At Granite Bay Golf Club, Mark Parsinen and Robert Trent Jones Jr. have reaffirmed the value of the game’s basic principles: sound routing, clubhouse designed for golfers, old-time feel to the bunker shapes and grasses, greens designed for thoughtful approach shots and the short game, dramatic setting.
In 1990 Parsinen, who later went on to co-design highly regarded Kingsbarns outside St. Andrews, happened upon a rolling, 190-acre site east of Sacramento, California. It lay in the eastern edge of the Central Valley, at a point just below Folsom Lake that brought the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains into view from the higher ground. The only drawback was that deep beds of granite rock undergirded the topsoil.
Yet Parsinen was enough of a student of modern design to realize that with a clever routing, there would be enough room for a solid golf course. Indeed, he even sketched out a routing on a rough contour map of the grounds. Not bad for a neophyte, eight holes of that proposed plan were eventually built in place.
The bunkers at Granite Bay have been carved with the same attention to flow and contour normally devoted to putting surfaces. Instead of keeping the sand down low, or merely flashing sand up a wall to face the player, the design group at Granite Bay sculpted bunkers with curved sand beds. As a general rule, the farther away from the green, the lower the sand profile—this to allow opportunity for advancing the ball. To accentuate the contours, the high edges of many bunkers have been planted with fescue grasses, which conveys a carefully controlled appearance of scruffiness.
These bunkers are noticeable, and yet they fit in gently with the land. At the 396-yard 10th hole, a series of hazard turns the outside of the dogleg and defines the flow of the fairway. A fascinating hazard between the 13th and 15th fairways serves double-duty as a reversible bunker. And bunkers fronting the greens at the par-3 14th and par-4 16th are built into the wall of a hill below the target and define the carry across a natural ravine. The deployment of trees also merits attention at Granite Bay. Mature oaks delineate angles of play and serve as strategic hazards without creating a claustrophobic feel.
The course opens with a Cape-style par 4 that offers generous ground for a bailout. Any concerns that Granite Bay might be on the soft side, however, are dashed mid-fairway at No. 2. The approach to this 422-yard hole must find a green perched on a plateau and set diagonally over yawning bunkers. From here in, the tempo shifts while the intensity builds. The par-4 5th sweeps boldly left, with the aiming point defined by a MacKenzie-style bunker on the far side of the fairway. The next hole is an uphill, 327-yard par 4 where a mid-fairway bunker creates all manner of options.
To say that Granite Bay ends on a crescendo understates the case. From the 10th tee onward, each hole gets stronger and stronger. The 212-yard 14th, with its carry across a ravine to a green perched above two hungry bunkers, seems to suggest the famed 5th at Pine Valley. At the 397-yard 17th, the fairway is miles wide as it sweeps gently uphill and to the right. The 18th is a 469-yard par 4 that tumbles from the highest point (and the best view) on the entire layout to a green nestled into a natural amphitheater.
Year founded: 1994
Architects: Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Mark Parsinen