Silicon Valley Trip, Day 1: Many Great Highlights

With a three-day Memorial Day weekend, I had to get out of town and find some new courses to play. My trip took me to an area I haven’t explored much golf-wise. Basically, I just worked my way further up along the 101 and into the Silicon Valley, which opened up a lot of new options.

If you want to get technical, my Sunday morning round at Summitpointe may have been the only real “Silicon Valley” course, but for lack of a better term that encompasses further south in Gilroy, Hollister and Salinas, that’s what I am going with here.

I left my home in Orange County at 1:00am (that is not a typo) in order to make the most of Saturday on the road and to avoid having to deal with excessive holiday-weekend traffic and lodging costs on Friday night. I arrived about five hours later in the town of Hollister for my first of three rounds that day. My first two rounds on Saturday were really the marquee rounds of the trip…

San Juan Oaks Golf Club • Hollister, CA • 5/23/15

This is a course I’ve always been interested in playing, so I was glad to finally have the opportunity to check it out. I had a 6:30 tee time, but the staff was ready for me when I arrived and got me going even earlier as the first one out on the course. This was a cool track to have had all to myself because it is very secluded and scenic set amongst the golden rolling hills.

I did run into maintenance a few times on the back nine and unfortunately the weather was very gloomy (gray skies and misting off and on throughout my round). I wish I had better pictures to really show how beautiful and nice this course is.

The pro shop guy and starter were very nice and helpful, giving me some tips for the course itself. The course is a Fred Couples signature design. Really, the front nine here is a good warm-up. It’s not a pushover by any means, but it is definitely more “friendly” compared to the more dramatic and demanding back nine.

The front nine is flat with more of a links style design (the course as a whole would probably categorize as “heathland” or maybe “Savannah”). There are a number of water hazards in play, some large mean-looking bunkers and some big old oak trees to contend with, but for the most part, what you see is what you get. Stay out of trouble and you can score well.

Then the back nine plays up into the hills and becomes much more of a test. Several holes on the back nine present some interesting strategy options. As a first-time player, I could call a few holes rather “quirky” because it’s hard to know what to do without any GPS or a yardage book to refer to.

The 13th is where things start getting really interesting with a double-dogleg par-4 that has a small ravine cutting through the middle and going left of the green. Longer hitters might be able to cut the corner, or they may have to lay up in order to not run through the first part of the fairway on the left.

The 14th is a much more pronounced split fairway design. The starter mentioned to me that the pin position here often dictates how to play this hole. If you play your tee shot up and to the right, you’ll have a shorter approach, but a more obscured view because of a massive oak tree right in front of the green. He mentioned when the pin is in the back of the green (as it was Saturday), you generally do not want to take this route because you will be completely blocked out.

The other option on 14 is to take the lower left fairway, which is extremely narrow at points. You’ll have a more open look at the green, but it’s a longer shot and the tee shot is more demanding to hit into a favorable position.

The 15th is a tricky par-5 that zig zags up the hill and jumps across a creek to force smart shots from tee to green.

The 18th reminded me a lot of the 18th at CrossCreek in Temecula, which is a hole I know many people do not care for. The fairway landing area at San Juan Oaks is much more open and forgiving, but you still have to position yourself just right to hit your next shot across the creek (90-degree dogleg right) to the green. I hit probably one of my best drives of the day, but then was still kind of blocked out by a tree next to that creek and I couldn’t really go at the pin.

On these few quirky holes, local knowledge and experience makes all the difference. I don’t think they are bad designs in any way, but I would like to play them several more times to figure out my personal strategies. As a first-time player, I was definitely at a disadvantage. For the most part, San Juan Oaks is as tough as you want to make it. There is trouble in play, but most fairways and greens are relatively forgiving and the course isn’t designed to beat you up too much.

The course was in very nice condition. The tee boxes were good, but were extra mushy and sometimes I would sink into the ground a little at address. The fairways were lush and a bit shaggy in places (I think because I played a handful of holes before they were able to mow them), but I always had great fluffy lies to hit from. The primary rough was also lush with pretty consistent coverage. It was cut down and not penal. The outer “native area” rough was left long and knee-high in some areas and cut down in others, so you are at the mercy of the golf gods if you spray your ball into that stuff. The greens were soft, but rolling smooth at medium speeds. The pro shop guy warned me that the bunkers were not that great right now, but there are plans to renovate them soon. The bunkers here are large and deep with some funky shapes, so it makes things extra tough when the sand is pretty hard-packed.

Overall, I would recommend San Juan Oaks in a heartbeat. This is a beautifully presented course that offers a mostly fair challenge. The secluded setting is perhaps its biggest appeal. It’s hard not to feel good when surrounded by nature and California’s golden hills. I saw a few deer and even a big flock of wild turkey that added to the experience.

Some pictures from San Juan Oaks Golf Club (5/23/15):

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It worked out well to get on the course early and by myself, because I had a tight window to get up to my next course for a late morning tee time. I had just enough time to grab a quick bite at Jack in the Box and then I was ready to rock…

Eagle Ridge Golf Club • Gilroy, CA • 5/23/15

Gilroy is known as the “Garlic Capital,” but they also have a very nice golf. They have a couple other smaller muni tracks in town, but Eagle Ridge is the star and it’s another one I’ve been wanting to play for a long time.

I had a 10:40 tee time and things ran smoothly. I was paired with a twosome. We had to wait on most shots, but it never seemed too bad. Ultimately, we finished in about 4.5 hours, which isn’t terrible on a busy Saturday.

The golf course at Eagle Ridge is part of a nice gated community. There were more houses around the course than I realized, but they didn’t detract too much. The course was designed by Johnny Miller’s design team. From the architect attribution on the card, it didn’t sound like he was as involved in this layout, but it’s always hard to tell. I have played other Miller courses in the past (namely Maderas and Whitney Oaks) and this course reminded me a lot of those at times with some pretty extreme stylistic choices.

Like those other courses, Eagle Ridge features massive green complexes with all sorts of humps, ridges and undulations. They are very difficult to read and caused our group fits all day.

And like San Juan Oaks, you’ll also want to take advantage of your scoring opportunities on the front nine at Eagle Ridge. It is a relatively benign layout for the first 7 holes and then things take a dramatic turn. The 8th and 9th are long and demanding par-4s located across the street from the clubhouse with all sorts of trouble in play. The 10th and 11th are fairly straightforward, but then after that the course does not really let up at all. It is a real roller coaster ride throughout the rest of the back nine!

The 12th is a lengthy par-4 where you hit over water to the diagonal fairway. Then water runs all the way up the left of the hole to make your approach tough to this well-protected green.

The 13th is a 207-yard par-3 from the blue tees that plays significantly uphill (and into the wind) with one of the craziest green complexes on the course. It is no joke. I had to hit driver and still came up short, left with a very touchy flop shot over the deep bunker to the pin in the very back/top of the green.

The 14th is perhaps the signature hole as a narrow snake-like par-5 through the hills and trees that requires a lot of accuracy and attention on each shot. It’s a very cool-looking hole, but it will make you work.

The 15th is one of the toughest short par-4s I’ve ever played at just 308 yards and significantly downhill. The tee shot requires you to basically hit over some large oak trees to the small fairway landing area below. You can’t really see what you are hitting at, so it is intimidating to say the least. Then, there’s a ravine that separates the fairway from the slightly elevated green, so unless you fly it onto the green with your drive, it is a lay-up for most off the tee. With a safe tee shot, the rest of the hole isn’t so difficult with a wedge in your hands (though the green is very shallow from front to back with plenty of tricky undulation). This is definitely one I want a rematch with now that I know how it really plays.

The 16th is rated as the easiest hole on the course (#18 handicap), but is pretty much a do-or-die par-3 over a big ravine to an elevated green that doesn’t give you much room for error.

The 17th presents another uncomfortable semi-blind tee shot, but after that it is a pretty simple par-5, so it offers of the few good scoring opportunities on the back nine.

Then, the 18th gives you a nice wide open tee shot. However, the approach is over another ravine to a well-obscured green. This is maybe the largest green on the course with some severe slopes. Getting to it is tough enough, but then getting the ball in the hole is no picnic either.

The course was in very nice overall shape. The tee boxes were great and the fairways were lush with good lies throughout. The rough was spottier the further you got off the fairways, but the primary cuts were generally nice and not too penal. The greens were soft and receptive, though very deceptive on putts. They were much quicker than they looked. Uphill putts had to be hit quite firmly, but anything downhill was hard to stop past the hole. I wasn’t in any bunkers, but from what I saw they looked mediocre at best.

Eagle Ridge is not a course for everyone. Beginners and high handicappers will have a long day and should bring plenty of extra balls. Low handicappers will be put to the test with an interesting mix of holes. There are some long ones and some short ones, most of which present some risk/reward opportunities. Overall, I really enjoyed the course. I found myself frustrated and confused a couple times, but I could tell this is another one you have to play several times to really appreciate.

Some pictures from Eagle Ridge Golf Club (5/23/15):

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I figured whenever I finally made out to play San Juan Oaks, I would also check out the crosstown course, Ridgemark on the same visit. However, the overall timing and planning just worked out to play SJO in the morning and then drive up to Gilroy for the second round of the day at the more desirable Eagle Ridge. Fortunately, when I finished there, I still had plenty of daylight to head back down to Hollister (only about a half-hour away), and that’s exactly what I did…

Ridgemark Golf & Country Club • Hollister, CA • 5/23/15

This course has had a turbulent past couple of years as it has been affected greatly by the California drought that is hurting many courses throughout the state. Ridgemark used to feature two full 18-hole courses, Diablo and Gabilan. Now, they’ve condensed it down to one “combined” 18, featuring a mix of holes from both original courses.

I got out there around 3:30 and they gave me the late twilight rate of $24, which included a cart. I thought it was a good deal and well worth that, but might have been more disappointed if I had paid full price. I played through a couple groups early on and joined another twosome for the final few holes. The overall pace was good at that time of day and I was finished in under three hours.

The wacky condensed routing at Ridgemark is definitely a story because you can see some of the unused holes and there are several times now where you just drive the entire length of a “dead” hole or two in between current holes. It’s kind of sad and weird. I got the sense more renovations are planned to refine the routing and it seems they are still taking reasonable care of some of those unused holes (perhaps to use again someday, somehow) while letting others completely go back to nature.

As it sits, the actual layout and combination of remaining holes of Ridgemark is just fine. It’s not the most exciting or dramatic course around, but it’s far from boring. It’s a good solid course that’s not overly challenging. The fairways are mostly forgiving and the greens are easy to get at, so a good score can be had. I actually had one of my best rounds ever, so something about it suited my game. I played from the white tees and walked away with a 3-over 75!

Ridgemark is not nearly as scenic as San Juan Oaks because it doesn’t offer the same secluded setting. It plays through some residential areas and along a main road, and the overall aesthetics of the course are pretty run-of-the-mill. I’m not sure if there’s anything I would call a “signature” hole. Like I said, everything is just fine and solid enough, but there’s not much more to highlight. I will remember more about how I played that round than details of the course itself, but thankfully that scorecard will provide plenty of positive memories.

After the previous review on Greenskeeper.org from last summer and knowing what the drought has done here in recent years, I had my worries that the course would be in major disrepair. I was pleasantly surprised to find that everything still in play was in pretty decent shape throughout. The tee boxes were fine, but are being overtaking by little white flowers. The fairways were mostly pretty good. I always had decent lies. The rough was a bit more inconsistent, but the primary areas are relatively nice.

The greens were very soft and slow, but the surfaces were mostly good and smooth. I was in one bunker and it was heavy/compacted, so they probably haven’t been fluffed back up since the last rain came through.

Having not played either of the original courses before (and it doesn’t look like they will ever return as they were), it’s hard to know how the new condensed 18 layout measures up. It is a solid course at much cheaper rates than San Juan Oaks, but also inferior on every level in my opinion. Still, if I lived in Hollister, I wouldn’t be too disappointed having these two courses in town to choose from.

Some pictures from Ridgemark Golf & Country Club (5/23/15):

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I asked the guys I played the last few holes with for a recommendation on a good Mexican restaurant in Hollister and they led me to La Villa de Jerez. It’s a very tiny place and quite popular (packed on Saturday night with slow service). The menu is kind of weird without traditional multi-item combos I’d usually look for, but I was able to piece something together a la carte for a reasonable price and everything was pretty tasty.

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