Poppy Hills can be called a crossroads, a true meeting place for Northern California golf.
It is not uncommon for Modesto golfers at Poppy to say hello to friends from Fresno, the Bay Area, Sacramento and all parts of the region.
Who knows who you'll run into there? Poppy sits in the heart of the Del Monte forest, bracketed by its famous neighbors Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Cypress Point. The game brings together celebrities and everymen.
Last summer, we spotted actor Dennis Haysbert, better known as the baritone-voiced spokesman for Allstate insurance, as he had breakfast. Haysbert, raised in San Mateo, also is remembered as Pedro Cerrano, the voodoo-practicing slugger in "Major League."
Haysbert's love of golf took him to Poppy, and why not? It's the pulse center of the Northern California Golf Association and its 160,000 members, and at least 20 percent of them hail from the valley between Fresno and Sacramento.
When Poppy opened in 1986, it became the first course in the country to be owned and operated by an amateur golf association. A decade later, the NCGA also completed the 27-hole Poppy Ridge near Livermore.
Valley NCGA members always have enjoyed discounted green fees at Poppy Hills and Poppy Ridge. But beginning next February or March, Poppy Hills will close for about a year as it undergoes a major renovation:
The installation of a new irrigation system.
The replacing and redesigning of greens and bunker.
The redesigning and lessening of several doglegs.
Sand-capping the fairways to assist drainage.
The $10.5 million project went down like this: Because the course would be closed for the irrigation project, it was perfect timing to address other changes. Poppy is scheduled to reopen in April or May of 2014.
"Providing an unmatched golf experience and value for NCGA members will always be a top priority for the association and this project seeks to enhance that experience and make our members' course one of the finest in the nation," said Lyn Nelson, the CEO and executive director of the NCGA. "There will be a greater variety of tee boxes to ensure the golf experience is remarkable for players of all skill sets."
The NCGA and Poppy Holding Inc. will cover the costs through cash reserves and a loan.
The design firm headed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., Poppy's original architect, spearheads the project. One of its big goals is water conservation via the reduction of irrigated areas by about 14.5 acres.
Poppy already excelled in its attention to the environment due to its usage of 100 percent recycled water for irrigation. But under the new plan, the course will feature a more naturalized look along the lines of Pine Valley that blends with the forest. Less water will be needed.
Golf-wise, Nos. 11 and 12 will be redone. The par-3 11th essentially will be reversed with the tee located roughly in the area of the existing green. The 12th, a right-angle par-5 and arguably Poppy's weakest hole, will be switched to a straight-away par-4 of about 430 yards from the tips.
The course will be expanded to more than 7,000 yards, several hundred yards longer, and will play at a par of 71. While Poppy is closed, the NCGA's major tournaments will be conducted at nearby Del Monte and Bayonet. Poppy Ridge also is in the mix.
Poppy Hills always bore the brunt of criticism of PGA Tour players during its run in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am between 1991 and 2009. They didn't like the awkward topography, the perched greens and the funky par-5s.
Officials maintain the changes are not being made to lure Poppy Hills back into the AT&T rotation. Enhancing the members' golf experience through much-needed changes is the core idea here, and they believe the new Poppy Hills will be worth the wait.
For an in-depth look at the renovation, visit www.ncga.org.
THE SHAG BAG Turlock's Spencer Heller, the three-time Division II All-American at Sonoma State, will begin her senior season later this month. ... Modesto's Christine Uhalde, a junior at Fresno State, tied for 39th during the Bulldogs' season-opening tournament at Fort Collins, Colo. The Johansen High graduate was a second-team All-Western Athletic Conference selection as a sophomore. ... San Jose State sophomore Kathleen Rojas (Turlock Christian), also competing at Fort Collins, eagled a 369-yard par-4 and tied for 77th individually. The Spartans placed fourth and the Bulldogs tied for 11th. ... Shawnee Martinez of Modesto, a Long Beach State freshman, did not play in the 49ers' first tournament due to a cyst that may require surgery. The former Enochs High star won the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters title a record-setting three times.
HOLE-IN-ONE Jim Reese, Sonora, 180-yard seventh at Mountain Springs, Sonora, 5-iron.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2302.