COPPEROPOLIS, Calif. - It's a whole different world inside those gates.
The Saddle Creek Golf Resort, an oasis of homes and lodging, offers the country club life of a gated community, whether you're visiting on a stay-and-play package or a resident lucky enough to own a luxurious home and club membership. The problem - or blessing? - is its isolated location miles from anywhere. The 900-acre development by Castle & Cooke sits hidden four miles off of California State Route 4 in the Sierra Nevada foothills, where ranchland stretches as far as the eye can see. On a good traffic day, reaching Saddle Creek takes little more than two hours by car from the Bay Area or two hours from Sacramento.
The centerpiece of Saddle Creek is a 6,803-yard course so enjoyable that it alone is worth the journey. The Carter Morrish design, which debuted in 1993, will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year. The routing, twisting into a figure eight through the property, mixes uphill and downhill holes with every skill set in mind. Some are short enough to birdie; others long enough to test anyone's mettle. The collection of par 3s demands a wide range of club selections and shots. During my round, I hit 5 iron (185 yards at no. 4), 7 iron (150 yards at no. 7), 8 iron (135 yards on no. 11) and choke-down driver (220 yards at no. 14). No shot felt the same. Water lurks in key spots - notably on the approaches to the par-5 eighth and par-4 ninth and par-3 14th holes - but it's the bunkering around the greens and unrelenting fescue lining the fairways that pose the biggest threats. Considering the green fees never cost more than a Benjamin, Saddle Creek might be the best golf value in NoCal.
The bungalows used for overnight guests are comfortable enough to live in permanently. My family shared a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit - "Medinah" - with a large family room that blends into a dining room and full kitchen. Its patio out back overlooks the first hole. The clubhouse's Copper Grille is just a short walk away from all the bungalows, so guests are never far from a fine wine or savory steak.
A fitness center - home to an outdoor pool and hot tub, horseshoe pits and bocce ball and tennis courts - offers more family recreation. Once inside the gates, you'll regret the day you have to leave.