life.

Serious stuff, indeed. This military base was named for Carl Mather, a test pilot during World War I who spent a lot of time in the air. The Air Force continued to train its pilots at Mather during World War II and the practice carried into the 1980s.

The base continued to thrive and there was enough unused spare land that a golf course was built for exclusive use by the military in 1958. Jack Fleming, an Ireland native who apprenticed under noted golf architect Alister MacKenzie, put together the plans for Mather Golf Course, utilizing the rolling terrain of this natural habitat for foxes, turkeys and other animals as a desired recreational getaway for military personnel.

It has been 43 years since players first headed down the wide fairways with military air traffic as background noise. Mather Golf Course has stood the test of time, still a track worth visiting. To the dismay of many Sacramento-area folks, the Air Force base didn't survive. Put on the closure list in 1988, five years later the military was pulling up roots for good.

This former pilot training school has become a civilian airport that rubs up against the 1,432 acres deemed Mather Regional Park. The golf course is situated on the property, the name remaining unchanged, serving as a reminder of the past.

Mather Golf Course was military-friendly back in the day, offering a modest test of golf as a relief from the stress of more serious affairs. Nothing has changed in that regard. This is not a course that many golfers will find intimidating.

Tom Stuart of nearby El Dorado Hills is a regular visitor at Mather. A veteran fireman with three days off each week, he enjoys the friendly nature of this course, which is located 12 miles southwest of downtown Sacramento.

"I like the wide fairways, you can make a mistake with your driver and still not get penalized," said Stuart, who has a 15-handicap. "The course is wide open and the greens aren't too challenging. It is a golf course where you have a chance to post a good score."

This is a traditional golf course that will not overwork the brain. Grip-and-rip works quite well here. On all but a few holes, that is the prevailing sentiment. The fairways are well maintained and extremely generous. Spray the ball off the tee a bit and there is still a good chance of a clear shot to the green. The typical Mather hole is tree-lined on both sides of the fairway and the rough is not real penalizing. A bunker guards many of the greens, which are spongy, mostly flat, with little break to assess.

And that is definitely part of the appeal. Mather is slotted into your feel-good category. High handicappers can make mistakes and not be penalized. Low handicappers can put up a good number even without their 'A Game.'

"Our golf course has wide fairways, I call them driver-friendly," said Paul Henderson, Mather's Director of Golf. "There is not a lot of lost-ball potential out here. People can come here and have a good round. Some of the newer courses have narrow fairways, a lot of hazards and the greens are tough. Our greens are basic, you can read the putts out here. And they are in pretty good shape, we give them tender-loving care."

Once an area where golf was ridiculously cheap, the Sacramento market has grown more pricey with an influx of upper-end courses over the past half dozen years. However, the bargain still remains at Mather, where the cost is $21 Monday through Thursday and goes to $26 for weekends. Another $12 gets you a cart.

This is a full-facility, Sacramento County-run course, managed by CourseCo, Inc., with a driving range, putting and chipping greens. The golf shop has all the typical amenities and the lounge has more than a sufficient offering of food and drink.

"We're trying to get a niche where we are the best muni-type course in town, that's our goal," Henderson said. "The course is kept in good shape and there is a lot of value for the price."

One problem Mather might pose for the average golfer is distance. The back tees can be too much to handle for some, going 6,734 yards, while the white tees are more accommodating at 6,436 yards. The red tees are longer than most, going 6,028 yards.

What many golfers might find appealing is the holes vary in length. From the white tees there are four par-4s which range between 401-427 yards. There are also three par-4s under 350 yards, including No. 13, a hole that goes 285 yards and requires some thinking in the club selection department. Big hitters will like the par-5s, none of them exceed 528 yards and the shortest one at No. 12 measures 466 yards . The par-3s are also modest in distance, not going more than 168 yards.

One of the more inviting holes is No. 9. This par-5 at 507 yards, needs a good drive, but a great one will result in trouble. Around the 260-yard mark is a ditch, so gauge the wind and your strength correctly or pay the price. Leaving the drive too far right cuts any chance of getting there in two shots on this slightly dogleg-left hole.

Mather's finishing hole is also inviting. There are also decisions off the tee at No. 18. Confident golfers may chose to cut the corner of this hole, a par-4 that goes 401 yards and bends to the left. A successfully navigated drive over the trees cuts the yardage considerably, leaving a short iron to the green. Of course, the safe play is to hang the drive out the right side and play for par.

One the favorite holes of many, simply because of the strategy involved, is the previously mentioned 13th. There are many ways to go on this short par-4 (285 yards), including driver, fairway wood or middle-iron. A six-iron was the choice here. I punched it down the middle of a tight fairway left, a pitching wedge in. A good distance to put one close to the flag, which I didn't.

Strangely enough, at a location that used to frequently have considerable military air traffic, not a plane was noticed on this weekday afternoon. It was a quiet round on a course that now serves the masses.

And just like it did during its military days, Mather serves them well.

Mather Golf Course
401 Eagle's Nest
Mather, CA. 95655
Phone: (916)364-4353
Director of Golf: Paul Henderson

Jeffrey WeidelJeffrey Weidel, Contributor

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


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