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37 years & counting: The marathon man of 209 golf
Manteca Golf Course Pro Alan Thomas - photo by DENNIS WYATT

You don’t have to venture far in the 209 to find a golf course.

There are over three dozen within an hour’s drive of most spots in the heart of the 209.

And prices couldn’t be better.

The abundance of golf courses both public and private is the direct result of overbuilding courses over the last 15 years to cash in on the game’s growing popularity as America rode an economic wave.

In short, you couldn’t ask for a better time to be a golfer - or even take up the game if you live in the 209.

Perhaps no one is in a better position to make that assessment than Alan Thomas.

Thomas is arguably the 209 Dean of Golf Pros having run the Manteca Municipal Golf Course for 36 years. It’s something the 63-year-old Bay Area native intends to keep doing for another five years. Then once his contract with the City of Manteca is up he’ll have enough leisure time to step up pursuit of his favorite sport – golf.

As a golf pro, when it comes to running a course Thomas is on top of his game.

A survey conducted by ERA Associates in 2010 puts Manteca at the top of the heap in the 209 in terms of rounds played among courses in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

It isn’t because Manteca is the “best” course per se.

“It (the Manteca course) is something an average player can handle yet it is a good test for the best players,” Thomas said.

It also has something to do with the city’s long-term commitment to keeping the course in shape when other municipal courses in the area have been hit by budget cuts coupled with aggressive twilight pricing and the fact Thomas goes after more Northern California Golf Association play than other courses in the region.

But when push comes to shove how Manteca manages to book 66,000 rounds of golf a year has a lot to do with its location.

“We’re in the middle for golfers in Modesto and Stockton,” Thomas noted. “It’s a place where people from different areas can meet to play.”

And because the course is a straight nine block shot off the 120 Bypass corridor that connects both major valley freeways as well as access to the Bay Area, Manteca gets a large number of tournaments organized for charity.

Thomas notes golfing is good exercise. Playing the entire 18 holes at Manteca means five miles of walking.

“Believe it or not a lot of people do walk,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the best way to get started is to seek help and not simply show up and start hitting balls.

“We see beginners at the driving range all the time who get frustrated,” Thomas said. “There are some basic fundamentals you have to grasp. Golf is a game of opposites. To get the ball up in the air you have to hit down on it. … Once you learn the basic fundamentals you’re on your way.”

Thomas said the 122- acre Manteca course with more than 2,000 trees poses different challenges year to year simply because they grow.

Thomas started playing golf while he was growing up in San Lorenzo. He remembers his first round ever, he played on the Lake Chabot course in Oakland.

He was getting bummed because he couldn’t get the ball airborne on the first 17 holes.

“I never got it airborne,” Thomas recalled. “Then on the 18th hole I got it to sail 250 yards. It was a great feeling.”

It also got him hooked.

He ended up playing varsity golf as a sophomore for San Lorenzo High, he played on the golf team at Chabot College and then for two years at Cal State Hayward.

209 staff reporter