Hidden Gems — 30 September 2014 by Jim Street
Sevillano Links: A Daly masterpiece

CORNING, Ca. – Developing a links-style golf course within eyesight of Interstate-5 in the middle of the state would seem to make no sense at all – until you tee it up and go for an interesting trek through rolling hills on a typical windy day.

One would need an imagination like John Daly to pull it off. And that he did.

Long John definitely gets kudos for the 18-hole layout named Sevillano Links at Rolling Hills, a 7,823 yard (from the John Daly tees) par-72 layout that winds its way through natural grassy terrain and ponds that attract errant golf shots.

In a continuing effort to play and describe as many West Coast golf courses as humanly possible, my latest trek took me to a terrific layout alongside I-5, south of Red Bluff, Ca. Sevillano Links is one of six courses designed by Daly and the only one on the West Coast. His company is called JD Designs.

When I asked long-time buddy and regular golfing colleague Bill Newlun if he had played Sevillano Links, he took a couple of seconds before answering. “Yes, I have. Once.”

Turns out that he ran out of golf balls before his round ended and decided that this challenging layout didn’t quite fit his game. His home course is Lake Shastina, some 60 miles north — another must-play if you’re traveling through Northern California.

Using the power of persuasion, I convinced him to join me for a round of golf at the seven-year-old Sevillano Links course.

“Bring a lot of balls,” he quipped.

Well-stocked with golf balls

Well-stocked with golf balls

And so I did. Fifty of them. All used Titleists, compliments of www.lostgolfballs.com. I figured that would be enough balls for both of us.

Located just north of Corning, the olive capital of the world, Sevillano Links opened on March 2, 2007. Not surprisingly, the tee markers are different colors of olives — black, orange, grey, burgundy and, naturally, olive. Although the olive (forward) tees teased our taste-buds for a martini, we played the “Challenge” burgundy tees, giving us a 6,092 yard challenge.

Familiarity with any course helps you shoot a better score, more so with Sevillano Links than most courses I have played.

“One thing I didn’t like about (Sevillano Links) the first time I played it,” Newlun said, “was the amount of blind shots. It’s frustrating to hit what you think is a good shot, only to wind up with a lost ball in the tall grass.”

Indeed, course knowledge is essential here, starting with the first hole, a 495-yard, par-5, slight dogleg right.

The fairway looks enticingly wide from the tee. Not so. Veer just a few yards to the right and your ball lands in the native grass — in play but sometimes difficult to find. Hitting out of the grass is no fun. Noodles found the grass with his tee shot, while I hit what I thought was a terrific drive — well, at least it was straight.

Unfortunately, the ball went through the fairway and into the grass, never to be found. Right out of the chute it was 49 balls and counting.

“We’re always looking for ways to speed up play,” assistant pro Kyle Hansen said. “If you hit a ball out and can’t find it, go to the edge of the fairway, take a one-shot penalty, and play on.”

The goal is to play in four-and-one-half hours or less. Tee times are 10 minutes apart, which helps the overall spacing on the course and our round took about 4:20 to complete. Not bad considering the number of balls that amazingly missed the fairway.

Trouble lurks between tee and green on No. 14

Trouble lurks between tee and green on No. 14

The course is pretty much the way Mother Nature would want it. The lay of the land is fairly flat.

“I think the part that makes this course so unique is you have several risk-reward holes, a nice mixture of par-4s and par-5s and the par 3s can play at all kinds of yardages, from 140 to as far back as 250,” Hansen said. “We have five par-3s and five par-5s. That part of it is nice. You don’t see that very often. There are  a couple of easy holes out there, but we have a good mixture.

“Someone playing here for the first time usually is surprised by the number of blind shots there are. It usually takes three or four rounds to get to know the course.”

What you see from the natural ground level is what you get — so many blind shots. Elevated tees would have given golfers a better view of what lies ahead of them. But that would have messed with nature.

“I think the reason they didn’t want to put in a lot of elevated tees was because they wanted to keep the natural terrain as untouched as possible,” Hansen said.

There is not a specific “signature” hole on the course, but one of my favorites was the 315-yard, par-4 third hole. You can actually see the hole from the tee, and getting there in a straight line is tempting. Big hitters can do it with relative ease from the Challenge tees, but back up to the Daly tees and it’s a 386-foot wallop.

315-yard par-4 is a great risk-reward hole

No. 3, a 315-yard par-4, is a great risk-reward hole

“I think No. 3 is the best hole on the course,” Hansen said. “I have seen guys make a 2 on it and seen guys make a 7 on it. It’s driveable for the longer hitters which makes it a great
risk-reward hole.”

Although the course is open year-around, the best times of the year to play is spring and fall, when the native grasses are thinner. Hansen said September and October are among the busiest, filling the course with a good portion of the 20,000 to 25,000 rounds a year.

He said groups of golf fanatics that can be as large as 20 players make annual treks from as far south as San Francisco and as far north as Medford, Ore., to enjoy several days of golf and gambling. The Stay-and-Play promotion is a popular one at the Rolling Hills Casino.

That’s the one Noodles and I used for our stay-over and round of golf.

When it was all said and done, both of us hit in double figures, but barely, and the number of lost balls was actually minimal. He lost four balls and I lost five. But, with just a one-shot penalty, the lost-balls didn’t destroy our scores.

My advice: If you’re driving either north or south along I-5 in the middle of California, give Sevillano Links a try.

 

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Jim Street

Jim’s 40-year sportswriting career started with the San Jose Mercury-News in 1970 and ended on a full-time basis on October 31, 2010 following a 10-year stint with MLB.com. He grew up in Dorris, Calif., several long drives from the nearest golf course. His first tee shot was a week before being inducted into the Army in 1968. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he was a war correspondent for the 9th Infantry Division, Jim took up golf semi-seriously while working for the Mercury-News and covered numerous tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1982, when Tom Watson made the shot of his life on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. Jim also covered several Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournaments, the women’s U.S. Open, and other golfing events in the San Francisco area. He has a 17-handicap, never had a hole-in-one, although once he came within two inches of an ace, and witnessed the first round Ken Griffey Jr. ever played – at Arizona State during Spring Training in 1990. Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Kapalua Plantation Course, Pinehurst No. 2, Spyglass Hill, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Chambers Bay, North Berwick in Scotland, and Princeville are among the courses he has had the pleasure of playing. Hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway is not a strong part of Jim’s game, but he is known (in his own mind) as the best putter not on tour. Most of Jim’s writing career was spent covering Major League baseball, a tenure that started with the Oakland Athletics, who won 101 games in 1971, and ended with the Seattle Mariners, who lost 101 games in 2010. Symmetry is a wonderful thing. He currently lives in Seattle and vacations in Arizona (and other warm climates) as much as possible.

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