Winchester Country Club in northern California: Where eagles (and birdies) dare

By Travel ArticlesMay 16, 2012, 10:50 pm

MEADOW VISTA, Calif. -- It is sad to say, but misfortune can turn into a great benefit for some. In northern California, that credo applies to golfers now having access to thrilling, modern courses originally intended to be private country clubs.

Often, these golf courses were part of a real estate development. Once the economic downturn hit, many of these projects looked for ways to stay alive. Opening the doors of the golf club to the public is one way.

To the joy of northern California golfers, Winchester Country Club is one of them.

Situated about 40 miles east of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, elevation about 2,000 feet, this Robert Trent Jones Jr. design sits as the centerpiece of a Shangri La-like home development. The clubhouse looks like the castle used in the 1960s film, 'Where Eagles Dare,' and I half-expected Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton to emerge from behind a stone wall.

This is a golf course meant to be had by cart. It's holes scurry through and over ridge lines, skirt steep fall-offs as the path winds to another presentation of golf's challenges, amazing views included.

Needless to say, elevation changes have to be accounted for, as noticed on the approach to the clubhouse on Winchester Drive, which affords at one point an amazing glimpse of the Sacramento Valley.

The course opened in 2000, and club manager John Welch mentioned that, as far as he could tell, Winchester is one of the five last courses where Jones and his famed father, Robert Trent Jones Sr., worked together. Specifically, Welch said, the par-4 12th, called Jones' Legacy, is the last hole designed together by father and son course designers.

That said, this is not an easy course. From the blue tees it plays 6,363 yards and its slope is under-rated at 134. It's more like 140. And I shot 1-under 35 on the back.

Winchester Country Club: The verdict

I am not a big fan of mountain courses that require carts to serve as Sherpas for man and clubs. That said, Winchester Country Club can bring many a thrill. It's also a difficult course, pure and simple.

For a golf course that dances along the geological spill of the Sierra Nevada, there is plenty to consider: deep oak and fir stands, creeks, wetlands and large rock outcroppings. To all that, Jones Jr. breaks out all his tricks.

On the first hole, a 375-yard uphill par 4, he puts a bunker to hide the view of the fairway, adding a little uncertainty to that opening tee shot. His bunkering isn't penal and those in the fairway serve more as hints to proper direction. He makes up for it with wicked slopes on the greens.

Jones Jr. stands out for his short par 4s, with the 12th being a good example. It plays uphill at 354 yards, but a large bunker dominates the landing area. Playing left and short is an option, but that leaves a longer approach to a raised green. A decisive and well-struck drive over the bunker leaves a short approach. That's Jones Jr. -- know when to attack.

The front nine is a little harder than the back, which happens to be more dramatic in visual terms. The 457-yard 10th is a sharp dogleg left that allows a big hitter to get the long roll for a 300-yard drive. The 13th plays all of its 574 yards, with a mean forced carry of about 180 yards, this after a good drive.

The approach on the short par-4 14th is another example of Jones Jr. at work. The green is an inverse V, so the point greets the golfers and the rest of the putting surface widens to the rear.

Within this configuration, Jones Jr. has built in severe shelves so that a slope protects each portion. And the both sides of the point of the V at the front fall off into closely mown chipping areas.

'I like that, you have to hit the shots,' said Mark Burns of Paradise, who drove two hours to play Winchester. 'It's a course where you have to know where to be precise.'

Some say the par-3 15th is Winchester Country Club's signature hole, but there are many from which to choose. The par-5 18th plays among the large rocks as it climbs back toward Clint and Richard in the clubhouse. One thing is for sure: At the end, you realize that you've been on a thrill ride at the base of the Sierra Nevada.

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'The Golf Club 2019' adds Elvy to commentary team

By Nick MentaJuly 19, 2018, 4:45 pm

“The Golf Club 2019” is adding a new name to its commentary team.

Broadcaster Luke Elvy will join returning announcer and HB Studios developer John McCarthy for the title's third installment.

Golf fans will recognize Elvy from his recent work with CBS in addition to his time with Sky Sports, FOX Sports, TNT, PGA Tour Live and PGA Tour Radio.

A 25-year media veteran from Australia, he now works in the United States and lives with his family in Canada.

"Ian Baker-Finch was my right-hand man on Australian televison," Elvy told GolfChannel.com in an interview at the Quicken Loans National. "And Finchy said to me, 'What are you doing here? You should be with me in the States.’ He introduced me to a few people over here and that's how the transition has happened over the last five or six years."

Elvy didn't have any prior relationship with HB Studios, who reached out to him via his management at CAA. As for why he got the job, he pseudo-jokes: "They heard the accent, and said, 'We like that. That works for us. Let's go.' That's literally how it happened."

He participated in two separate recording sessions over three days, first at his home back in February and then at the HB Studios shortly after The Players Championship. He teased his involvement when the game was announced in May.

Although he doesn't describe himself as a "gamer," Elvy lauded the game's immediate playability, even for a novice.

“It’s exactly how you’d want golf to be,” he said.

"The Golf Club 2019" will be the first in the HB series to feature PGA Tour branding. The Tour had previously licensed its video game rights to EA Sports.

In addition to a career mode that will take players from the Web.com Tour all the way through the FedExCup Playoffs, "The Golf Club 2019" will also feature at launch replicas of six TPC courses played annually on Tour – TPC Summerlin (Shriners Hospitals for Children Open), TPC Scottsdale's Stadium Course (Waste Management Phoenix Open), TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course (The Players Championship), TPC Southwind (FedEx St. Jude Classic/WGC-FedEx St. Jude Championship), TPC Deere Run (John Deere Classic), and TPC Boston (Dell Technologies Championship).

“I played nine holes at Scottsdale,” Elvy added. “It’s a very close comparison. Visually, it’s very realistic."

The Golf Club 2019 is due out this August on PlayStation 4, XBOX One, and PC.

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Expired visa, helicopter, odd clubs all part of Vegas' journey

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 3:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jhonattan Vegas thought someone was playing a practical joke on him.

Or maybe he was stuck in the middle of a horror movie.

Scheduled to leave for The Open a week ago, he didn’t arrive at Carnoustie until a little more than an hour before his first-round tee time Thursday.

“Even if somebody tried to do that on purpose,” he said, “you couldn’t really do it.”

The problem was an expired visa.

Vegas said that he must have gotten confused by the transposed date on the visa – “Guessing I’ve been living in America too long” – and assumed that he was cleared to travel.

No problem, he was told. He’d have a new visa in 24 hours.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Except the consulate in New York didn’t respond to his application the next day, keeping him in limbo through the weekend. Then, on Monday, he was told that he’d applied for the wrong visa. UPS got shut down in New York and his visa never left, so Vegas waited in vain for seven hours in front of the consulate in Houston. He finally secured his visa on Wednesday morning, boarded a flight from Houston to Toronto, and then flew to Glasgow, the final leg of a 14-hour journey.

His agent arranged a helicopter ride from Glasgow to Carnoustie to ensure that he could make his 10:31 a.m. (local) tee time.

One more issue? His clubs never made it. They were left back in Toronto.

His caddie, Ruben Yorio, scrambled to put together a new bag, with a mismatched set of woods, irons, wedges and putter.

“Luckily the (equipment) vans are still here,” Vegas said. “Otherwise I probably would have played with members’ clubs today.”

He hit about 20 balls on the range – “Luckily they were going forward” – but Carnoustie is one of the most challenging links in the world, and Vegas was working off of two hours’ sleep and without his own custom-built clubs. He shot 76 but, hey, at least he tried.

“It was fun,” he said, “even though the journey was frustrating.”

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'Brain fart' leads to Spieth's late collapse

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The closing stretch at Carnoustie has famously ruined many a solid round, so Jordan Spieth’s misadventures on Thursday should not have been a complete surprise, but the truth is the defending champion’s miscues were very much self-inflicted.

Spieth was cruising along at 3 under par, just two shots off the early lead, when he made a combination of errors at the par-4 15th hole. He hit the wrong club off the tee (4-iron) and the wrong club for his approach (6-iron) on his way to a double bogey-6.

“The problem was on the second shot, I should have hit enough club to reach the front of the green, and even if it goes 20 yards over the green, it's an easy up-and-down,” Spieth said. “I just had a brain fart, and I missed it into the location where the only pot bunker where I could actually get in trouble, and it plugged deep into it. It was a really, really poor decision on the second shot, and that cost me.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Spieth continued to compound his problems with a sloppy bogey at the 16th hole, and a drive that sailed left at 18 found the Barry Burn en route to a closing bogey and a 1-over 72.

The miscues were more mental, a lack of execution, than they were an example of how difficult the closing stretch at Carnoustie can be, and that’s not good enough for Spieth.

“That's what I would consider as a significant advantage for me is recognizing where the misses are,” said Spieth, who was tied for 68th when he completed his round. “It felt like a missed opportunity.”

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Perez: R&A does it right, 'not like the USGA'

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Pat Perez didn’t even attempt to hide his frustration with the USGA at last month’s U.S. Open, and after an opening-round 69 at The Open, he took the opportunity to double down on his displeasure.

“They (the R&A) do it right, not like the USGA,” Perez said of the setup at Carnoustie. “They've got the opposite [philosophy] here. I told them, you guys have it right, let the course get baked, but you've got the greens receptive. They're not going to run and be out of control. They could have easily had the greens just like the fairway, but they didn't. The course is just set up perfect.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Concerns at Shinnecock Hills reached a crescendo on Saturday when the scoring average ballooned to 75.3 and only three players broke the par of 70. Of particular concern for many players, including Perez, were some of the hole locations, given how fast and firm the greens were.

“The U.S. Open could have been like this more if they wanted to. They could have made the greens a bit more receptive,” Perez said. “These greens are really flat compared to Shinnecock. So that was kind of the problem there is they let it get out of control and they made the greens too hard.”