Pine Mountain Lake Golf Course – Practice and Playing Strategies

Pine Mountain Lake Golf Course

Overview of Pine Mountain Lake Golf Course

PMLGC is a beautiful 18 hole, 6,832 yard, Par 70 course located in scenic Groveland, CA, just 25 miles from Yosemite National Park.  It is a fair but challenging layout with many elevation changes and a vast amount of pine, cedar, and oak trees.  The greens keeping crew does an excellent job of keeping this course green and clean, and the pro shop is very inviting with an always warm and welcoming attitude from the staff.

Distance from the gold tees is 6125 yards, men’s course rating is 68.8/slope 124.  For women it is a rating of 75.1/slope 137.  But there are 4 other tee box options, one longer and three shorter.

There are only two par 5s and for most they are unreachable in two strokes, so don’t be holding your breath for eagle opportunities here.  Three of the four par 3s are 170 to 190 foot holes with elevation change and birdies are tough to come by on these.

There is only one hole where a lake presents a significant threat (#1 – the “signature hole”) and there are only two fairway bunkers on the course (#2 and #12).  Most of the holes have homes (and OB) on one side of the fairway, but it usually going to require a pretty wayward drive to encounter these.  A bigger concern here is the unlevel lies that you may encounter and the difficulty of gauging distances to the uphill greens on 75% of the holes.

Practice with the clubs that you will use the most

I always warm up before a round, and try to do it efficiently.  As stated above, I focus on the clubs that I use the most.  That makes sense and sounds simple enough, but most of us just don’t do it.   I would guess that only 20% of the golfers here warm up before a round and if you observe 10 people warming up on the driving range, 7 or 8 of them will usually be hitting drivers.  And most of them will walk to the first tee without even taking a few practice putts!

Pine Mountain Lake Golf Course is a relatively short course, and I usually hit driver on 14 holes per round.  In a typical round, the driver would only account for 15% of my clubs used.  I also know that a fairway wood will rarely come out of my bag more than two times per round at PML.  Utility clubs and long irons (5-4 iron), primarily used on par three holes, will rarely be used more than 6 times per round.  But short irons (wedges to 8 iron) will account for most of my full shots per round.   I also know that I am going to miss my inordinate share of greens and that there will be days where I will have up to fifteen chips, 1/2 wedges and/or sand shots.  And then there is the putter!  2 putts for all 18 holes means that 36 of our shots in an ideal par round will be hit by a putter.

My club percentage use example above will be different from your experiences here and yours will be highly dependent on how far you hit your clubs, and of course your accuracy.  Higher handicap players will have a higher percentage of short game shots to tackle, and probably more putts.  Lower handicap players will have less of these.

I encourage you to take an “inventory” of your own rounds of golf, whether they be here at Pine Mountain Lake Golf Course or elsewhere.  Play the entire course in your mind and count your expected shots hit with each club (and calculate your likely percentage of missed greens), and proportion your practice time to the clubs that you will use the most.

One obvious lesson to be learned by this exercise is that everyone should spend a lot of time working on putting.  No matter how bad your golf game is, your score would improve dramatically if you were able to average 2 putts (or less) per hole.  And the higher your handicap, the more likely that you will need to focus on chips and half wedges as well.  These shots as well as putting are going to be where any player can improve their game the most, and they do not require pro player strength.  They mostly just require practice, and maybe a lesson or two from the accommodating staff at PMLGC.  Just imagine how good you golf scores would be if your short game was as good as the pros!

Prepare for unlevel lies

If you are a “flat-lander”, you will be surprised by hilliness of PML Golf Course.  When I first moved here my handicap doubled, and I am sure that was because I was accustomed to playing relatively flat golf courses in the Bay Area.  Here you will have to hit numerous shots off of sidehill, downhill, and uphill lies.

You will need to hit the sidehill shots with controlled 3/4 swings and should practice these and know your distances for these shots with each club. For most, ball above your feet will result in the ball drawing left, and ball below your feet will result in a fade.

Downhill and uphill shots are easy to top or hit fat if you do not adjust your stance and swing for them.  Your shoulders will need to be tilted to match the down or uphill slope, and on more severe slopes you may need to go to that 3/4 swing.  Downhill lies will often result in a draw and you need to account for that.

To become a good player at this course, you will need to practice numerous shots from all of these lies, working on the 3/4 swings with all of your clubs, and knowing how your distances are changed with this swing.  Practice builds confidence, and confidence results in scoring.

Club up for elevated greens

The majority of the holes at Pine Mountain Lake Golf Course have elevated greens.  Holes # 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16, and 18 all have approach or tee shots to elevated greens, and if you were to monitor all of the shots into these greens by amateurs on these holes, you would likely find that 80% of them are hit too short.

We all know the solution to this problem (hit more club), but many of us have trouble putting that simple strategy into our shot making decisions.  I see many players that simply try to swing harder with the same club, and that usually results in a bad shot.  Some holes may require two more clubs than you normally hit for the distance.

So it is very important that you now your distance to the hole.  Too many golfers do not take distance seriously enough, and will quickly guess a number.  Consider buying a rangefinder that acquires distance to the flag, and strongly consider one which adjusts for “slope” (calculates corrected distance to flag considering elevation change).

If you are a visitor to PML (and accustomed to playing lower elevation courses), keep in mind that our elevation (2600-2900 feet) will typically cause your clubs to hit a little farther here, and that should be factored in as well.  I now have a high end Bushnell Rangefinder that actually gives a distance to the flag that compensates for slope, barometric pressure, and temperature!  Now I have no excuses for getting my distances wrong.

Take your time on the greens

The greens at PML are fairly large and you may have your fair share of longer lag putts.  The greens are relatively true here and usually not that fast.  If you read the putt well and hit it right, you will often be rewarded.  But you need to get a “feel” for the greens before each round by putting for at least 10 minutes on the practice green.  Hit some lag putts, five footers and three footers to get a feel for the speed of the greens and to build your confidence.

There are typically three other players in your group and you should get in the habit of guessing the read of their putts as well and observing the results.  It is great practice for reading your own putts and it will help you get a feel for each green.  And always pay close attention to the putts of other players whose putts are on a similar line to the hole as yours, observing how hard they hit the ball as well as how it breaks; never miss an opportunity to “get a read”.