SACRAMENTO, California – As the weather in northern parts of the United States turns cold and dreary, golf courses are closing for the off-season. Southern states such as the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida are your typical retreats as the thought of snow has many golfers escaping not only the snowflakes and cold temps, but the mental torture of no golf for months.
Well, the southeast is great, but as the great American author Horace Greeley once said, “Go west, young man!”
I’m not sure if Mr. Greeley ever ventured to Sacramento, but I have recently, and the California state capital has plenty to offer when it comes to fun, challenging and affordable golf.
Traveling from Buffalo (N.Y.), I asked a former resident to recommend a course and he told me that Haggin Oaks had two courses and one of them had great greens. He also mentioned their golf store was one of the best anywhere. And, he was right.
Haggin Oaks features two 18-hole courses, but one goes by the name of the “MacKenzie Course” after its 1932 architect Alister MacKenzie. You’ve heard the name before? McKenzie also designed that little ole course in Georgia called Augusta National, home of The Masters.
Now it would be wrong of me to compare any greens to those of Augusta, but the best feature of the MacKenzie course at Haggin Oaks are the greens. The course is pretty straight forward. They feature wide fairways, not many hazards except for the green side bunkers, but the greens make up for that. They roll very true and offer different contours and angles that get your attention. Any holed out putt beyond 6 feet is very satisfying to say the least.
It took me to the 16th hole to realize that when I had a hard-breaking 20-footer that went down the drain for a birdie 2 on the 160 yard, uphill par 3. That was fun. It helped this 13-handicapper shoot 83 and enjoy a great day at Haggin Oaks.
Before leaving, I did stop in the “Golf Super Shop”, as they call it, and boy, was it super. They had every brand, every trinket, every maker of apparel and more. There were some close out prices, but quantity was the main attraction, not necessarily discount prices. I made it out of there with the will power of only spending $150 and that was an accomplishment.
One of my playing partners at Haggin Oaks was a long-time Sacramento resident named Don Howell. When I asked him where else to play in the area, he was quick to reel off the following.
“Ancil Hoffman is a great course”, he said. “Turkey Creek is a good one. In the Davis (Cal.) area, there’s a course called Wildhorse. One that’s a lot of fun, if you want to score, is Wild Hawk in south Sacramento. Yeah, there’s a lot of good courses in the Sacramento area. And really, you can play almost all of them for $40-$50 Monday through Friday.”
On Don’s recommendation I moved on to Ancil Hoffman golf course on the other side of Sacramento. What I found was not only a very challenging golf course but the story of Mr. Ancil Hoffman is really good. Hoffman was a long time Supervisor of Sacramento county, but he is best known as the Manager/Trainer of heavyweight boxing champion Max Baer. It was June 8, 1933 when Baer took on champion Max Schmeling of Germany in front of 65,000 fans at Yankee Stadium in New York.
Baer dominated “The Battle of the Maxes” and after a 10th round knockdown of Schmeling, he was declared the winner by technical knockout (TKO). The story is told in the clubhouse featuring a number of pictures of the bout as well as an autographed picture of Hoffman standing between Baer and another heavyweight champion, the great Jack Dempsey, “The Manassa Mauler”.
One more note about Max Baer, his son, Max Maer Jr. played Jethro Bodine on the hit TV show “The Beverly Hillbillies.” It was quite an enjoyable day of history at Ancil Hoffman golf course.
As for the course, the first thing that hits you are the amount of trees. They are left, right and even in the middle of the fairway. The goal at Ancil Hoffman is very simple, hit it as straight as you can and keep the ball out of the trees!
There are a few holes that reminded me of Oak Hill, home of the 2023 PGA Championship. The oak and pine trees lined the very well manicured fairways. On the par five 7th and 10th holes the trees got closer together as you got closer to the green, forcing you to thread the needle enroute to the green.
The LPGA had a plan to play at Ancil Hoffman (it’s that good), but there’s a tree in the middle of the 16th fairway about 200 yards from the tee box. The LPGA demanded that the golf course remove the tree. The course refused, the LPGA never played there, and the tree remains as a serious challenge on 16. Good for them.
Last but not least, another neat twist to playing at Ancil Hoffman was my playing partner Chris LeRoi. We played on a Monday and he had just returned the day before from the Bobby Jones Golf Course in Atlanta for the 2023 World Long Driving Championships. As it turned out, Chris’ wife, Heather Manfretta is the 2013 World Long Drive Champion. After a four-year hiatus she went back to try and win another title. She came up short as Monica Lieving won the National Championship with a drive of 349 yards in the semi-finals and outlasted No. 1 Phillis Meti in the finals.
As for the men, Chris watched as his wife’s training partner Sean Johnson crushed it 397 yards in the finals, only to see Kyle Berkshire hit it ONE YARD farther and win the title with a drive of 398 yards.
“It was absolutely amazing,” said Chris. “Watching these guys absolutely annihilate a golf ball. The swings, the sounds. If you ever have a chance to see the finals or where ever they are playing, you need to go.”
Soooo, from making a killer birdie on 16 on the sweet greens of the MacKenzie course, to learning the history of the man, Ancil Hoffman, to learning the demands on a golf course from LPGA, getting real life reaction to witnessing the World Long Drive Championship, playing golf in Sacramento was a whole hell of a lot more interesting than I could have ever imagined. I can’t wait to get back and see what stories are still out there.