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Course Review: Cache Creek Casino Resort (Yocha Dehe)

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I can’t say enough about Indian Casino Golf Properties. I have played a number of them and have yet to find one sub-standard or disappointing.

If you are looking for one of the best that you will ever find out West, it’s just 40 minutes northwest of Sacramento or north from San Francisco to the Highway 16 exit off Highway 505 heading into the Capay Valley

Once there, you travel along a narrow, twisting two-lane highway for 30 miles or more along where peach orchards and beautiful farming land is found. I kept thinking that I was lost when lo and behold around a blind bend of the road Cache Creek Casino Resort was found in all its vast, elegant glory.

With a 200-room hotel staring at me, I was also entertained by a Vegas look-a-like gambling palace with 3,000 slots, 142 table games, a 28-table poker room, eight restaurants and spa: all adding up to a complete, one-stop golfing and gaming Mecca.

Just a half-mile up the road from Cache Creek you will find the 7,337-yard Yocha Dehe course which means “Home by the spring,” on 165 acres of remarkable secluded valley property. It offers a splendid view spanning the countryside with golf course creator Brad Bell putting it all together. It’s surrounded by serene rolling hills that were once a traditional gathering place for the Patwin people that lived in the oak forests and grasslands along the meandering fish stocked Cache Creek.

The 17,951 square-foot facility contains a 1,400 square foot restaurant, multi-function room and attractive pro shop. The club’s open-air design that begins its quest on a prominent hill site offers a commanding view of the entire course (five sets of tees) and stands where the front nine holes begin and the back nine ends. There was a great deal of effort made to place functional aspects into its design along with visually stimulating features such as Native American, prominent courtyard sculptures and a real working olive orchard.

You better take enough club at No. 4 at Yocha DeHe, which plays 199 yards over water from the tips.

You better take enough club at No. 4 at Yocha Dehe, which plays 199 yards over water from the tips.

If you are ready to get the Yocha Dehe Golf game underway, you might as well start off in spectacular fashion with a par four of 454 yards from a 170-foot high cliff to the valley below. The hole travels along a straight-away, expansive fairway to a small green breaking from left to right and accompanied by two bunkers on its left side. It’s followed by a dogleg right 548-yard five par where dense trees on the right come into immediate play. You will find a batch of bunkers encircling a crowned putter land that breaks a touch from left to right.

If you are looking for a beautiful signature par three, the 199-yard one shot No. 4 might just be the right ticket to gain admission for excitement and difficulty. That’s because a bold body of water cuts the hole in two. It prevents one from easy access to an extra large putting surface that breaks swiftly from left to right and a circular bunker holding up its right side.

The par five 542-yard No. 6 named “Rattlesnake” hole could easily fit that name as the fairway twists around from tee to green with a quadrant of sand traps preventing easy access from 150 yards out. It’s also where a steep green from front to back and from right to left will keep golfers busy trying to avoid a bogie or more. If you are looking for a hole that is perforated with a giant cross bunker and other trappings, the 408-yard par four No. 8 is the one that will keep your sand iron busy from start to finish. That’s unless you keep it in play along the left side while avoiding trappings in the back of a green that slants from left to right.

When you are ready to begin the back nine, you will pass by an imposing sculpted Indian couple overlooking a majestic golf course view on the way to the par five No. 10. You will be entertained by 541 yards of imposing distance associated with a variety of bunkers scattered about the entire hole with a butterfly designed putting surface to have fun on.

No. 12 at Yocha DeHe

No. 12 at Yocha Dehe is long, but there’s plenty of room to the right for slicers. Not so much to the left.

For a change of pace, the 457-yard No. 11 and 452-yard No. 12 are two strong par fours to bring out the best of golfer’s long distance game, including the 254-yard one-shot No. 13 where continuous bunkering hangs around on its right side. A par might be in order if everything goes just right. If nothing else, you have the opportunity of enjoying some sweet hanging Pinot grapes at nearby vineyards around this part of the course.

One of the most memorable holes on the course is the 416-yard No. 14 where the tee shot must be laid up to avoid off fairway woods and shrubbery. Next is an extreme right-turn approach where golfers have to find their way through a gantlet of trees on their way up to an almost level large green that angles from left to right. It’s followed by the most interesting 433-yard No. 15 “Wihnem Ka Cha” (shortcut named) hole. It represents two parcels of turf separated by a lake and a creek dividing the entire scene. It’s just a matter of driving safely over the hazards in as much distance as possible without getting into wet trouble. A crowned green that moves from right to left completes this unique vineyard designed hole.

The last three holes all come with a variety of waterscapes. The par three 206-yard No. 16 bends left from tee to green with a slice of water holding up that side of an extensive putting surface that breaks from right to left.

The longest par five 565-yard No. 17 is a winner from start to finish. The fairway is skinny from the start with a lake hanging almost along its entire right side. It makes its way to a precariously located rock-framed green that keeps company with the lake on the right. Any approach headed for the putting surface from that side had better be perfect in length and location or water will be your unwanted reward.

The second strongest hole on the course ends the great Yocha Dehe Golf Club experience. It’s a heroic 443-yard gem that bends around a body of water on its right side. It’s just a matter of cutting the corner as far a tee shot will go without splashing the water for good as you gradually make your way to a bunker encircled putting surface. There’s also a waterfall not too far on its right to give the hole a touch of finishing class.

Daniel Kane, director of golf, is thrilled by how the golf course and clubhouse turned out as well as the satisfied guests who have had the pleasure of playing it. So whether you’re a casual golfer or a budding World Series of Poker professional, this is one Native American outpost that leaves nothing to chance when it comes to a complete, one-stop golfing and gaming fun since its inception.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Gary

    Sep 21, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    I’ve played this course maybe 10 times since it was constructed. It is an outstanding test of golf. At $90/round it better be.

    >Unlimited practice balls are included on grass tees over a large canyon. You have to hit it 160 yards to clear the canyon.

    >From the elevated practice area you go to the summit of a hill for the first tee. It is a 160 yd carry to reach the fairway. There is no “short of the fairway” shot. Just re-tee it.

    >I’m too old to play from the tips but was more than pleased to par the first five holes during one round. Things went downhill from there.

    >#10 green is a challenging uphill shot…the surface can’t be seen from the fairway. #9 is much the same but is a par 4.

    >There are a number of environmental areas that you aren’t supposed to enter to get your ball. But you do get a free drop…no penalty.

    >Employees are very accommodating and aware of your presence in a resort-type way. Some of them almost too much…almost fawning, as if they are looking for a big tip.

    >The course is impeccable…perfect fairways, perfect greens. The rough is penalizing and is often wild unkept areas. That is except for #13 and #15. You can’t very well play out of the grape vines with harvesting wires strung between the plants.

    >#17 is a nightmare green. The only place to miss is left in the traps. Anything long, short, or right is in the lake. There is virtually no fringe. But it is a large green.

    >Is is worth playing at least once in a lifetime…you bet.

  2. Yohanan

    Sep 10, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    Casino supported courses are usually TPC level from my experience. Have not played this one yet. Many have said that have its worth the drive. Hopefully i will make it someday.

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Branson, Missouri Continues to Evolve as a Golf Destination

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If you think you know Branson, Mo., it’s time to think again. While the live music venues that put the bucolic Ozark Mountains town on the map continue to thrive, its reputation as a top notch golf destination has grown … and continues to evolve.

Heck, golfers who’ve visited just a few years ago will find the scene almost unrecognizable. Sure, the awe-inspiring Top of the Rock — designed by legendary Jack Nicklaus and holding the honor of being the first-ever par-3 course to be included in a professional PGA championship — is as striking as ever, but its sister course, Buffalo Ridge, has undergone a metamorphosis.

No. 15 at Buffalo Ridge

Designed by renowned architect Tom Fazio and originally opened in 1999, Buffalo Ridge has done the unthinkable – make its list of previous accolades pale in comparison to what now graces the land. In conjunction with owner and visionary conservationist Johnny Morris, Fazio has exposed massive limestone formations, enhanced approaches and added water features to make every hole more memorable than the last.

Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio masterpieces not enough? Gary Player has stamped his signature in the Ozarks with the recently opened Mountain Top Course. This 13-hole, walking-only short course is unlike anything you’ve ever played.

Strap your bag to a trolley and let your imagination dictate your round. There are stakes in the ground with yardage markers nearby, but they’re merely suggestions. Play it long or play it short. Play it from different angles. The only mandate is to enjoy the course, nature and camaraderie.

No. 10 at Mountain Top

The Mountain Top greens are huge and as smooth as putting on a pool table. Nearly as quick, too. And the bunkers are as pristine as the white sands of an isolated Caribbean beach. Capping off your experience, the finishing hole plays back to the clubhouse and the green boasts multiple hole locations that enhance golfers’ chances at carding an ace. Hard to imagine a better way the end an already unforgettable round.

It shouldn’t take you much longer than two hours to get around Mountain Top Course. If it does, you were likely admiring the stunning panoramas. One notable addition to those views is Tiger Woods’ (TGR Design) first public access design — Payne’s Valley (named to honor Missouri golfing legend Payne Stewart) — which is full speed ahead on construction and scheduled to open in 2019. As a treat, the 19th hole was designed by Morris. Named “The Rock,” it’s a short par-3 that promises to be amazing.

Payne’s Valley will be both family-friendly and challenging. It has wide fairways and ample landing areas along with creative angles and approaches that shotmakers love and expect from a championship course.

If two years is too long to wait for new golf, then Morris and his Big Cedar Lodge have you covered with the yet-to-be-named ridge-top course by the industry’s hottest design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. With all the heavy lifting complete, the Ozarks is scheduled to be unveiled in 2018.

The Ozark Mountains form the backdrop on No. 5 at Buffalo Ridge.

Once opened, this par-71 (36-35) track will play “firm and fast” and offer multiple avenues into each green. Both Coore and Crenshaw bristle at the notion that there’s only one way to approach the playing surface. Bring it in high or run it along the ground. Considering the exposed nature of the course and propensity for high winds, the latter may be your best option.

There’s more. Tiger won’t be finished with Branson when he wraps up Payne’s Valley. He’s also designing a family-friendly par-3 course on the grounds of Big Cedar Lodge. There isn’t a date attached to this project, so stay tuned.

These new tracks join the likes of Thousand Hills, Branson Hills and Pointe Royale Golf Village to make Branson a powerful player on the golf destination scene. Combine that with world-class fishing and camping, as well as countless museums, restaurants and points of interest and this bustling Ozarks town is a must-visit spot in Middle America.

Learn more or plan your trip at explorebranson.com.

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Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club

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Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own. 

Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.

All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.

A view from the ninth fairway

Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.

Trees, or no trees?

The 18th tee

The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.

The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.

Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.

A good variety

Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16.  What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14.  These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set.  The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.

A view of the ninth fairway from across the Pennsylvania Turnpike

The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s tempt the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.

Green complexes are…complex

The green on the 18th hole

Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world.  They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.

The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a decent lie.

Ari’s last word

All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.

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Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

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My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers too many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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