Ridgemark Golf and Country Club in Hollister offers country comforts

By John Kensington, Contributor

HOLLISTER, Calif. -- Just east of famed Monterey and some 40 miles south of San Jose lies San Benito County. This rich agricultural region is an oasis of ease away from the sclerotic sprawl of the Bay Area; spending a day or two amidst this verdant countryside can be strong medicine for those frazzled by city life.

Ridgemark Golf & C.C. - Diablo Course - 2nd
Ridgemark Golf and Country Club's Diablo Course.
Ridgemark Golf & C.C. - Diablo Course - 2ndRidgemark Golf & Country Club - Gabilan - no. 18Ridgemark Golf & Country Club - patio
If you go

The town of Hollister is situated on the northern edge of San Benito County, but fits dead center into the pastoral attitude of the region. In fact, if you had to pick one word to describe Hollister, it would undoubtedly be country. "You know you're in the country," mused Jim, a longtime resident, "when the town's high school mascot is a Haybaler."

So it is completely appropriate that Hollister is home to Ridgemark Golf and Country Club. This relaxed golf resort was formerly an arid, non-descript turkey farm, where some 100,000 gobblers once roamed. The farm's owner, Loren "Sonny" Paullus, harbored a familiar passion -- golf -- which inspired dreams of converting his gently sloping property into a golf and real estate development.

During the late 1960s, advances in well-drilling techniques (as well as the acquisition of business partners and adjoining land), began to move the project from dream to action. By 1970, architect Dick Bigler had the original 18 holes well under way.

Meanwhile, Sonny Paullus was toying with naming the soon-to-be completed course "The Ridge" when tragedy struck. Word came that Paullus' youngest and only son Mark had been claimed by a fatal auto accident in Nevada. In memory of the young man, the development was christened "Ridgemark", and the golf course opened for play on what would have been Mark's 20th birthday in August, 1972.

Almost immediately, the nascent facility ran into potentially serious problems. The gas crisis of 1973 put a economic crimp in almost all aspects of running a course. The price of many essentials, like fertilizer, skyrocketed. Some locals were predicting a quick end to Sonny Paullus' dream, but ingenuity prevailed. Longtime member Bill recounts, "Thankfully, they had, well, a shitload of turkey droppings to spread around. We survived."

In March, 1987, Ridgemark was expanded, incorporating the original layout into two distinctive 18-hole courses. Each circuit was named after the mountain range which could be seen from its respective first tee. The western-facing course was dubbed the Gabilan, and the layout on the eastern side of the property was named Diablo. In 1990, the entire facility was sold to Ridgemark's members.

There are 32 cottages on property set aside for lodgers. These bungalows are spacious and comfortable, and while they may not be technologically up-to-date (the cable boxes and decor are strictly late '70's), they serve their purpose of encouraging a sense of relaxation.

The Gabilan Dining Room offers fine dining in a comfortable, low-key setting. Many members dine nightly at the club, or plant themselves in front of the adjacent long bar for a few libations and the occasional tall tale.

Just spending a day around Ridgemark's members prove them to be some of the friendliest country clubbers anywhere; the conversations inside the clubhouse are as boisterous and engaging as at any municipal track. Yes, its still very much "country" at Ridgemark, and so much the better.

Ridgemark Golf and Country Club's Gabilan Course

The two layouts prove to be interesting counterpoints. Ridgemark Golf and Country Club's Gabilan Course favors those who hit the ball right-to-left, and features some incredibly deep greens. In fact, expect as much as a two-club difference from front to back on some of Gabilan's putting surfaces.

The Diablo Course is a fader's delight, featuring much smaller, often plateaued greens, more water in play, and proves to be the more interesting and strategic layout.

Make the time to play both courses, though; those who do will attempt a complete range of golf shots, and experience a pair of enjoyable, unhurried rounds.

Shaped like a boomerang, keeping your tee shot in play on this dogleg left is your main concern. Perfectly placed tee shots will face a challenging mid-iron to an uphill target. Beware a tricky, undulated putting surface. A big number on Gabilan's sixth is a distinct possibility for first-timers.

Another sharp dogleg left will test your accuracy and nerve. Your courage in landing a tee shot amongst multiple water hazards will determine your fate. The approach to the green, which is partially obscured by large mounding, must stay below the hole.

Not only is this the best of the 36 holes at Ridgemark, Gabilan's 11th can hold its own against some of the great golf holes in northern California. Take a moment from the tee box to soak in the natural beauty; a tranquil, ice-plant rimmed pond lies in the foreground, and the oak-studded Gabilan range lines the horizon.

Just make sure to fully regain your concentration before teeing off; your drive must be extra long and laser straight to avoid OB left and a creek on the right (lined with tall oaks which can stymie even slight fades). In fact, approaching this narrow green from any angle is a challenge, as hazards menace you from tee to green. Making par or better here is a true thrill.

Ridgemark Golf & Country Club's Diablo Course

The opening hole on the Diablo Course at Ridgemark will test your driving ability. Having a full view of the hole from an elevated tee box doesn't help much; a broad oak tree and deft use of transitional bunkering narrows the landing area considerably. Long hitters could have the advantage, or be in trouble early.

The seventh, despite its formidable length, cannot be attacked with driver, or you'll surely fall victim to serpentine lateral hazards which border an island landing area. A crest hides the fairway's severe left-to-right slope, which can propel your second shot in some deep rough, or leave you with an uneven lie as you approach a small green. Surviving this hole will elicit a big sigh of relief.

An unassuming hole at first glance, the 14th requires forethought and precision. Rows of trees lining the fairway converge some 230 yds from the tee, narrowing the landing area to a needlepoint. Playing for position with a fairway metal or long iron will leave an uphill approach to the nastiest target on the course, a narrowly-shelved triple tiered green.

The downhill cast of this hole provides a lovely view of twin reedy ponds and weeping willows. Only a straight tee shot will insure that you continue to admire them from a safe distance. Conservative play on this mid-length hole is essential.

Ridgemark is a "country" club in the literal sense. The golf club is still known as the "Old Farm" amongst locals, and the serenity and relaxation found on these grounds are in high demand by stressed-out city slickers all over. In fact, 80 percent of Ridgemark clientele are repeat visitors.

So, the next time the "sprawl crawl" gets you down, do yourself a favor and find that tiny dot on the map marked "Hollister, CA," and spend some "unwind time" at Ridgemark.

"Sonny" Paullus' dream has become a reverie that all golfers can take comfort in.

John Kensington, Contributor

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