Whitney Oaks Golf Club: The Beautiful Beast

By Jeffrey Weidel, Contributor

This was once an extremely crude golf course situated on this sprawling property. Legend has it that J. Parker Whitney decided his ranch needed some formal recreation, which is how one of California's first golf courses was created in the late 19th century.

More than a century later, this scenic location, 25 miles northeast of Sacramento, now houses a legitimate golf course. There is certainly nothing crude about Whitney Oaks Golf Club. The legendary ranch was known for its natural beauty and so is Whitney Oaks.

A horseshoe-shaped ridge that towers 200 feet above two meadows and oak-dominated woodlands characterizes the topography. An abundance of granite outcroppings and wildlife add to the scenery. It can feel like a golfing paradise at times.

"It's a beautiful course and a beautiful layout," said Doug Fitch of Sacramento. "It's a pretty setting, especially the back nine. This is definitely an area where you would want to buy a home and become a member. It has a lot of potential."

Like anything with potential, if not fulfilled, who cares? Since joining the Sacramento-area golfing fraternity in October of 1997, this Johnny Miller-designed course has experienced its fair share of problems.

The knock on Whitney Oaks has always been the degree of difficulty. Many average golfers have departed the course vowing never to return. High scores are frequent and lost balls are common.

Rumor has it that even Johnny Miller struggled making par on this course, shooting an 86. Despite considerable softening of the course two years ago from its original design, it remains a difficult track to master.

But the folks at Whitney Oaks are no longer making apologies for the degree of difficulty. They are counting on low-handicappers like Fitch to keep coming back repeatedly for the challenge.

"We want to embrace the fact that it is challenging," Whitney Oaks Head Pro Eric Pohl said. "We want to use that to our advantage. We aren't for everyone."

The welcome change Whitney Oaks is seeking is management stability. Keeping track of general managers and head golf pros had become a real chore. Changes were frequent and with each new move, a different philosophy seemed to come with it.

The much-needed stability might have arrived since Troon Golf recently took over operation. Accustomed to running high-end facilities like Whitney Oaks, Troon wants to accentuate the positive facets. The course is typically in top condition and service is reliable.

This might come as a surprise to some, but there is no longer talk of Whitney Oaks going the country club route. That was the direction previous management wanted to travel. Pohl says those plans are definitely on hold.

"The previous management had planted the seed about going private and it left everyone wondering exactly what direction we would be taking," Pohl said. "It is nice to know that for the time being we're a public course."

Not that Whitney Oaks doesn't possess that country club feel. The golf shop is upscale and there is a sizable deck overlooking the 18th green, situated near a scenic man-made lake. A classy restaurant and bar also inhabit the premises. And don't forget a golf course that rests on a magnificent piece of property and a great practice area.

What hurts Whitney Oaks is the surrounding courses. There is some major competition at nearby Twelve Bridges Golf Club, Turkey Creek Golf Club, The Ridge and the Lincoln Hills Club. All four courses have opened to nice Reviews. They are all upscale courses with their own distinct flavor.

Simply put, the competition is fierce for Whitney Oaks. But everyone is carefully looking over their shoulder at the competition. A glut of new courses in Placer County the past six years has left everyone in the golf business searching for a niche.

"There are too many golf courses right now," said Patty Snyder, the head pro at Indian Creek Golf Course, a nine-hole track in nearby Loomis. "But with all the growth happening in this area, I eventually think the market will be squeezed again and we'll need even more courses built."

Whitney Oaks can play fairly long (6,793 yards from back tees), which is a good reason for first-time visitors moving up to a more friendly distance. The next set of tees measure 6,395 yards. There are also two tee locations less than 6,000 yards and the ladies hit from 4,983 yards.

Often times the challenge here is not distance, it's keeping the ball in play. Miss a fairway or green and in many instances that can mean a lost ball. And speaking of balls, don't be caught short. Pack some extra ones. The good news is you will probably find a few as well. A friend found 10 balls during a five-minute search on one of the more unfriendly holes.

For most golfers, playing it safe is the way to go at Whitney Oaks. When in doubt, put away the driver and hit 3-wood. The fairways can be tight and unforgiving. Also, the greens are menacing. They are typically two-tiered with considerable break. They also run fast and can quickly lead to the dreaded three-putt.

The par-3 at No. 4 is one of Whitney Oaks' more scenic holes. A huge granite outcropping guards the three-tiered green. The yardage is 190 from the gray tees, the second longest of five locations. An elevated tee needs to be considered, along with the wind that typically affects this gorgeous hole. Club selection is crucial.

Perhaps the most talked-about hole at Whitney Oaks is No. 11, a par-5 that winds through a spectacular piece of oak-tree-lined property. The drive off the tee can be scary and it gets worse on the second shot, where the fairway narrows and only the knowledgeable golfer knows exactly where to hit next. The third shot must travel over a large granite boulder and the green is multi-tiered. Assuming you're still hitting the same ball, breathe a sigh of relief and move on.

Whitney Oaks will definitely test the skills. And many people fail the test and vow not to come back. But following a cooling-off period, there are also many golfers who want to return, believing the next visit will be different. The reason is simple.

"It's the beauty of the challenge that keeps bringing people back," Pohl said. "It is a trade-off, there are some beautiful golf holes out there. And it's in immaculate shape, one of the best-conditioned courses in the area. I think people who come out here and play it once can see how they could play it better when they come back."

Call this the beautiful beast.

Whitney Oaks Golf Club
2305 Clubhouse Drive
Rocklin, CA 95765
Phone: (916) 632-8333

Jeffrey WeidelJeffrey Weidel, Contributor

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

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