Saddle Creek Golf Resort: Northern California's hidden gem in Copperopolis

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.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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Saddle Creek Golf Resort: Northern California's hidden gem in Copperopolis