Legends live at Roddy Ranch Golf Club in Antioch

By Doug Saunders, Contributor

[Editor's Note: Roddy Ranch Golf Club closed down on Aug. 11, 2016.]

Roddy Ranch Golf Club
Roddy Ranch Golf Club sweeps across rolling hills in a fashion similar to the old style courses in Ireland.
Roddy Ranch Golf ClubRoddy Ranch G.C.
If you go

ANTIOCH, Calif. -- This sleepy community an hour east of San Francisco has made the transition from quaint farm town into suburbia just like so many others near the Bay area over the past 20 years. Ranchers and farmers have been caught in the sprawl and as land taxes rose and food prices tumbled, they had to look for new ways to squeeze earnings from their land.

One resourceful resident, Jack Roddy, turned to growing grass to reap benefits. His crop of choice is bentgrass and his field of dreams, Roddy Ranch Golf Club, has roped in a new herd to graze his land.

Every day more players are discovering this new track on the backside of Mount Diablo, and the raves are spreading about this rambling track that sings out like an old Marty Robbins country tune to all who come to play under the big sky.

The 6,943-yard course that has transformed 230 acres of his working cattle ranch into a Scottish links style course was designed by J. Michael Poellot and sweeps across the rolling hills in a fashion similar to the old style courses found in Ireland.

The owner, Jack Roddy, is new to the game of golf and golf development. He is a throwback to the old style heroes of the American West, the cowboy. This 6-foot-5 splinter of a man was a rodeo champion, having won the National Finals Rodeo World Championship in steer wrestling in 1969 and was World Senior Rodeo champion in 1992. During his rodeo career, Roddy was also working up to 1,500 head of cattle on his 2,100-acre spread just five minutes from town. But the creeping town, and cattle prices that have been frozen for the past thirty years, forced Roddy to look for an alternative to keep his ranch. Golf, the game invented by sheepherders, turned out to be the savior for this cattleman.

Roddy Ranch sits on a hillside, which provides great views of the Sacramento River Delta, the rangelands, and the High Sierra off in the distance. The wide-open spaces beckon from the start. At the temporary clubhouse, two saw horses with antlers let golfers try their hand at roping. A hitching post at the back is where Roddy sometimes ties up his horse when he comes over to play a few holes. The driving range with all grass tees offers the ego boost of hitting downhill to target greens. The broad views and sense of open space capture you right here. That feeling will be with for the rest of the day at the Ranch.

The layout is noted by serenity as no homes surround the course, and never will. Roddy Ranch plays over 235 acres of former grazing land that just two years ago saw 1,500 head of cattle. The course has five sets of tees that let the course play from 5,390 yards long to 6,945 yards long. The Gold tees set the course up at 6,529 yards and is the tee of choice for most amateur players.

From the first tee you can see the golf course meandering up towards the highest point, but the expanse of green fairways framed by strategic bunkers is an inviting scene, not an intimidating look at all. This course calls you out to "where never is heard a discouraging word." The first hole is a friendly 511-yard par five that asks only that you hit the ball. The ample landing area guarantees that you will find your shot no matter if you go left or right. The double dogleg offers a choice to long hitters of trying to reach the well protected green up on the slope or playing a safer approach to the left that will leave an easy approach shot to the ample two tier green.

While the first lesson at Roddy Ranch is that the layout is player friendly, the next lesson is that the greens are slick and true. These bent greens are the pride of the golf course and after only seven months of operation, are undoubtedly some of the truest greens to be found in the Bay Area. First time players will have to quickly get used to these slick surfaces or three putts can be a regular occurrence.

As the first five holes continue to climb up the ridge, the ample landing areas allow you to just focus on the strategies of bunkering and angles rather than worrying about wetlands and ponds. This factor alone makes this golf course just fun to play. The 428-yard par 4 fifth hole is a great example of this. From an elevated tee that give a great view of the entire course off of the back tee, this hole sweeps to the right. A series of well placed bunkers dot the landing area and force the golfer to consider his strengths before playing. By carrying these bunkers you can leave yourself a medium iron into the big green, but if you fail, you have a nasty bunker shot as the sand pits are dug into the fall of the rising fairway. An ample bailout to the left calls to you, but hit it here and you suddenly have a very long second shot. This is just great design work that tantalizes a golfer.

After the gradual climb to the top of the Ranch, the 571-yard, par-5 sixth hole drops off in dramatic fashion from the elevated tee. This hole is a tricky double dogleg that leaves no question about where you have to go to but almost no clue on how to get there. Play your tee shot to the ample landing area to the right of the large oak halfway down the hill and you are in fine position to get home in two. If you feel bold, you have to crush a drive just to the right of the tree to carry the scruffy barranca that crosses the fairway out of site from the tee. The golden hills in the background and the abandoned barns of the next ranch keep the cowboy dreams of a good horse and a healthy steer coming back again on this is exciting hole.

The back nine at Roddy Ranch Golf Club

The course from here plays across the lower rangeland where three lakes add another element to the layout. The first realization is that this course is truly old style in that it plays as a continuous loop. The back nine opens with a great par 5. This 537-yard beauty winds around a lake on the left that tempts a driver to bite off what they choose. The lake borders the hole all the way to the green adding a new element to the approach.

Water again adds drama on the 14th hole. Play your tee shot just left of the bunker on this 420 yarder and you position yourself well for the toughest approach shot on the golf course. From a tricky lie you have to nurse a mid iron to a green that is fronted and bordered by a massive lake to the left. From the elevated lie, it is hard to keep the lake out of your mind as you try to put a good swing on the shot.

A good course should have strong closing holes and Roddy Ranch doesn't disappoint.

The 15th is a ticklish 313-yard par 4 to an uphill green site that is a bear to hit. The 16th is a straightaway 4 that is 448 yards from the tips with a great view of Mount Diablo. Check out the phone pole in the valley to the right of the green. A huge Golden Eagle usually perches here at day's end watching for an evening meal.

The 17th is a short par three that plays deceptively longer than the 166 yards posted. This green slopes dramatically and slickness really puts a premium on touch here. The 18th is a sweeping 520 yards par five that works out to a ridge that overlooks the city of Antioch and the Delta. It adds a great vista from which to wrap up a day of golf. Next to this green is where the western style log ranch clubhouse will be built in the future.

Roddy Ranch Golf Club: "Where Legends Live"

The whole experience at Roddy Ranch is one of down home friendliness that is nurtured by Jack Roddy. This is a man who epitomizes all of the ideals of the West where a man's worth was his word and it stood for something. His tenacity, honesty, and humility lead him to two world rodeo championships and induction into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma. He plans to dedicate his course to the heroes of the Old West by using a trail map to both explain the course and tell tales of great rodeo champions. This is a man who loved his land and working it and has found that golf allows him to do the same but on a different level. That is why his course's slogan is "Where Legends Live."

"I never thought that I would some day be involved with golf, but I am lucky that I have. Not only do I make more money in a week from golfers than I did in a year with cattle, I have been able to keep this portion of my ranch as open space so that I can help generations to come see what the west was like for so many years," Roddy said.

Roddy Ranch was opened to the public last November and is quickly becoming a player favorite because of great greens, a playable layout, and true greens. Giddyup to the Ranch for an experience you won't soon forget.

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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