Playing Rancho Cañada Golf Club is Like Taking a Nature Walk

By David R. Holland, Contributor

Loping across the fairway just 100 yards away was a bobcat. A bobcat in Carmel Valley? Just a short crow's flight from the famed Seventeen-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach? You bet.

California may be the most populated state in the USA with more than 32 million folks, but wildlife is still abundant.

Rancho Cañada Golf Club is teeming with wildlife; quail and deer are often dashing through the brush. Playing golf near dusk, you may hear the hoot of an owl, witness fighter-pilot agile swallows zooming grass-high looking for insects, or you might have to dodge Canada geese feeding in the fairways.

Here on the Central Coast of California you can find one of the most beautiful areas on earth. And Carmel Valley has a different beauty from the Pacific-side golf courses of the Monterey Peninsula. Playing golf here is like a nature walk.

At the mouth of Carmel Valley one has a choice of Rancho Cañada's East or West championship courses.

The site was originally part of a 4,366-acre California ranch known as "Cañada de la Segunda". In 1970 this spectacular land was envisioned as a golfer's paradise. Here, on 270 acres in the shadows of the Santa Lucia mountains, amidst beautiful Monterey Pines, oaks, cottonwood and sycamore trees, and seven holes that cross the Carmel River, are two public courses maintained like private ones.

The East Course is a Par 71, only 6,109 yards in length. That sounds short, but after you have maneuvered all the potential trouble, the "shortness" won't even come to mind. A hole may appear "open" only to catch you napping. And when you have to navigate the Carmel River five times you will feel tested.

"Personally, I think there's too much emphasis on the length of courses today," said Todd Pontti, PGA Director of Golf at Rancho Cañada. "The average player can't handle 7,000 yards, and the courses we have here are challenging without the excessive length. One has to think that perhaps a driver isn't the correct play on a particular hole -- that he needs to be thinking about position."

The 6,349-yard West Course, also Par 71, is considered the tougher of the two. Your tee shot from the first two tee boxes, both par four, into the prevailing Pacific Ocean breeze require accuracy. The first is 416 yards and the second 438 yards. After two holes you will already have felt the challenge.

The start of the East Course is just the opposite. You may feel pretty confident after the first two holes -- the first downwind and the second crosswind. Then you step up to the par-three No. 3, a 185-yarder through a chute and over the river. If you miss hit this shot there's a certain double bogey on the scorecard.

No. 4 is a par-five, 472-yard handicap No. 1, narrow, tree-lined event. It's imperative to place your tee shot and second shot precisely, because this fairway shrinks the closer one gets to the green.

"Most believe the West is more difficult," said Pontti. "The West is longer, has a higher slope rating and course rating. Most like the fact we aren't encumbered by a lot of real estate, which opens up the view and the vistas."

"I think the West course is more difficult and interesting," said Dave Riney of nearby Seaside. "There are several water holes and shots over the Carmel River. But the nice thing is the ability to buy a mini-membership or a twilight card making it affordable to area residents."

The mini-membership is $310. It includes gifts, discounted green fees and carts, buffet coupons and a Northern California Golf Association membership.

Mini-members can play on weekdays for $30 on the East and $35 on the West. Weekends it's $35 on the East and $45 on the West. Pontti says a "Millennium" mini-membership deal is currently being formulated that will reduce the price.

A $25 twilight card is also available for play after 3 p.m. for an entire year. Twilight members play on the East for $10 east and the West for $15. It also entitles them to play at nearby Laguna Seca for $10. Carts are discounted to $12. There's no better deal in the area and the 3 p.m. time goes back to 2 p.m. on October 1.

Regular walkup prices are $75 on the West and $60 on the East everyday. Twilight rates are $45 on the West and $35 on the East (after 2 p.m.). Cart rental is $32.

Rancho Cañada has hosted a variety of events that attracted celebrities such as Bing Crosby and Sam Snead. When Tiger Woods was in high school the California state championships were held here. "In fact, Tiger is one of the few golfers we know of who hit the East's No. 16, a 580-yard, par-five, in two shots," Pontti recalled.

One of the largest NCAA Women's tournaments of the year, the Colby Classic, is hosted by Santa Clara University on the courses of Rancho Cañada.

El Niño hit Rancho Cañada hard, but the courses have already rebounded. "We lost a few trees along the river, but the only hole that was really rebuilt was No. 12 on the East. The fairway was washed away. We brought in 78,000 yards of soil, added two bunkers right and left, a new irrigation hookup, added some rolling mounds to the fairway and three new tee pods," Pontti said.

Rancho Cañada Golf Club is located on Carmel Valley Road, one mile east of Highway 1. For more information, call 831-624-0111 or 1-800-536-9459.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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