Review: Yocha-De-He Golf Course

April 13, 2008 2:37:16 PM PDT
Some land just looks as if golf courses belong on it. Usually, such potential goes unrealized. That used to be the case in the beautiful rolling hills of the Capay Valley, two hours northeast of San Francisco. But then, the Rumsey tribe of Wintun Indians erected Cache Creek Casino above the vineyards and farmland, and later commissioned architect Brad Bell to design Yocha-De-He golf course as a co-attraction.Cache Creek Casino
14455 Highway 16
Brooks, California 95606
530.796.4653

http://www.yocha-de-hegolfclub.com

Tees:
Black/Siltee: Yardage - 7334; Slope - 136; Rating - 74.9
Gold/Oro: Yardage - 6907; Slope - 132; Rating - 72.4
Red/Tu'lukah: Yardage - 6449; Slope - 129; Rating - 70.2
Green/Sekah: Yardage - 5937; Slope - N/A; Rating - N/A
White/Ch'ama: Yardage - 5426; Slope - N/A; Rating - N/A

Another architect might have left such land alone, and let it inspire him. Bell seems to have chosen to sculpt it to his liking. He constructed a nineteen-acre lake which serves as both a feature on four holes, and also as a water storage area. They moved a million cubic yards of dirt to make it. So now the million cubic yard question---what do you do with all that dirt?

At Yocha-De-He, Bell, who also designed Coyote Moon, Turkey Creek and Teal Bend, built mounds that frame fairways, tees, and greens, creating a course that does not fit the look of the valley. Instead, it appears to be as manufactured as a new housing development. This aesthetic will not bother most golfers. They will probably like the course and its conditioning. But, those who appreciate natural and strategic design will likely be disappointed.

1st Hole: Par-4, 335-454:
To drive the first fairway from 160 feet above the landing area is quite a thrill. The only fairway bunker sits left, but the green invites an approach from the right. So, why is the bunker on the left? One can only assume that it is to penalize the player who protects from losing his shot right in the left-to-right wind, and so overplays his hand.

Bell combines elements from both the strategic and penal schools, but Yocha-De-He fails to embrace either. The hodge-podge of design features mesh uncomfortably at times.

6th hole: Par-5 441-542:
This is a well-crafted hole. The fairway zigs and zags left, right, and finally, back uphill to the left. Bell created a huge and amusing depression right of the green. The scale is enormous and impressive. In the middle, Bell placed a grass bunker of longish rough. It looks completely natural, unlike much of the course, and provides a memorable strategic design element. Yocha-De-He should have more features like this.

7th Hole: 130-191:
This hole is a nice Redan. It plays from an elevated tee across a small valley. Unlike the original Redan at North Berwick in Scotland, Bell's creation foregoes the traditional bunker short right, but does include the familiar closely mown rampart from which this style hole derives its name. Golfers can play a low running draw into the incline short of the green. It's a fun hole.

8Th Hole: Par-4, 225-328:
This could have been an electrifying hole. Unfortunately, it's not. That's a shame because drivable par 4's offer some of the best opportunities for showcasing the thrill of risk and reward. Ideally, such a hole beguiles, entices and enchants a golfer into overestimating his abilities.

While the 8th may aspire to this ideal, a nest of misplaced bunkers and a postage stamp landing area nullify any slim chances of success. Only the most cavalier of players would dare risk attempting to drive the green more than once, and so the thrill is gone.

14th Hole: Par-4, 347-416:
This is an extreme dogleg right, with two separate fairways set at almost ninety degrees, separated by a barranca. A moderate tee ball leaves anywhere from 125 to 200 yards to the green through a shoot of trees. The hole is dictatorial and provides no options. You must lay up off the tee. The 14th is a textbook example of penal design. It's all about execution. I would prefer an option to drive over the barranca for a shorter shot into the green. That would make the hole more fun and strategic.

15th Hole: Par-4, 286-433:
This is one of the more intriguing holes on the course. A creek bisects parallel landing areas, providing drama and demanding decisions. The left fairway is the smaller of the two, and a more dangerous drive. The right, while providing more room, entails its own risk because bunkers loom long, and the creek left.

Bunkering and contours dictate that if the pin is right, one should approach from that fairway. If left, do the same from that side. And, that seems to be it?unequal risks for equal reward. If the 15th has a greater strategy, it remains unclear.

The 15th green is shallow and wide. By our count, the course has eight others similar in shape, though varying, at times, in their orientations. While these greens offer great tests of accuracy and distance control, when overused, they begin to look repetitive and feel penal.

17th Hole: Par-5, 440 ? 563:
You will hit a blind tee shot over a slot in the ever-present mounds. A lake enters play about 240 yards from the hole. It runs all along the right side of the fairway, and then surrounds the green on three sides. Laying up demands a very accurate shot because the fairway pinches in severely, with mounds left and water right. From 120 yards in, the fairway is a mere ribbon, so small as to be unusable. A golfer of any length might be tempted to go for this green in two shots, but it's fraught with risk and might not be worth it when he might just as easily make birdie with a drive and two wedges.

18th Hole: Par-4, 325-443 yards:
Aesthetically, it's beautiful, if not particularly unique. A gently sweeping dogleg right around water all the way to the green. Be careful of more mounds and two large fairway bunkers on the left side, presumably placed to penalize the timid shot. The green's contours invite an uphill approach from as close to the water as one dares hit the drive. That's fun. There are bunkers both short and long left. Par, here, is a terrific score.

In summary, Yocha-De-He is a resort golf course. If you tend to sample golf courses the way foodies do a five-star meal, you may be disappointed. But, if you're looking for a pleasant and relatively inexpensive weekend get-away with golf, gambling, and a big hotel a couple of hours from San Francisco, you will be pleased.


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