Water in front of the par 3, 4thBunkers protecting the 7th green The
511-yard par 5 11th
There is a lot more to Stevinson than meets the eye – and that is apart from the great golf and practice facilities it has to offer. This track has been voted No1 Quality Course in California and no3 in the United States, and No1 Best Conditions in California and no5 in the entire country. Talking to Jim Francesconi, the director of marketing, I discover it’s also 90 per cent self-sufficient in use of electricity and prohibited from over-fertilising the land – some achievement when you see the condition of this course and the immediate environment.
Stevinson Ranch is somewhat remote. Even the guys in the shop, Bob and Mark, both admit it’s “in the middle of nowhere.” So how come a course that sits in a town with a population of only 400 still manages to keep plenty of staff employed? When you see the number of greenkeepers around and about, you soon realise they employ plenty of people here.
Well, it’s word-of-mouth which brings more and more golfers to this part of the world – people who, like me, have had to drive at least an hour to get here. But once you arrive you’re so glad you made the journey. This is another track, like Greenhorn and Saddle Creeks, which has made full use of its facilities. These guys have not only put up a clubhouse and barbeque for the people who rent out their cabins, they’ve also installed a swimming pool – a great idea as it gets pretty hot in this part of the world. I play in late September and it’s still in the 90s.
The course was designed by John Harbottle III and George H Kelley and if you go to vneu’s website they make a play on it being similar to Scottish links courses. For those of you who have played a links course, you’ll know this is nothing like a links design – there isn’t any sea or sand dunes here. What it does have in common with links courses is the wind and fast running fairways, which have some undulations in them, as well as firm putting greens.
Bertin Abarca, the superintendent at Stevinson, tells me how they achieve the links feel: “While other courses like to over-water to keep turf green, we on the other hand keep the course as dry as possible to avoid problems that can arise due to over-watering. While many courses tend to fertilise their greens with five to 10 lbs per year of nitrogen, we keep the numbers low by using other mechanical means which still provide a healthy turf with less thatch and a firm putting surface – which is what Stevinson Ranch is renowned for.”
The course offers you four teeing options named Tournament, Professional, Champion and Resort. What they should be named is Tough, Tougher, Even Tougher and Are You Sure You Want To Play From Here?! Put it this way: two sets of those tees come in at over 7,000 yards, or you can mix and match – which is what I do, playing from the Champion tees that measure just over 6,600 yards and playing the par-3s from the back tees, and I find this combination perfect.
You realise you’re in for a treat when you tee up on the first hole named Savannah. From the tips this plays at over 600 yards and from the blue tees it still weighs in at 541 yards, and with these big greens and the many complexes in them you really need to be in the right position or three putting could be the least of your problems.
I enjoy the course immensely. Its’ tough but fair and fun to play. I relish the par-3s. There are two over water – the fourth and 16th – and you also have a couple of driveable par-4s. These are all risk-reward because if you are not spot-on then the bunkering on both the eighth and 14th will just eat your ball up.
My favourite hole, just because of the way it looks, is the 15th. It’s a great par-4 a dogleg left of 441 yards, but it just looks so out of odds with its surroundings. If you picked this hole up and put it in the middle of a parkland course it wouldn’t seem out of place. But it’s a representation of what this track is about. If you look beyond the course, you’ll see farmland for miles and this little lush green oasis sits right in the middle.
And like all mirages in the middle of deserts, it’s a thing of beauty, mystique and most of all sustenance – and that is why golfers from all over this state and beyond come to Stevinson Ranch. It’s a calling, and one I’m glad I answer.