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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