Sierra Star Golf Club Offers Upscale Service and Fabulous Views

By Doug Saunders, Contributor

Mammoth Lakes, CA - Route 395 runs from Los Angeles north to Oregon through some of the most spectacular country found in California. The highway cuts along the edge of civilization as it takes you back to what most of the state was like in an earlier era. Little towns like White Pine, Independence, Lee Vining, and Bridgeport stand as monuments to the last region of the state to be explored and settled and where the trappings of modern life have not overpowered the vast landscape that is the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

The drive north from L.A. takes a traveler through huge valleys where you are bordered by the lower 48's highest point to the left, 14,497 foot high Mt. Whitney, and the earth's lowest point to your right, Death Valley at 282 feet below sea level. The massive peaks grab your attention as you head north through Bishop and reach the little town of Mammoth Lakes.

Mammoth is well known for Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, which saw its first lift built in 1951 on the slopes of an 11,053-foot high dormant volcano. Since that time, the mountain has expanded to 27 lifts and 3,500 acres of skiing and is building towards the future. Like many ski resorts, Mammoth has made an effort to be a four season vacation spot. The lure of the natural beauty and proximity to Yosemite Park, the expansive mountain bike trail network, and world-class fishing has all helped to draw visitors.

The next step of the evolution are the beginnings of a $500 million expansion by Mammoth and their partner, Intrawest Corporation to create a world class destination resort similar to Intrawest projects at Whistler/Blackcomb in British Columbia and Copper Mountain in Colorado. As part of this expansion, Intrawest built Sierra Star Golf Club to add to their package of amenities for travelers.

On a trip to Mammoth we stayed at the plush Juniper Springs Lodge, one of the recent new additions to the Mammoth scene. This upscale lodge sits right next to the Little Eagle Lift and is just moments form the first tee of Sierra Star Golf Club. All efforts are made to make your stay a relaxing combination of upscale service within a casual mountain atmosphere.

The 18-hole course was cut out of a thick pine forest over a two-year period following a design from Golf Architect Cal Olson, and opened for play in the summer of 1999. This tight track is nestled into the center of the town of Mammoth Lakes, but the tall trees gives a secluded feel to the course and the large peaks that box in the town offer fabulous views as you play here.

The first thing to remember at Sierra Star is the fact that you are playing the highest golf course in the state of California at 8,000 feet above sea level. This can make for as much as a two club difference, depending on how well you hit the ball. Not having a driving range is a bit limiting, as it would be good to find out just what effect the altitude has before you play, but at least there is a small warm-up area where you can get in a few swings.

Sierra Star Golf Club has four distinctive tees and the course plays short up front at a par 70, 5,430-yard layout. From the back the course is also par 70 and stretches out to 6,708 yards. The narrowness of the course is one feature to consider in choosing your tees. The Blue tees play to 5,980 yards and is a comfortable place to play this course from.

"I recommend that you check your ego at the door when you come to play here. It doesn't look long on the card, but it is not a course that you can just overpower. There are not many holes where the driver comes into play and careful placement is the key here," explained PGA Head Professional Dave Schacht.

As the course was built into a site as an afterthought, the only way to get 18 holes in here was to create a traditional routing where you play out and back to the clubhouse. The first ten holes of this course are the best, as you have a nice blend of par four's that use the terrain well and also provide great vistas.

That need to place shots jumps out at you right at the first hole, which is a simple 364-yard par 4 on the scorecard, but the green is tucked behind a large pine tree, a wetland, and a creek. If you get your drive to the left, the tree almost blocks you and on the right, the side hill stance makes it tough to control your shot it.

The 4th hole is a great par 4, playing to 430 yards. From an elevated tee, this hole sweeps left and gradually runs downhill. A big drive between the two fairway bunkers puts you in a prime spot to hit into this well bunkered green. After you play this hole, be sure to look back at the awesome view of the mountains. In fact, you have to look behind you quite a bit to see the good views throughout this course.

This hole also kicks off a stretch of big holes with #5 going 424 yards, 6 playing to 466 yards, and #7 playing as a 198 yard par three. But again, the altitude advantage helps to tame these big holes. You will also notice that the greens are all around the same size but there is plenty of movement in them, so you need to try to shoot to the pins here.

In mid July, the course was in very good shape. This is no easy task for a golf course that averages an 8 to 10 foot deep snow pack on it each winter. The bare spots that you may see on some of the fairways are the result of heavy damage from ice, which forms under the snow pack and suffocates the grass. The only cure for these spots is sun, and warmer soil temps. Head Superintendent Jon Cook works diligently, beginning in late April to get the course in playing condition.

Through the winter months, Cook works on another aspect for the golf course. Cook carves the bear statues that were first done as a monument to the native bears that call these woods home. His collection of bears has grown to fifty around the course and are found holding tee markers, direction signs, fishing on the lakes, and even lending a helping hand in the rest rooms.

Sierra Star has only two par 5's, #8 at 519 yards and #10 at 550 yards. Nine has a lake along the left side that grabs a lot of approach shots and 10's biggest test is nailing a good second shot uphill to put yourself in place for a good approach. These two holes allow you to let out the shaft, but as you cross the road over to the 11th hole, the golf course starts to change in character.

The final eight holes twist and turn through the woods in a staccato pattern. #11 is a long par 4 at 432 yards, but then 12 is only a 317 yard par 4. #13 is a uphill par 4 at 409 yards, but then 14 is a par 3 that is just 138 yards from the blue tees. With each hole, the trees come closer in until the fairways seem like hallways through the forest. This challenges the player to stay alert and try to plan out each shot.

The home stretch at Sierra Star can try the golfers patience. 15 and 16 are par 4's that have blind tee shots with 15 doglegging left and 16 running off to the right. At 15, you must try to hug the left side of the short hole to set up to reach the green that is protected by a creek in the front. The 16th demands that you drive out towards the left side of the fairway on this 430 yard par 4 to set up a long downhill approach shot to a well-bunkered green.

Seventeen gives no relief, as this 360-yard par 4 is a 90-degree dogleg right with wetlands and o.b. running up the right hand side of the fairway. Even after hitting this fairway, you need to negotiate an uphill approach to a two tiered green. Bunkers and the prevailing wind that is blowing in your face protect this green. This hole will test your nerves. If the course has a down note it is the finish, a par 3 of 177 yards that is protected by a lake on the right side.

The best aspect of Sierra Star Golf Club is that there is a more forgiving nature to the course than you might think. If you are on your game, you can really score on this course and if you aren't hitting it well you can still get it around because it is not that long of a course. This all adds up to make for an enjoyable course for all levels of golfers.

As Mammoth strives to become a more complete summer resort, the need for more golf courses is being addressed. Just around the corner from Sierra Star Golf Club is Snowcreek Resort ( This 10-year-old course is a nine-hole track that hopes to expand to 18 holes in the near future. The Ted Robinson designed layout was part of a master plan that hoped to include another ski resort on the slopes above the course, but environmental concerns shelved the ambitious plans. A land trade with the forest service could allow the addition of another nine to happen soon. For now, this track is very popular with locals as it is more open and not as pricey as Sierra Star.

So when you are looking for a different route north or south, consider the adventure of Route 395. Bring your fishing rod, toss in your hiking shoes, and make sure your golf clubs are in the trunk as the Eastern Sierra offer every thing for the summer traveler..

Sierra Star Golf Club
2001 Sierra Star Parkway
Mammoth Lakes, Ca. 93546
(760) 924-4653 or (800) 626-6684

Directions: From Rte. 203 (Mammoth Lakes Rd) turn on Old Mammoth Road and go right on Meridian Blvd. Course is on right side on Sierra Star Parkway.

Rates: Sierra Star Golf Club - 18 holes $115 twilight rate after 2 p.m. $85 includes cart and warm up area

Snowcreek Resort: 9 holes $27 18 holes $48 holiday periods add $5
Directions to Snowcreek: Follow Old Mammoth Road south 1 mile. Golf course is on left hand side.

Doug Saunders, Contributor

Doug Saunders has covered more than 20 major championships and his unique perspectives on the game have appeared in numerous publications including Golf World, GolfWeek, Golf Course Management, Golf Course News, Golfdom, and the USGA Golf Journal. He is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, California Golf Writers, and the Sierra Nevada Golf Course Superintendents Association.

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