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Get Your Swing On at Aqua Golf

07/22/2015 03:41PM ● By Jon Lewis

Home on the Range

August 2015
By Jon Lewis
Photos: James Mazzotta

There's a bit of hierarchy applied to the list of things you can only do in Redding and just below the sacrosanct activities - ordering a steak at Jack's Grill and walking on the Sundial Bridge - is hitting a bucket of balls at Aqua Golf.

Knocking golf balls into the old Kutras Pond next to the Sacramento River is just cool, in part because the business on Park Marina Drive is a North State institution, and a unique one at that. An Internet search only reveals aquatic driving ranges in Reno, Denver and Hallandale, Fla. The latter range was popularized in the movie “There’s Something About Mary.”

Redding’s Aqua Golf, however, doesn’t need a Hollywood hook to grab extra attention. Local linksters have known about it for years. Motorists who see it from the Highway 44 bridge or curious visitors who float by it while fishing, rafting or paddle-boarding on the river find themselves drawn to it, as well.

It’s also cool because you get to hit golf balls into the water without incurring any penalty strokes, and for anyone who has played the grand old game on dry land only to have their ball descend into the murky depths of a water hazard, that’s a refreshing change of pace.

Refreshing is just one of the popular responses customers offer after visiting Aqua Golf. “There are so many first-timers that come here and they are always pleasantly surprised,” says Cindy Galwey, who owns and operates Aqua Golf with her recently retired husband, Ken. “The common reaction is: I’ve never seen anything like this. Or they’ll say ‘I heard about this place and just had to come and check it out.’”

Aqua Golf has been in Galwey’s family for 30 years. The business was established, but closed, when her father, Dave Nelson, bought it in 1985 and reopened it. Dave and his wife, Sherry, ran the business until 2005, when the Galweys stepped in.

The range is tied to some classic North State history. It is situated on what used to be a rock and gravel quarry on riverfront land owned by the Kutras family. Aggregate from the quarry was carried to the Shasta Dam construction site on a massive 9.6-mile-long conveyor belt that was anchored at what is now Turtle Bay Exploration Park.

When the dam was completed, the late Bob Spaid, a visionary developer, acquired the leases from the Kutras family and started work on a Polynesian-themed village and recreation area on Park Marina Drive. His dreams of a monorail and a pod of floating boathouses never quite materialized, but his iconic Round House (just south of the Highway 44 bridge), a row of pecky cedar A-frame homes and Aqua Golf still stand as testament to his quirky legacy.

The secret to Aqua Golf is the use of non-toxic, low-compression golf balls (they’re about 20 percent less dense than conventional golf balls) that float. A 3-foot mesh curtain suspended from floating barrels keeps the balls corralled.

A floating metal target, shaped like a smiling beaver, is stationed about 60 yards from the tee boxes. Golfers who are either skilled enough or lucky enough to hit the target are rewarded with a small bucket of balls. Galwey says it happens about once a day.

Brett Gibson usually has the responsibility for retrieving the balls, using a motorized skiff, a long-handled net and five-gallon plastic buckets. It can be a tedious process when the balls get tangled up in algae and plants; when a breeze moves the balls into a corner of the range, it’s a much easier task.

Otters, muskrats and beavers have been known to gnaw on balls, but Galwey says the biggest dent in the inventory is caused by golfers who are able to bash balls over the barrier and into the main stem of the river.

Despite their penchant for chewing, the otters, beavers and other river wildlife are welcome at Aqua Golf. Tilda and Drake, a couple of Mallards, have made the driving range their home away from home and a certain blue jay always seems to know when some corn has been left on top of the vending machine that dispenses golf balls.

Bald eagles and osprey are frequent visitors to Aqua Golf and their appearance always brightens the day, Galwey says. What’s her favorite part of the business? “The view, the birds and the wildlife. I never get tired of it. Sitting here on the water is fantastic. And the people! They’re always happy. I love watching the kids learn to play right in front of you.”

Geoffrey Wild, a teaching professional, enjoys watching his clients learn the fundamentals at Aqua Golf and frequently brings them to the river’s edge for golf lessons. He says he likes the targets and how easy it is for his students to see exactly where the ball lands. “And when it’s 110 out, it’s 100 degrees here. It’s a little cool spot.”

Aqua Golf • 2275 Park Marina Dr., Redding
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(530) 244-4653