By Robert Kaufman
Day after day, a steady stream of cars and buses cruise the two-lane highway through the rural farmland of Northern California’s Capay Valley to reach the unincorporated community of Brooks. This remote getaway, 90 minutes northeast of San Francisco, might completely be off the radar except for the frequent surge of visitors in quest of jackpots and birdies.
Amid the serenity of the valley landscape, cash dreams are being fueled from Vegas-like slot machines, table games, and poker rooms stationed at Cache Creek Casino Resort while the pursuit of sub-par golf takes center stage on the property’s Yocha Dehe (pronounced Yo-cha Dee-hee) Golf Club.
For first-time patrons, what would seem to be an anonymous locale for an upscale resort and golf course is really not that mystifying upon realizing the 11,000 acres accommodating the 200-room hotel casino, spa, restaurants, entertainment venue and 18 championship holes is sovereign land that was claimed thousands of years ago by tribal ancestors of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.
However, since the first known tribal-owned golf course blossomed on American turf nearly 40 years ago in New Mexico, Yocha Dehe GC represents another in a long line of golf-casino combo playgrounds (67 tribes in 20 different states own 100 courses) to hit the bonanza on remote Native American Indian countryside.
By no means have these courses been built as just another resort amenity. Many have risen up the golf chain to achieve noteworthy positions, including Yocha Dehe when it was selected one of Golfweek’s Best Resort Courses and Top Casino Courses in America fours years after it opened in 2008.
“It’s a championship-caliber course where we are creating a ‘country club’ atmosphere for every guest”, says Rusty Seymour, Director of Golf at Yocha Dehe GC, who was present during the course’s opening phase but then left for a brief stint at Troon’s Abu Dhabi GC in the United Arab Emirates before returning over five years ago. “With our location not being near any noisy roads, pristine year-round playing conditions and our high level of guest services is what sets us apart.”
What makes this course so appealing is, unlike the majority of courses built in the last 20-30 years, Yocha Dehe is not driven by real estate sales and therefore not visually impacted by homes lining the fairways. The opportunity to rout 18 holes in such circumstances is highly appealing to course designers. So, when the decision was made by the tribe to add a golf course to their established gaming operation they looked no further than their own backyard and dealt the winning hand to nearby Sacramento-based architect and former PGA Tour pro, Brad Bell.
“When I first walked the valley with the tribe back in 2000, they didn’t really see much since it was a flat, treeless field with plenty of weeds but I loved the location and how it offered so much visual excitement and privacy,” says Bell. “In the end, it turned out to be a dream project to work with a client who, after I was able to convince why something needed to be done, allowed me the freedom to create my own signature and a resort course that sticks out from the crowd. And with Troon doing such an amazing job maintaining the course, it makes me look even better.”
The creator may have had loose reigns sculpting his vision but make no mistake, the tribe left a distinct footprint stamped at every hole by way of their native Patwin language. Along with safeguarding sacred grounds from being altered, when Bell toured the layout with tribal council members it became clear what to name each hole starting with “Sul Sah” (Eagle Eye) for the first tee box perched 160 feet above the fairway providing a panoramic vista of the valley floor.
Wildlife is the prevalent theme on the majority of holes with names such as “Watak Kewe” (Frog’s House), “Ano Kowa” (Rattlesnake), “Ano Kowa” (Turtle Back), “Sedeo” (Coyote)”Pehtino Hoya” (Animal Gathering Place) and the difficult finishing “Selai” (Bear).
“Depending what tees (7,337 to 5,426 yards) golfers play there are a good variety of holes with a combination of longer par 4s, a couple risk-reward holes including the 328-yard, No. 8 and two of the four par 5s that are usually reachable depending on weather conditions,” says Seymour. “There’s also a good variety of yardages on the par 3’s. Off the tee, fairways are wide open and if you’re able to avoid a fair amount of greenside bunkers and land on the relatively large greens you can put yourself into position to score low.”
Yocha Dehe is designed as a comfortable play for any handicap level but can also be toughened to host qualifiers for the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Mid-Am. With dramatic bookend holes and a scenic collection in between, the wow factor effect plays a major role throughout Yocha Dehe GC. Plus, if playing during harvest period, there’s a chance to smell the grapes along the way on a few back-nine holes skirting through vineyards planted by the tribe for producing their own wine under the label of Séka Hills.
From arrival to Yocha Dehe’s 19th hole, this Native American outpost is the perfect experience for players to ante up for golf and gaming fun. Guests who are fortunate to score a hotel room will already be ahead of the game with a 20% discount on golf rates. Visit www.yochadehegolfclub.com.