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More than just golf awaits players as River Oaks in Ceres reopens its back nine

From under 15 feet of water to lush, green and ready for golfers of all stripes, the back nine holes are reopening at River Oaks Golf Course in Ceres.

The bottom nine, as River Oaks calls holes 10 through 18 that run along the banks of the Tuolumne River, have been closed for about a year and a half for renovations after they flooded heavily last February. The public will get its first look at a grand reopening scramble tournament June 23.

"One of the biggest reasons people come out (to River Oaks) is the back nine. It's special; it's peaceful and serene along the river," said Ryan Thornberry, whose family owns the course. "We wanted to keep the character of the original course, but make it better."

The Thornberry and Hall families from Ceres bought the course from its original family owners in 2015. Since then they steadily have been making improvements on the popular course which had been operated since 1979 by the Phipps family.

The clubhouse overlooks the bottom nine. Unlike the front nine, which is all par-threes, the back has a mix of par-threes and -fours. Flooding last year left water on the course for about two months. Last fall the holes were reseeded and recontoured. New tees and greens were installed and an additional 150 yards were added to the back half of the course.

The families also hope to broaden the course's appeal with new additions. The first improvement was to build a 3,200-square-foot tented event center next to the clubhouse. More recently they also have installed 18-hole courses for both disc golf and FootGolf along the back nine. Like traditional golf, the new disc and foot courses challenge players to throw flying discs or kick a soccer ball into a series of holes.

For Thornberry, who started going to River Oaks when he was 7 years old and went on to be a local golf standout and play professionally, bringing it back is a point of pride and nostalgia.

"This is where my brother and I spent a lot of our childhood. Everyone starts here. I hear tons of golfers say they also grew up on this course," Thornberry said. "This is a blue-collar course."

River Oaks Golf Course, at 3441 Golf Links Road in Ceres, is open sunrise to sunset daily. Greens fees are $20-$22 for 18 holes, $10-$12 for the front nine and $13-$15 for the back nine. Disc golf and FootGolf is $7 per person. The grand opening two-person scramble is at 8:30 a.m. June 23 and costs $40 per player. For more information call 209-537-4653 or visit www.riveroaksceres.com.

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