Ron Agostini

Restored Don Pedro plays tougher

The covered patio at the Lake Don Pedro Golf & Country Club clubhouse overlooks the 18th green and adjoining townhomes.  (Ted Benson / The Modesto Bee)
The covered patio at the Lake Don Pedro Golf & Country Club clubhouse overlooks the 18th green and adjoining townhomes. (Ted Benson / The Modesto Bee)

The setting needed no extra flourishes: the 15th green, tucked and angled into a hillside and protected by menacing bunkers, while a natural waterfall whispered the sounds of late winter.

Lake Don Pedro Golf Resort and Country Club, the restored version, greets the visitor with many scenes like the above. The semi-private Gold Country course, closed seven years ago, reopens Saturday in a comeback worthy of any rags-to-riches story.

"I always hoped someone would get the course going again," said Bill Cloud, 61, the club's handicap chairman who lives on a hilltop home nearby. "It's going to be a lot of fun to play again."

Those who remember the original Lake Don Pedro, the 1970 Billy Bell design, will be pleasantly surprised by the revision. Though the routing hasn't changed (other than the nines being reversed), everything else has been given a makeover. It's longer, tougher and far more interesting.

Head professional Ray Claveran Jr., who worked there for his father as a kid and young adult, relocated many of the greens to take advantage of existing trees and mountain creeks. For example, the 15th green was moved back about 30 yards to spice a well-crafted par-4. The green at the par-4 18th now towers high above the fairway.

"No fluff, all golf," Claveran said. "I didn't want any weak shots to win matches at the 18th."

Claveran's work is best seen on the huge and sloping greens, which average about 6,000 square feet, and the muscular bunkering that protects them. The result is a par 72 that can be stretched to more than 7,000 yards and, from the white tees, a misleading 6,500 yards. About 500 yards have been added overall. Players who recall many short-iron approach shots in the past will settle for middle-iron swings today.

"I've been telling everyone that their handicap will go up six or seven strokes. If you're a 12 in Modesto, you'll be an 18 or better up here," Cloud said. "A Northern California Golf Association official told me it was one of the longest 6,500-yard courses he's ever measured."

Lake Don Pedro's new length will be somewhat negated during the hot summer months, but the overall effect remains the same — major improvement. Three highlights:

The 454-yard par-4 seventh, a rigorous test. The second shot demands a long carry over a low area to a plateau green.

The 170-yard ninth, an aesthetic masterpiece that includes vegetation and terraced waterfalls, a visual distraction for the tee shot to a huge and tumbling green.

The par-5 17th, formerly a double-dogleg blemished by dense overgrowth, has been refined into a more attractive hole that officials worked hard to complete this week.

Work still remains on the 17th and other areas. Pumping life into a long-neglected course requires effort and, yes, money.

The man behind the process is Tom Porter, president of the San Ramon-based Deerwood Corporation. Porter, who spent two years of his childhood in Waterford, acquired Lake Don Pedro properties over the last five years and eventually invested $22 million in the overhaul.

The result is a revitalized 18-hole course, a first-class clubhouse, pro shop and restaurant, and 18 five-star townhouses bordering the 10th fairway. About 50 members have joined the club, though tee times and the townhouses are open to the public. Green fees have been set at a reasonable $35 Monday through Thursday, $45 on Friday and $55 on the weekends. All prices include cart.

Deerwood built the townhouses, sold 50 homes and hopes for sales of another 100 homes. How it's done this, amid a freefalling economy, is best explained by Porter's cash-on-the-barrel-head style.

"I gave a budget of $3 million for the golf course and the clubhouse, and they spent $11 million. My guys don't follow instructions," Porter said before he got serious.

"I believe we have a different product from some subdivision down the street. We'll make it because of me. I'm a self-made man, and I'm not failure-oriented. I tried poverty in my early years. It didn't work for me. I'm hands-on, and I can lead and I can personally sell."

We know this: Porter already has worked a small miracle at Lake Don Pedro. The course, sold out this weekend, is an old friend returning to the local golf scene.

THE SHAG BAG — Shawnee Martinez, 13, of Modesto became the first player to twice win the River Oaks Junior Match Play Championship, thanks to her victory in the final last month over Johansen sophomore Christine Uhalde. In the Directors Flight, Drake Ortega defeated Matt Mensinger in the final. ... The First Tee of Modesto was a recipient of grants from the Northern California Golf Association Foundation last year. More than $140,000 was handed to various youth organizations that focus on golf and like skills. ... Golf economy: A recent study revealed that the average golfer walks about 900 miles a year. Another study found that golfers drink, on average, 22 gallons of alcohol a year. This means, on average, golfers get about 41 miles to the gallon!

HOLES-IN-ONE — Sam Gamez, Turlock, 160-yard fifth at Dryden Park, 6-iron. ... Gary Burch, Modesto, 127-yard eighth at Jack Tone Golf, Ripon, 8-iron. ... Jason Lewis, Oakdale, 148-yard 11th at Jack Tone, 7-iron.

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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