4th of July Road Trip, Day 3: Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

For the third and final day of my holiday weekend road trip up north, it was time to start working my way back south. Last time I was in this area over Memorial Day weekend, there were a few San Jose area tracks I didn’t get to play, so it made sense to come back through and knock off a couple more before heading home.

I started Saturday morning with one that I was very glad to finally check out…

Cinnabar Hills Golf Club • San Jose, CA • 7/4/15

Though it’s been high on my wish list for years, this course has somehow eluded me. A couple years ago, a friend and I had plans to play, but we got rained out that day. We did drive out to the course to take a peek and I’ve been dying to come back ever since.

Weather was no issue on Saturday, other than things being pretty foggy on the first nine. Once things cleared up, it really revealed the natural beauty and dramatic design of Cinnabar Hills.

I got started early. I was paired with a twosome in the second group off a little after 6:00, playing behind another twosome. We started on the Mountain nine and then transitioned to the Canyon nine. After we finished 18, I was able to get back out for a replay on the Lake nine to round out all 27 holes. I played that nine with another twosome and things went smoothly. All in all, it took about 5.5 hours to play all three nines on a relatively busy morning.

Once out on the course, Cinnabar lived up to my expectations and even threw me a few surprises as I worked my way around this distinctive John Harbottle III design. The Mountain nine is just what I expected with a rolling layout through the hills. There are forced carries (a few quite significant), big elevation changes and a nice mix of holes that are equally challenging and beautiful.

The Canyon nine caught me a little off-guard, but in a very good way. It is definitely a different experience than Mountain as it is what you might call “target golf” to the extreme. It is still very hilly, but plays through the trees and over creeks to bring a lot more trouble in play. It plays shorter (for the most part), but accuracy is a must to survive this nine. I say “for the most part” because the par-4 7th is one of the most severe uphill holes I’ve ever played. It features a very demanding and uncomfortable tee shot to a semi-blind landing area and then is a straight uphill climb from there.

The Lake nine is somewhere in between the other two. It starts off with a great uphill par-5, then a par-3 along the top of the ridge and then you have a downhill tee shot for the par-4 4th. There are some minor elevation changes after that, but mostly Lake plays flatter than the other two. It brings some trees and hazards in play, but not to the extent of Canyon.

All told, each nine offers something a little different, but they still flow together nicely with the setting and some similar design elements. One constant throughout is the very tricky greens that feature plenty of undulation and are hard to read. Also, they had some very tough pins on the edges of ridges or on top of little subtle knobs. Adding to the challenge was how firm and fast they rolled, making any downhill or side-hill putts difficult to stop once past the hole. Uphill putts, on the other hand, were hard to get to the hole and/or hold the line.

With the drought restrictions in effect as seen on other courses during this trip and the latest GK review from a few months ago, my expectations weren’t super high with the conditions. However, I found the course to be in very nice shape overall with things being pretty lush and green throughout. The tee boxes were great. The fairways had some weak spots here and there, but I almost always had excellent lies. The rough is a little dappled in color, but was consistently cut and not too penal. The greens were very firm and fast, but in great condition. I was in a couple bunkers and they had good sand.

There are some quirky holes at Cinnabar Hills that not everyone will like. For my SoCal friends, think of a few polarizing holes on the back nine at CrossCreek or the Stonehouse nine at Temecula Creek Inn as good comparisons for parts of the Canyon nine. Lost Canyons would be an apt comparison for the Mountain nine. Lake had a familiar feel that reminded me of some east San Diego courses, but no one track comes to mind.

Though Cinnabar presented me with a tough challenge, I really enjoyed the experience and found the course to be as fun, scenic and interesting as I had hoped. I love that there is no civilization around for a truly secluded and peaceful feeling. There are some power lines running along the Mountain nine, which is unfortunate, but that’s about the only unnatural detraction.

Some pictures from Cinnabar Hills Golf Club (7/4/15):

Mountain Nine:

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Canyon Nine:

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Lake Nine:

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Things went well enough at Cinnabar that I was able to snag a “hot deal” time at the nearby Coyote Creek. I didn’t waste any time and headed right over…

Coyote Creek Golf Club (Valley) • San Jose, CA • 7/4/15

I booked a 12:25 time for $58, which is still more than I wanted to pay, but about as good a deal as you’ll find here on a Saturday before twilight rates kick in. The place wasn’t too busy when I showed up, so I ended up teeing off a few minutes early on my own. After a few holes I caught the groups ahead and then another single came up and joined me. He was a regular here and pretty impatient, so we made up our own routing to get around some slower groups. In the end, I played all 18 (and a few extra) in about 3.5 hours.

I’ve always wanted to play at Coyote Creek, which is home to two courses: Tournament and Valley. Having driven through this area so many times, I always see it right off the freeway. I’ve chosen to pass it up for various reasons, but Saturday was finally time to check out at least one of the courses.

The Valley Course just reopened recently after some renovation to many of the bunkers on the course. The new owners decided to reshape and reduce a lot of them for better playability I guess. They are doing the same on the Tournament Course right now, so it is currently closed. It’s expected to reopen soon, but there’s still a little confusion in my mind as to whether it will be a private track, semi-private or public as it had been in the past. Their website says it’s private, but some signage around the clubhouse would lead me to believe it will be more semi-private with somewhat limited public accessibility. I hope I’ll get to play it someday because it is clearly the marquee course at this complex.

As for Valley, I had somewhat mixed feelings about it. After playing such hilly and dramatic courses the rest of this trip, the flatter Valley course was kind of a welcome change of pace to end the trip. At the same time, I found it kind of bland and uninteresting in comparison to what I had played earlier. It’s a nice course that presents a solid challenge as a pretty traditional parkland kind of design, but it just didn’t “wow” me on any level.

There were a few relatively memorable holes, but nothing I would call “signature” in this Jack Nicklaus signature layout. Reducing some of the bunkers may help with regular playability, but it may have hurt the course design a bit.

The course lays out nicely in front of you with pine tree-lined fairways and only a couple of water hazards on the whole course, including the creek (Coyote Creek I presume) that runs in front of the 1st and 9th greens. I should note that the nines were flipped here recently (not sure why), so those would have been the 10th and 18th previously.

I will say that of all the courses I played this week, Coyote was probably the greenest and lushest of them all. I might argue the fairways were a bit too shaggy for my tastes. Approach lies sat up beautifully, but they provided limited roll-out on drives, which made a pretty long course play even longer. The tee boxes were good. The rough was pretty consistent and lush. The greens were soft and receptive, but smooth and quick on putts. The newly renovated bunkers were great with super fluffy white resort sand and really deep, nasty rough around the edges.

Though not a bad course in any way, the Valley Course just felt somewhat ho-hum after 3 straight days of more dramatic designs. The conditions were nice and the staff was good, so there were plenty of positive takeaways, too. I know plenty of people would prefer it over what you might call the more “tricked out” designs I played. I will be back someday to play Tournament (assuming I can access it), but my expectations will be a bit more tempered before that experience.

Some pictures from Coyote Creek Golf Club (Valley) (7/4/15):

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Well, it was another great Golf Nomad trip that took me to some new areas (East Bay) and allowed me to check some big name courses off my Northern California wish list. Until next time…

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