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|Avoid the rocks with errant drives on The Ridge Golf Course's 12th hole. (Ted Johnson/TravelGolf)|
AUBURN, Calif. -- The Ridge Golf Course can torment the first-time visitor. As it plays up and down oak-laden hillsides before descending into flat wetlands for the final three holes, the initial round can generate plenty of frustration.
You might want to give this layout a few turns before making final judgments. To be sure, The Ridge isn't easy. And architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. did his best to add to the challenge.
Jones' best work comes on short par 4s. When he is given land that includes elevation changes mixed with uphill, downhill and sidehill slopes, it doesn't take much in terms of devilish green designs and deep greenside bunkers to create a challenging course.
But learning The Ridge is a good step into decoding RTJ Jr. He wants you to think on the tee box about how you should play the hole before you put the tee in the ground. Jones will ask you to look, think and discern.
On some holes, you will be challenged with prospects of whether to "challenge" fairway bunkers. On approach shots, greenside bunkers can make you reassess your angle to the pin. And that's Jones in his best.
In an interview a long time ago, Robert Jr. told me there is nothing in the Rules of Golf that says a golfer has the right to shoot at the pin on every shot. There are times, he believes, the golfer has to play away from the hole to get it close. That begins to tell you the charms of The Ridge Golf Course.
The more you play The Ridge, the more you learn its charms and its threats, and the more you learn about yourself.
"It can be frustrating because the uphill shots and sidehill lies," said Wayne Burd, of Sacramento. "When the rough gets long, like it was when we played, it can be really tough and frustrating. But it's also a course where a good shot makes you feel really, really good."
Playing Ridge well means understanding Jones. It starts with fairway bunkering. For example, as you stand on the tee of the 328-yard sixth hole (as measured from the blue tees), three fairway bunkers obstruct your path to the green.
It appears that a 3-wood is the best choice, yet Jones is really asking you to "challenge" the bunkers and fly them with a driver. If you do that, you have a short iron or sand wedge approach into the green.
Another example of Jones' mind games comes on the downhill, par-5 ninth. Playing normally into prevailing breezes, this 541-yard hole is bordered over its last half by a water hazard on the left. Large oaks line the right side.
A straight drive into the wide fairway is the easy part. The second shot starts to work on the mind. The water on the left means keep it right. But the oaks are there, and the overhanging branches can limit options into the green. The first-timer can start to try to do too much -- a low, hot draw under the branches or a high fade at the water?
The solution is another straight shot to a fairway that bloats generously left for a second shot that ranges from fairway wood to 6-iron. But that doesn't mean the hole is over. No. The approach must carry the water fronting the green as well as correlate with the slopes in the putting surfaces.
A full grass driving range is available as well as lesson programs that range from individual lessons to junior and group programs. It is a facility intent on helping golfers grow in their abilities.
With elevation changes, greens with plenty of slopes and humps, not to mention plenty of menacing bunkers in the fairways and next to greens, this adds up to a tough test.
First and foremost, higher handicappers need to play the correct tees. Second, everyone should try to direct shots away from the edges, like lateral hazards or stands of oak trees or water hazards. Third, play to the fat part of the green.
Jones' greens have slopes and ridges that separate the putting surfaces into sections. Thus, distance control on approach shots becomes a big issue, otherwise it's easy to turn a birdie chance into a three-putt bogey.
This is a par-71 course that maxes out at 6,700 yards and change. The blue tees measure 6,345 and carries a slope rating of 133. This should tell you that this is a deceptive course. Some are holes where power is needed, and other holes where control is the best tack.
Located about 35 miles east of Sacramento, Auburn is a growing town that retains its rustic charm. Plenty of hotel and motel options are available, and Latitudes restaurant will give you a taste of the foothills lifestyle.
May 4, 2012
Ted Johnson has been writing about golf for more than 25 years. Having traveled the world with his clubs, he counts himself lucky to have played Cypress Point, but Turnberry’s Ailsa, Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath in Australia and Ireland’s Royal County Down tend to rotate as favorites. And then there was the trip to Vietnam, where he found himself in Vung Tao and his luggage in Ho Chi Minh City. That’s why to this day he carries a toothbrush in his golf bag.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
Referred to by its hosts as a "hidden gem," the greens alone at Sterling Hills Golf Club in Camarillo, Calif. make this a stone worth turning over. Located an hour northwest of L.A., it's a pleasing, quiet and generally engaging round that will appease players of all levels.
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