Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Last Dance at the Ranch, Part I

A few weeks ago, I found out that Stevinson Ranch Golf Club would be closing for good on July 18, 2015. What a shame. The place has been a source of numerous drunken adventures and great times for many years.

In the early 1990's, a former professional golfer named George Kelly took a piece of land that had been in his family for over a hundred years and transformed it into a beautifully laid-out golf course. It’s a clear nod to the early days of golf architecture in America, importing the character and traditions of the great Scottish Links courses.

By September of 1995, the course was ready for action. It immediately gained notoriety as Best New Upscale Public Course in California and became the site of the 1996 and 1997 U. S. Open Qualifying matches. It also consistently ranked in the top 25 courses in California and even made the list of top-five public courses in the United States. Most recently the readers of Golf Digest awarded it 4 1/2 Stars out of a possible five for the overall golf experience. As far as California goes, only Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill are rated higher.

But this isn’t a story about golf. It’s a tale of drinking.

A few years ago, my friend Steve did a little research and found that Stevinson Ranch is located about 30 minutes east of Merced, California, and about an hour-and-a-half from where we live in Fresno. He also learned that it’s extremely affordable to play. Amazingly, it’s not a place where you aren’t allowed to wear a ball cap indoors and where you are required to keep your shirt tucked in at all times. It maintains a laid-back atmosphere. And, it has private cottages and a spa and a pool and a restaurant and a full-service bar. We decided to give it a try.

When we arrived for the first time, we were surprised at how rustic the buildings are. The “private cottages” are really just a group of pretty nice single-wide mobile homes that resemble cabins and that are arranged around a small community area that has a barbeque, pool, Jacuzzi, and a bunch of round tables with umbrellas. Nothing more than something you would see at a standard apartment complex anywhere in California. The Restaurant, bar, and pro shop were also housed in a few modular buildings that were arranged around a huge and beautiful wooden deck with plenty of outdoor seating, a fire pit, and an outdoor stage for entertainment.

We usually rent one of the cottages for a couple of nights and drink and golf as much as we can for the weekend. This trip - our final trip – would be no different.

We left Fresno at 5:30 PM on Thursday with our clubs, a change of clothes, a carton of Marlboro Lights, and a big ice chest full of Guinness, a handle of Kraken, two 750 ml bottles of Beefeater, and a collection of mixers.

After checking in, we headed directly to the bar and started with cocktails. It didn’t surprise us that the bartenders, Debbie and Kelly, were already shit-faced. Regulars had been buying them shots all day and they all had the terrific what-are-they-going-to-do…fire-me? attitude. It was a great time.

As the sun began to set, the place filled up with more and more people. And we learned quickly that most of the customers were people just like us; they were all there for one last dance at the ranch.

Well, there was no fucking around in the bar that night. Everyone was there to drink. And everyone was drinking hard. The mood was both somber and upbeat at the same time and the spirit escalated quickly. There were older men playing dice games, even-older women dancing, a handful of young guys playing some sort of drinking game that involved each person mimicking a complex set of gestures and movements of the player before him, and many other people telling stories of great times at this wonderful place. And I was proud to be a part of this collection of assholes.

At about 10:00 P.M., someone decided to buy a round of drinks for the entire bar. I wasn’t sure who sponsored the round, so I simply yelled “THANK YOU FOR THE DRINK!” into the crowd. A cheer broke out from the masses.

Soon, someone else bought a round for the entire bar. And then someone else, and another after that. Steve looked at me and laughed. “Hey Debbie,” he called out to the bartender, “the next round is on me.”

“I’ll get the one after that,” I added. We were all caught up in the madness of the strange and wonderful party.

Pretty soon, Debbie and Kelly were unable to make cocktails and simply resorted to making huge batches of whatever they thought people might drink. It was working out fine because everyone was happy with whatever was served to them.UMP TO PART II

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