by Robert Kaufman
Long live James W. Marshall and Rosie the Ribiter, two of the most significant celebrities to hail from California’s Gold Country, the recognized birthplace of the Golden State. The former is historically admired as the original 49er after discovering shiny flakes in the American River near Sacramento in 1848, thereby, igniting the legendary Gold Rush. The latter holds the world frog jump record (21’ 5 ¾”), set in 1986, at the annual Calaveras County Jumping Frog Jubilee in the onetime gold-mining town of Angels Camp. Two very contrasting and storied events yet, both intrinsic attributes to the charm and allure of this rustic region long overshadowed by the state’s other glamour attractions.
The best way for anyone to appreciate the spirit of this gilded region and to indulge in the outdoor adventure and culinary flavors is to traverse the north-south Highway 49, winding through a string of tiny towns in the Sierra foothills from Yosemite to Lake Tahoe. Along the trail, while legions of wanna-be gold miners still pan rivers and chip rocks for nuggets, golfers can discover a treasure chest of 9- and 18-hole courses offering a low-key and affordable alternative to the state’s ocean or desert mega-resorts.
A quick leap from Angels Camp’s main drag, highlighted by a frog-of-fame with bronze plaques of every year’s best-leepin’ Jubilee frog cemented in the sidewalks, is where you’ll find prospectors with golf clubs in lieu of gold pans chipping dimpled white balls at Greenhorn Creek Resort.
Prior to the turn of the 21st century, Bardon Stevenot, a fifth-generation member of a pioneer Gold Rush family, acted upon his vision to build an idyllic country residential community and golf course on land once occupied by the Native American Miwoks between 500-1,000 years ago. With respect to the sacred grounds, golf course architect Don Boos weaved Greenhorn Creek Golf Course (opened in 1996) through the rolling meadow hills and majestic oaks to feature plenty of variety while keeping intact important archeological artifacts, such as a stone wall built by Chinese laborers during the mid-1800s that divides the par-4 downhill fourth hole.
Another mark on Greenhorn’s timeline took place in 1997, when Stockton-based developer Fritz Grupe purchased the property and immediately brought in his longtime friend, Robert Trent Jones II, to rebuild half of the holes and redo a majority of the bunkering. What exists today is a 6,749-yard layout that features some of Jones’ trademark demanding short par 4s that add just enough challenge to make playing any of the seven sets of tees fun for every level of player.
“Greenhorn Creek is one of the best secrets for quality golf courses in Northern California, just a couple of hours from the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento,” says Mike Kristoff, the resort’s General Manager. “When couples, groups, or guests visit the property for the first time and play the Robert Trent Jones, Jr. re-designed golf course, they are in awe of the tour-conditioned greens and layout surrounded by 100-year old oak trees and rolling foothills. And thanks to our ideal location in the Gold Country, Greenhorn Creek serves as an ideal jumping-off point to spectacular scenic drives and to experience 32 local wineries, a wide variety of outdoor activities, plus other excellent golf courses.”
With the addition of pools, tennis courts, fitness center and hiking and biking trails, Greenhorn Creek has been molded into, perhaps, the finest golf retreat in the Gold Country. Not to mention the fact that guests are only minutes away from a wide selection of outdoor adventure such as biking, boating, fishing, hiking, and, of course, wine tasting. The bonus is being located less than two hours from Yosemite Valley.
While Greenhorn Creek offers limited hotel and cottage accommodations on-site, the newest lodging retreat is the Caddy Shack, a converted maintenance shed adjacent to the ninth hole that now includes five bedrooms, BBQ area, horseshoe pit, full kitchen, bathrooms, 55-inch HDTV and fireplace – a major upgrade from what the gold miners had to contend with! Having all these amenities under one roof make for a perfect buddies getaway, families or business groups up to 12 people. If nobody is in the mood for cooking, CAMPS Restaurant, overlooking the 18th green, serves up a variety of plates made from fresh local ingredients and wines made by some of the Greenhorn Creek’s twelve member vintners.
It’s hard to say but had this gold county resort existed when Mark Twain was hanging around Angels Camp in 1865 penning “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” I doubt he would have had any rationale for complaining “golf is nothing more than a good walk spoiled.”