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Diamond in the rough

Venerable Diamond Oaks Golf Course turns 50 this fall
By: Jeffrey Weidel, Press Tribune Correspondent
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Diamond Oaks scorecard
Course opened: Fall 1963
Course designer: Ted Robinson
Yardage/slope: 6,179 yards/118
Head professionals: George Moulton (1963-1969); Ed Vasconcellos (1969-2000); Scott Prenez (2000-2011); Mike Blasé (2011-current)
Location: 349 Diamond Oaks Road, Roseville
Pro shop: (916) 771-4653
Website: www.rosevillegolf.com

There are at least nine reasons why Pete Raza is enamored with Diamond Oaks Golf Course.

It takes very little prodding for Raza to proudly discuss the nine holes-in-one he’s carded at the venerable Roseville municipal course. Seven of the aces have occurred at the fifth hole, a short downhill par-3 where the pin is often located just out of tee-box sight.

On a recent Saturday morning, Raza was predictably at Diamond Oaks, his weekend home away from home since 1966. There’s no estimating the number of rounds he’s played, but the feeling he gets at Diamond Oaks is easy to articulate.

“This feels like home,” Raza says with a shy smile.

Golfers have been calling Diamond Oaks home for quite a long time. In fact, the scenic track in northeast Roseville is about a month away from its 50th birthday.

Roseville was just a modest, unassuming Sacramento bedroom community when people began teeing it up at Diamond Oaks in the fall of 1963.

Small cities around the country like Roseville wanted more, and in the early 1960s the federal government would gladly oblige. Diamond Oaks was funded on federal revenue bonds.

One year after Diamond Oaks opened, Look magazine recognized Roseville as one of its All-American Cities, partly due to the revenue bonds it used to finance community projects like the golf course. The award was a nice birthday gift for Roseville, which celebrated its 100th birthday in 1964.

Although it’s been nearly five decades since opening, course architect Ted Robinson is still being praised for the Diamond Oaks layout. Utilizing the natural hilly terrain and the abundance of sturdy oak trees, Robinson moved very little dirt in establishing a modest 6,179-yard course that was aesthetic and featured a variety of different, unique holes.

There’s one more key ingredient to the Robinson design: playability. No one appreciates that more than Ed Vasconcellos, who spent 31 years as the Diamond Oaks head professional after taking over for George Moulton in September 1969.

“You know what people always say about Diamond Oaks? ‘I shot my best round there.’ The course never beats you up,” said Vasconcellos, who retired in 2000. “More muni courses should be designed like that, but they aren’t. Diamond Oaks is a good test of golf. And golfers enjoy it, which is the name of the game.”

Speaking of enjoyment, Vasconcellos had over three decades of it while running all facets of the Roseville city-owned course. He had his hands in everything — creating tournaments, giving lessons, fixing clubs, setting up exotic winter golf trips, working the front desk and offering a sounding board for any Diamond Oaks golfer.

“People would come into the pro shop to shoot the bull after their round and I would talk to them,” Vasconcellos said. “Golfers at Diamond Oaks were like my family.”

That family misses him.

Following retirement, Vasconcellos has rarely been seen at his beloved course. He’s become engrossed in photography, and two grandchildren are his favorite subjects. Once a 2-handicapper, Vasconcellos doubts his yearly rounds reach double figures.

“Probably one or two people every week knock on my door in the pro shop and ask about Ed or tell me a great story about him,” said Mike Blasé, the current head pro.

Now a teaching assistant at Roseville’s Woodcreek Golf Club, Bill Childs spent seven years at Diamond Oaks. He knows how loyal Vasconcellos was to the golfers and also his staff.

“Ed was an old-fashioned pro, a real golf nut. And I mean that in a good way,” laughs Childs, who played Diamond Oaks as a kid and remembers when green fees were a mere $6.50. “He was there all the time, knew all the golfers and treated them and the people who worked for him like family. Ed wanted us all to succeed.”

At age 28, Blasé feels blessed to have the head pro job. It hasn’t been that long ago since he was playing prep golf for Bella Vista High and the Broncos home course was Diamond Oaks. He developed a friendship with head pro Scott Prenez, who succeeded Vasconcellos and ran Diamond Oaks for 11 years.

When Prenez decided to pursue another career opportunity two years ago, Blasé moved from lead assistant to proudly become only the fourth head pro in Diamond Oaks history.

“Scott was a great mentor of mine. He taught me a lot,” Blasé said.

One aspect Prenez definitely passed along was the importance of customer service. That might be a little more critical at Diamond Oaks than at most muni courses. The clientele includes plenty of seniors and women who have frequented Diamond Oaks for decades and remain fiercely loyal.

“Our demographic is very senior heavy. We have a strong men’s group and our women’s club has probably been playing here for more than three decades,” Blasé said. “My challenge is to find that new golfer — children, women, college-age golfers.”

That goal was achieved with the Traina family. Chris Traina began playing golf regularly at Diamond Oaks when he moved to Roseville in the 1990s. His three daughters — Leah, Olivia and Claudia — all played golf at Roseville High. Chris coached all three daughters and remains an assistant for the Tigers, who call Diamond Oaks their home course. Traina coached all three daughters and remains an assistant for the Tigers.

“Diamond Oaks has served our community well for many years,” Traina said. “It’s a great venue to teach kids the game of golf, and the staff has always been very helpful in accommodating local high school teams for both practice and matches. My three daughters, like many others, grew up on Diamond Oaks as young golfers and then also had the opportunity to play there during their time on the Roseville High golf team. They consider it their home course and want to play Diamond Oaks when they are home from college and we go out to play as a family.”

Finding golfers was rarely a challenge in the early 1980s through 1995. Vasconcellos says Diamond Oaks averaged 100,000 to 110,000 rounds during that time span. With an abundance of courses being built in the mid-1990s, rounds quickly plummeted.

Today Diamond Oaks averages between 60,000 to 65,000 rounds per year, which is still more than almost all of its competitors.

On a recent Saturday at Diamond Oaks, there were no scheduled tee times or waiting list by mid-morning. In the course’s heyday, when the Sacramento region had only three other 18-hole courses (Haggin Oaks, Bing Maloney and Ancil Hoffman), golfers would begin lining up by 6 a.m. Monday mornings or incessantly call the pro shop to try and book a tee time for that week.

“There would be a huge line that would be out the pro shop door every Monday,” Raza recalls. “I was lucky; a friend of mine would get me a tee time.”

Rob Frederick, the director of golf who oversees both Diamond Oaks and Woodcreek, grew up in Paradise (near Chico) and recalls how special it was for his high school team to play a match at Diamond Oaks in the mid-1970s.

“Going to play Diamond Oaks was a big deal for us. It was pretty cool,” Frederick said.

Despite more than four decades of morning tee times and sometimes sneaking out late in the afternoon for nine more holes, Raza still cherishes a round at Diamond Oaks.

“I learned to play golf here, and now I also work here (in outside services),” said Raza, who remains quite active at age 77. “I know everyone at Diamond Oaks. This is home to me.”

Jeffrey Weidel is a former sports editor and editor who worked at the Press Tribune for 15 years. He can be reached at skiweidel@gmail.com.