A Valley Golf Course Saved from the Bulldozer

The obituary for this Central Valley golf center was already written:  the land was purchased by Children’s Hospital of Central California for expansion.  But before the bulldozer, there was a reprieve.

River Park Golf Course was a par-27 course below the cliff where Children’s Hospital Central California stands.  Photo by Steve Newvine

River Park Golf Course was a par-27 course below the cliff where Children’s Hospital Central California stands.  Photo by Steve Newvine

River Park Golf Course in southern Madera County was a neat executive course where a golfer could play nine holes in about an hour.  

The course and large driving range have lights so golfers could play until eight o’clock at night during the winter, and later during the rest of the year.

I played a few rounds there in the years since arriving in California back in 2004.  My first trip there was with visitors looking for something to do.  

We played the attached mini-golf course and had a good time.  That mini golf course closed shortly after our visit.

A few years later, I played the golf course for the first time.  Every hole was a par three, compelling me to put away my driver and rely only on my irons.  

The course was perfect for my irons.  I think I improved that part of my game thanks to the short distance holes there.

At that course, I perfected what I call “no-huddle golf”.  I would play nine holes in as short a period of time as possible.  No-huddle golf to me meant “don’t think about the shot, just hit it, and keep moving”.  

That style of play served me well on days when time was at a premium.

I read about the pending closure in the fall of 2017.  

I was not surprised.  In my time in California, I’ve read of at least four courses closing.  Some went out of business because the drought demanded too much of the precious water that kept the grass green.  

Some ceased operations because owners grew weary of chasing greens fees from golfers who had many choices including on-line deals and newspaper coupons.  

Some closed simply because the land was more valuable for development.

 The closest my ball ever got to the cup off a tee shot happened at River Park Golf Course in Madera.  Photo- Steve Newvine

 The closest my ball ever got to the cup off a tee shot happened at River Park Golf Course in Madera.  Photo- Steve Newvine

River Park was also the site of my greatest shot ever.  

I’ll never forget the day my swing from a six iron on a 135 yard par three took the ball just six inches from the cup.  There was hope that someday that evasive hole-in-one would happen.

With the announcement of the closing, I made peace with myself that a hole-in-one was not going to happen at River Park.

 River Park Golf Course ceased operations when the land was sold to Children’s Hospital of Central California.  The new name for the course is Valley Golf Center.  There’s new management, and a revision to the Hospital’s plan to use the land for expansion. Photo by Steve Newvine

 River Park Golf Course ceased operations when the land was sold to Children’s Hospital of Central California.  The new name for the course is Valley Golf Center.  There’s new management, and a revision to the Hospital’s plan to use the land for expansion. Photo by Steve Newvine

When I flew into Fresno Yosemite International Airport following a vacation, I gathered my luggage, loaded my car, and left the parking lot.  

Checking the time, I knew I could spare one additional hour before coming home to Merced.  So I headed to highway 41 North, got off at the Rio Mesa exit just over the Madera County line, and drove to River Park Golf Course.

While I could not be certain at the time, my instincts told me this would be my last round at this course.  I played a relaxing round of golf.  No-huddle golf would have to wait for some other time at some other course.  I shot a 35 on the 27 par layout.  

It was not my best round there, but not the worst either.  I walked into the pro shop, thanked the man at the register for several years of enjoyment, and headed on my way.  

It was my farewell.

The new name for the former River Park Golf Course is Valley Golf Center.

The new name for the former River Park Golf Course is Valley Golf Center.

But then in late December, there was a surprise Christmas present for the hundreds of golfers who have used the course.

Children’s Hospital modified their plans, at least temporarily.  The course was saved.  

The new name is Valley Golf Center.  There’s new management, and a revision to the Hospital’s plan to use the land for medical offices.

A return to this newly named, old friend of a golf course in the first weeks of 2018 was a special time.  

I shot a 32, just five shots over par.  With a smile on my face, I went inside the pro shop to thank the new person behind the counter.

Saved from the bulldozer, this golf course has been revived.  

And a lot of golfers are happy about that.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

His new book California Back Roads is available on Lulu.com

 

UC Merced Downtown Campus Center Open for Business

Watching the work crews add some final touches to the exterior of the new UC Merced Downtown Center, a life-long Merced resident looked at the sight, and with a degree of pride said, “I’ve been here all my life.  I feel like saying ‘where did this come from’?”

School colors blue and gold adorn the entrance to the new UC Merced Downtown Campus Center.  Photo: Steve Newvine

School colors blue and gold adorn the entrance to the new UC Merced Downtown Campus Center.  Photo: Steve Newvine

The new thirty-three million dollar three-story  Campus Center officially opened with much fanfare on January 23.  The Center will be the workplace for three-hundred UC Merced non-academic employees. 

The building provides 67,400 square feet of office space.  It is state-of-the-art energy efficient, having earned a Gold designation from LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) from the US Green Building Council.

Open space will greet the visitor to the UC Merced Downtown Campus Center.  Photo- Steve Newvine

Open space will greet the visitor to the UC Merced Downtown Campus Center.  Photo- Steve Newvine

The new facility replaces leased space that has served the University well in the early years of operation.  With any rented office, the tenant usually modifies the existing space to fit the needs of a particular department.  

The new space was designed specifically for the departments that will use the offices.  Groups that frequently need to work together will now be down the hall, or up a level or two within the new building.

All of this gives the University greater flexibility in managing the growth of various departments.

The meeting space in the UC Merced Downtown Campus Center was designed for the specific needs of each department using the building.  Photo:  Steve Newvine

The meeting space in the UC Merced Downtown Campus Center was designed for the specific needs of each department using the building.  Photo:  Steve Newvine

According to the UC Merced website, forty non-academic departments are being brought into the new Center.  

The departments will move according to a three-phase plan that begins immediately and ends by the summer of 2019.  

Resources from the University teaching, research, and public service departments will be integrated into the Downtown Center.  It is hoped this collaboration of University resources will help create and nurture partnerships throughout the community.

The Downtown Campus Center is direct across the street from Merced City Hall.  Photo- Steve Newvine

The Downtown Campus Center is direct across the street from Merced City Hall.  Photo- Steve Newvine

The Center’s location is no accident.  Directly across the street from City Hall, the facility is symbolically linked to the future of the City of Merced.  

With three-hundred new workers soon to inhabit the downtown area, there are a lot of eyes watching to see how downtown will adapt and change with this new anchor employer in place.

Already, transitions are taking place in UC leased space at the Prominade, Mondo, Castle, and Venture Lab locations.

Construction workers checking details as the final touches are being made to the UC Merced Downtown Campus Center.  Photo:  Steve Newvine

Construction workers checking details as the final touches are being made to the UC Merced Downtown Campus Center.  Photo:  Steve Newvine

The Downtown Campus Center drives home the point that the UC is a legitimate part of the downtown Merced community.  

It always has been that way since even before the Lake Road campus opened.  

But now, with permanent office space that many would agree is a centerpiece of downtown, UC Merced has made a mark on our city.

As that lifelong Merced resident said to me as we looked at the new building, “this is truly amazing.”

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

He has written California Back Roads, Stories from the Land of the Palm and the Pine.

A Couple of Chipped Mugs

We tend to do a lot of cleaning up, throwing out, and organizing in the early days of a new year.  A few found items have me recalling some happy times.

Coffee mug from the two years I spent as a television journalist at WAAY-TV in Huntsville, Alabama.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

Coffee mug from the two years I spent as a television journalist at WAAY-TV in Huntsville, Alabama.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

Take this coffee mug with a broken handle that’s been glued back on.  

The mug shows the logo for WAAY-TV where I worked as a television journalist for two years in the early 1980s.  

Everyone who worked there got a coffee mug.  The coffee maker was in the general manager’s office.  We were told it was his way of getting to know everyone.  

If we wanted caffeine, we had to go through him.  

Those of us in the newsroom were often so anxious to get coffee, the general manager’s secretary started making announcements over the station public address line.  “Attention, the coffee is ready.”  We’d make our way to the manager’s office, say hello, and fill our mugs.

The cup went with me when I left for greener pastures.  The handle likely broke during one of several moves to new cities and new jobs.  I held on to it all these years because of the memories it generates.

My daughters got me this mug a few years ago, and I promptly dropped it creating a crack and making it useless for beverage holding.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

My daughters got me this mug a few years ago, and I promptly dropped it creating a crack and making it useless for beverage holding.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

Father’s might expect a number of tee shirts, coffee mugs, or hats for Father’s Day, birthdays, or Christmas.  

I had my share of specialized gifts from my two daughters over the years.  

But this coffee mug was special as it came to me later in my life.  My daughters got it for me a few years ago, but unfortunately, it would not last long as a holder of coffee.  

I dropped it within months, rendering it useless for beverages.  But as with other broken special mugs, I repurposed it to hold pencils and it sits on my dresser.

Over the years, I have collected coffee mugs from the many places I’ve worked, cities I have visited, or as gifts from friends or relatives.  

One of my going away gifts from New York State was a ceramic mug made by a clay artist who lived in the community where we lived at the time.  I used it for a while, but now it rests in a cabinet in our foyer; it’s a memory from a very special time in my life.

I just put away Christmas tree decorations and came across a special mug featuring a photograph of our daughters from a visit to Disneyworld back in the 1980s.  

We cherished the mug so much and never used it for beverages.  It remains part of our Christmas house decorations.

There’s a mug that plays to the characteristic of northern New York winters, a mug from the farewell party of a beloved priest friend (that one includes a prayer for vocations to the religious live), and many others.  

Each mug has a special meaning for me.

But the two with the greatest emotional attachment are those two cracked cups.  Each mug holds a special place in my heart.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

He has written California Back Roads- Stories from the land of the Palm and the Pine, available on Lulu.com

A Top Ten of Blessings for 2017

Four generations come together to celebrate three birthdays.  Photo-Newvine Personal Collection

Four generations come together to celebrate three birthdays.  Photo-Newvine Personal Collection

Looking back on the year, I find it helpful to reflect a handful of things that turned out rather well.

 A top ten list helps focus some of the most important things that happened in my life in the year.  In no particular order, here is my top ten.

1.  In March, four generations came together at our home in Merced to celebrate three birthdays.  The birthdays were for my oldest daughter, my father-in-law who turned ninety, and my sixtieth.

2.  Due to a change in a living situation that brought my in-laws under our roof as permanent residents, my wife and I did a staycation week in July.  We did a series of day trips in Merced and surrounding counties.  We saw San Luis Reservoir, San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery, and Oakdale Cheese while exploring the countryside.

3.  I played at least one 9-hole round of golf every week throughout the year.

4.  California Back Roads – Stories from the Land of the Palm and the Pine became my eleventh published book.

Country Music Singer and Songwriter Bill Anderson met my wife and me prior to his October show at the Gallo Center in Modesto.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

Country Music Singer and Songwriter Bill Anderson met my wife and me prior to his October show at the Gallo Center in Modesto.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

 

5.  I met one of my country music heroes, the legendary Whisperin’ Bill Anderson, before his performance at the Gallo Center in Modesto.

6.  The presentation of my lecture of Soft Skills for Hard Times was done for both the spring and fall sessions of Love Plus, a life skills training program of Love INC Merced.

 My trustworthy Chevy Cruze purchased new in Merced six years ago, turned over the 100,000 mile mark.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

 My trustworthy Chevy Cruze purchased new in Merced six years ago, turned over the 100,000 mile mark.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

 

7.  My car turned over to 100,000 miles after six years of service on the main highways and back roads of California.  This is the second car purchased new in California that has made that six-figure milestone over the past thirteen years.

8.  My grandson, who will be three in January, visited California for the first time in 2016.  I saw him again when I flew to Colorado for Thanksgiving.

5 K runs, like this one at UC Merced, helped keep me healthy in 2017.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

5 K runs, like this one at UC Merced, helped keep me healthy in 2017.  Photo- Newvine Personal Collection

9.  I woke up every day to reasonably good health.  I owe a big thanks to my doctors, my wife, and daily runs through the trail network in my neighborhood.

10.  A great neighborhood makes a lot of difference and we have that here in our cul de sac in Merced.  Whether it was a Fourth of July picnic, the gift of strawberry preserves or something from a garden, or just knowing we could pick up the phone and ask a favor, we’ve got the best of everything in our little corner of the world.

My best wishes to you for this holiday season and 2018.  

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

He’s published California Back Roads, available in paper and e-book editions at Lulu.com .  

Steve will be the lead guest on the December 23rd edition of Community Conversations at 6:05 a.m. on radio station KYOS 1480 AM

California Back Roads. A preview of my new book

California Back Roads is my eleventh book

California Back Roads is my eleventh book

California Back Roads is my eleventh book.  I’ve taken about three-dozen essays, many from my regular column here on MercedCountyEvents.com, updated each with new information, added a few essays from other publications, and included some never-before-seen material to create this book.

The book starts with an explanation of the “where the palm meets the pine” phrase we often hear about Central California.

 MercedCountyEvents.com webmaster Brad Haven told me my January 2016 column on the palm and the pine was among the most popular essays I’ve done in terms of web hits, shares, and visits.  

That seemed like a good phrase to use in the title and a good start to the book.

 

  • places

  • people

  • heroes

  • golf

  • music

  • ...And postscripts.  

 

The places section includes stories about the All Souls celebration in Hornitos and the Port of Stockton.  

The people section includes the story of Joe and his 1953 Chevy: a car he’s held on to since he drove it off the new car lot over sixty years ago.  

The heroes section remembers the brave men who defended our nation in the military as well as the people who go above and beyond in their support of our armed forces.

The essays on golf include my farewell round of golf at Stevinson Ranch from a few years ago.

The music section features a popular piece I wrote last summer about the Central Valley’s connection to the legacy of Tony Bennett.

Every page in the book connects to California; most of the stories relate to my experiences here in Merced County.

This drawing is included in the children’s fiction story The Giant Bulldozer, co-written by my wife Vaune.  The story is based on the real giant bulldozer at United Equipment Company in Turlock

This drawing is included in the children’s fiction story The Giant Bulldozer, co-written by my wife Vaune.  The story is based on the real giant bulldozer at United Equipment Company in Turlock

bulldozer 2.jpg

There’s also something new to my writing- a collaboration with a writing partner.  

My wife Vaune joined me for a children’s short story I have included in this collection.  We present The Giant Bulldozer, inspired by the real thing at United Equipment in Turlock.  Here’s a preview:

The next morning Kasper bid goodbye to Mommy and Daddy as they left for their vacation before they ate breakfast.  

During breakfast Gram said, “Gramps has a surprise for you Kasper.”

“You do Gramps? What is it?”

Gramps laughed.  “Have you ever seen a bulldozer as big as a house?”

“No.  That sounds silly.”

“Well after breakfast we are going on a ride to see it.”

After breakfast was cleaned up, Gram strapped Kasper into the child seat in Gramps car.  Then all three of them headed off to see the great big bulldozer.

They drove to a place called United Equipment Company where Gramps turned off the car, got out, and unlatched Kasper’s seat.  

“Take my hand,” Gramps said.  “Let’s go find that bulldozer.”

After a short walk through the parking lot, Kasper spied the giant bulldozer. His eyes grew large with wonder.  His mouth opened wide.  He was speechless.

“What do you think?” Gramps asked him.

“It’s as big as a house!” Kasper exclaimed.

Gram and Gramps laughed.

I hope you like this book.  Thank you for taking the time to read the columns posted here on MercedCountyEvents.com.  

My best wishes to your family and you in this holiday season and happy New Year in 2018.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  California Back Roads is now available through this link:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/steve-newvine/california-back-roads-stories-from-the-land-of-the-palm-and-the-pine/paperback/product-23431833.html