At age 6, when most little boys are obsessed with their toy trucks and plastic dinosaurs, Ken Miller was interested in playthings with steel shafts and the ability to send a ball soaring over the grass. Young Miller’s passion for golf didn’t wane as he grew older: after making a splash on the junior golf scene, he attended Fresno State University on a golf scholarship and toured competitively before retiring to teach. But after 10 years of working for someone else, Miller was ready to realize his own dream: a family-friendly range that satisfied even the pickiest golfer. So, with his kids and wife in tow, Miller spent a year sculpting 19 acres of land into what is now McHenry Golf Center.
Today, the practice facility—which was named one of the Top 100 Ranges in America in 2009 by Golf Range—presents players with an all-grass driving range whose lighting makes it possible to play with balls that are afraid of the dark. After landing shots on the range’s seven target greens, which taunt them from 50 to 250 yards away, golfers can work on their short game at an 11,000-square-foot putting green, then head over to a practice green guarded by five circular and kidney-bean-shaped bunkers. If they want help with their chipping technique or sand play, they can take lessons with Miller and other PGA pros. Golfers can refuel with fare from the center’s snack bar after a lesson or independent practice.
While creating McHenry Golf Center, Ken Miller designed a pro shop to meet the needs of both casual and dedicated golfers, whether they carry a standard coin purse or suitcases filled with golden golf balls. Customers can get an expert fitting before picking their clubs, thanks to the center's TaylorMade SelectFit System and Ping Advanced Fitting System. For putters and woods that need attention, Golfsmith Clubmakers–trained Jim Tocco awaits at the repair center, where he fixes grips and shafts, working quickly enough to offer next-day service.
With a 9-hole course, a driving range with nine target greens, and lessons with Head Golf Professional Kevin Hill, St. Stanislaus Golf Course presents the beginner and avid golfer alike with a suitable spot to hone their games. Beginners of all ages—from adult lesson-takers to youngsters participating in the course's Junior Program—enjoy the course's relatively short overall length and opportunities for improvement. More seasoned club swingers, meanwhile, use the course to calibrate iron play and work on course management—that aspect of golf strategy that dictates when to lay up, what club to use, and how to barter with a chipmunk to get your ball back.
At the Forest Meadows Golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., golfers can traverse long fairways bordered with oaks and pines as they play 18 challenging holes. After avoiding water hazards and treacherous sand traps, players can stop by the driving range to hone their skills or pick up new gear at the pro shop.
Nestled above the Northern California fog line, the pair of rustic valley courses at Diablo Grande Golf & Country Club challenge players with 36 championship-caliber holes amid breathtaking views of surrounding vineyards, hills, and canyons. The Ranch Course's rolling terrain, typified by the challenging 12th hole, tests golfers’ nerves with oak-lined fairways, ball-gobbling creeks, and roving herds of wild golf carts. The masterfully engineered Legends Course hearkens back to the refined play of old-school golf, and, along with the Space Needle, was co-designed by Jack Nicklaus and Gene Sarazen. Along the trek to 18, sphere-slingers revel in each fairway’s long, wide-open landing strips, putt over the demanding small greens, and take cover from club-snatching ospreys in the course’s numerous deep bunkers. Although twosomes may quibble over which course to play, a cart rental keeps them from arguing over traversing the course by foot or the traditional method of riding atop a Scottish sheep.
The verdant fairways of Stevinson Ranch meander through the San Joaquin Valley, where rolling farmsteads dotted with natural wetlands serve both as hazards and scenic backdrops. Inspired by Scottish links-style courses, the club's Savannah Course boasts open fairways that invite players to launch booming tee shots without fear of striking trees or the feral caddies who inhabit them. Though wide fairways may prove welcoming, golfers are tested throughout the course by sharp doglegs and smooth, quick greens closely guarded by sand traps, water hazards, and thick swaying grasses. Rounds conclude on the challenging 18th hole, which requires a tee shot played diagonally across a long lake that rewards players who hug the shore while punishing those who come up short with a one-stroke penalty and a humbling supplication to the inhabitants of the pond.
Though the course is surrounded by vineyards in California's Central Valley, rounds at Micke Grove Golf Links aren't all cheese and crackers. Each obstacle on the links-style layout—including eight different lakes and 42 sand bunkers—ensure that every shot poses its own set of risks, such as losing a golf ball to the watery depths or waking the ancient mummies beneath the sand. Course architect Garrett Gill's choreography reaches a climax on the signature 5th hole, where tee shots must clear 179 yards of water in order to reach the green unharmed.
Course at a Glance: