If you have ever looked at a piece of land and imagined putting eighteen holes on it, Trinitas Golf Club is one man's fantasy that became reality.
Or, perhaps a folly. The politics of this golf course are almost more interesting than the layout.
"I looked at an aerial photo, and it just came to me," explains Mike Nemee, who made money in the carpet cleaning business, bought an olive orchard in the foothills east of Stockton, and designed a golf course for it while vacationing in Italy. After returning home, he purchased heavy equipment, learned how to use it, and began shoving 280 acres of dirt around.
Just one problem. Most of the time, Trinitas remains empty. "We had two players, yesterday," said head golf professional Don Winter.
Nemee took four years to build the course, and finished it in spring, 2007, but Calaveras County will not allow it to open for public business. A local group called Keep It Rural Calaveras has accused Nemee of bulldozing procedure as much as he did the land, building his course without permits or proper environmental impact studies. They say his green grass sucks water from their wells, and that he re-routed local streams. According their attorney, Mark Connolly, "The game was to get the course built, and then say, 'You can't rip it out because look how beautiful it is.' Nemee has done a wonderful job of pissing off even the supervisors who would have supported him."
"They're trying to stall the process," says Neemee. "I have been working with the county for more than six years. I have complied with every request and obtained every permit they asked me for. And, I didn't re-route those streams. I created them." He plans to spend more than half a million dollars in road and fire protection improvements. "Remember, the neighbor concerns are also our concerns because we live here.'
The county planning commission will vote on Trinitas next November, and then send it to the Board of Supervisors.
Meantime, the course just sits there, open to friends, family, and non-paying guests of the family. Trinitas has neither a proper parking lot nor a driving range. Nemee, his wife, and two small children live in a small house/office/cart shack next to the practice green. What they lack in luxury, they make up with enthusiasm.
"No way we don't open. This was meant to be," says Nemee. He envisions a, "...boutique agri-tourism destination with a lodge and thirteen subdivided home sites."
The routing at Trinitas is somewhat quirky. That's hardly a surprise from a former high school golfer who had played only a few other courses, and read just one book about golf course architecture. Trinitas is scenic, awkward, difficult, impossible to walk, but also as engaging as the man who made it.
From a critical standpoint, Nemee ignored or seemingly flouted many principles of strategic design. There is water on sixteen of eighteen holes. Too many creeks cross too many fairways too many times in a design theme of forced carries that becomes repetitious. Nemee created blind shots, and placed mounds and bunkers in strange places. Weirder yet, he edged those bunkers and creeks with cemented cobblestones, which makes playing out of them difficult, if not dangerous.
But it must be said that Trinitas is Nemee's course on his land, and ultimately, he had no one to please except himself.
Trinitas is also exceedingly penal, but that is what some players will love about it. The course is like a beautiful, illogical temptress with a short temper and demanding expectations.
That said, Mike Nemee has done an admirable job of creating a golf course from scratch. Any golfer can talk about what he would do with a piece of land. Fewer would draw it. Only the truly inspired would follow through with the courage to build it.
That, alone, makes Trinitas Golf Club worth a visit, assuming it ever opens.