Short Course Blitz: Taking Care of the Stragglers

After The Preserve review, I think we all need a little bit of a palate cleanser. That was such a special experience, it’s time to come back down to earth before reviewing the last two really nice courses that I got to play on this recent trip to Northern California. That’s right. It’s time for another Short Course Blitz!

I actually skipped over the very first course I played on this trip in order to balance out the groupings for the two Short Course Blitz articles. Then, I played two more short courses on Monday afternoon. Anyway, let’s go ahead and get started…

Valley Gardens Golf Course • Scotts Valley, CA • 4/21/18

One of my big objectives for this trip was to check some short course stragglers off my list. They were all kind of isolated and somewhat spread out, but also kind of lined up geographically to let me work them into my plans for this road trip.

On Saturday, I started at Valley Gardens. Scotts Valley is just northwest of Santa Cruz and was the perfect lead-in to Boulder Creek and the Cupertino courses. This 9-hole executive course is just a few short miles from famed Pasatiempo Golf Club, which is one of my all-time favorites and one I definitely want to revisit someday. In fact, it was a little painful to drive right past the Pasatiempo exit on Highway 17 on the way to this much-less-heralded short course. That’s just how it is for me sometimes, though.

I didn’t expect too much from Valley Gardens, so it turned out to be a moderately pleasant surprise. I had called ahead and knew they officially opened up at 7:00, but the guy said he’s usually there earlier. And, I was welcome to tee off as early as I wanted and pay after the round if I needed. My tee time at Boulder Creek was not until 9:30, so teeing off right around 7:00 was just fine for my schedule.

I got there around 6:45 and the pro shop was already open. A couple other singles had already teed off ahead of me. I paid my $22 to walk nine holes and the pro shop guy was one of the nicest I’ve ever encountered. He told me all about the course and set me on my way to the first tee.

Valley Gardens is a pretty simple, yet fun par-31 course. It features four really short par-4s (260 yards is the longest hole) along with five legit par-3s ranging from 108 yards up to a beefy 223 yards. In fact, this course has both a par-4 and a par-3 measuring that same distance. The difference is that one plays uphill and the other plays slightly downhill.

Both Bob E. Baldock and his son Robert L. Baldock are listed as the designers of this course, so it is not without some architectural pedigree. Overall, though, it’s a solid design with a few tricky holes and a few very easy holes as the course goes up and down a gentle hillside and back into the trees.

The course was in decent condition and the rain up there this year has definitely given everything a lush, green look. The tee boxes were fine. The fairways were probably a little nicer from afar than up close as some sections showed signs of a recent aeration. Everything was pretty soft. The rough was very thick and difficult with unlevel ground underneath. The ball liked to sit down and make for a tough recovery. I wasn’t in any bunkers, but they appeared pretty good. The greens were the highlight. The pro shop guy mentioned how nice they were and he wasn’t kidding. They were rolling very smooth at fairly quick speeds.

Valley Gardens is a serviceable and affordable local course option. It doesn’t deserve a lot of attention in an area (from Santa Cruz down to Monterey) loaded with plenty of great golf, but it’s better than you would expect. Unfortunately, there is a chance it might be sold later this year to developers and that would mean the closure of this course. It’s certainly on a valuable piece of property, but I sure hope this doesn’t happen.

Some pictures from Valley Gardens Golf Course (4/21/18):

(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)

 

Next, we’ll fast forward to Monday afternoon. I was fresh off a once-in-a-lifetime round at The Preserve and I quickly went from the penthouse to the outhouse…

Casserly Par 3 Golf Course • Watsonville, CA • 4/23/18

I always find some amusement when I play really contrasting courses on the same day, but going from The Preserve to Casserly is taking that concept to a whole new level. Seriously, I went from what is probably a top 10 course to me to one that is in the bottom 20.

First off, getting into Watsonville is kind of a pain, especially getting into the areas where the golf courses are. I have been out here before to play Spring Hills (which is actually a pretty good course) and vividly remember driving past Casserly. I couldn’t see much of the course because it is set atop a hill, and unfortunately they were closed by the time I finished over at Spring Hills. I’ve always dreaded coming all the way back out here just for this little course, but it had to be done eventually.

I got all the way out there to find that the road into the course was closed. It looks like they had some downed power lines that were being worked on. I called the course to see if they were even open and to hopefully find an alternate route in. The guy there was very nice and got me pointed in the right direction. I eventually made it to the course and was able to finally check it off my list!

It was $13 to walk the nine par-3 holes here. There were a couple other groups on the course and I caught up to them after a few holes. There really was nowhere to jump around at that point, so I just relaxed and took my time to finish.

Even though I knew Casserly was nothing too great, I was hoping for a little more. Given its location perched atop a hill, you’d think they could make the course mildly interesting. The 7th is decent, albeit unfair, with a huge tree right in front of the green. Then the 9th is kind of fun with a tiny green cut into the steep hillside with no room for error. Otherwise, much of this course is very plain and has the look of an open field on which somebody just decided to shave down a few greens.

Conditions were just okay with pretty shaggy grass throughout and the greens being spongy and slow. Certainly not the worst I’ve seen, but nothing to write home about (though I guess that’s what I’m actually doing right now).

Other than bored locals, beginners and hardcore traveling course collectors, there is no need to concern yourself with Casserly. I checked it off the list and was on my way, never to think about it again.

Some pictures from Casserly Par 3 Golf Course (4/23/18):

 

Last but not least, I had one more simple stop to make on Monday afternoon…

Gilroy Golf Course • Gilroy, CA • 4/23/18

This is the last of the southernmost short course stragglers I had in this region, and like Casserly, Valley Gardens and Boulder Creek, I was determined to finally play it on this trip. Though it’s really not too convenient to access in Gilroy, it is one that has previously eluded me. I actually went out there one evening a couple years back, but they were already closed for the day.

It was actually a pretty quick and scenic drive from Watsonville to Gilroy on the back highway between the two towns. I arrived at Gilroy Golf Course a little after 4:00 and it didn’t seem too busy out there. I was able to check in right away and they gave me a good deal of $20 for nine holes with a cart.

Once I got out on the course, I realized it was actually pretty busy. I was right behind the local high school golf team out for a practice round. It didn’t matter, though, because I scouted ahead and there weren’t many open holes. I was in no hurry with this being my last round for the day and a ton of daylight left, so I just relaxed and enjoyed myself the best I could.

By the time I reached the steep uphill 7th hole, my cart was dying. I was able to get it all the way up the hill to the green, but no further. I called the shop and the guy actually was quick to bring me a new cart before I finished the 8th hole. It ended up working out perfectly because he said I was welcome to keep playing, which allowed me to fully experience the unique routing of Gilroy Golf Course.

Gilroy is considered a 9-hole regulation course, though it technically has 11 different holes. Seven of the holes are like many 9-holers in that they have slightly different tee boxes to be used for front and back nine play. Each nine here plays to a total par of 35.

However, Gilroy mixes things up when you reach the 7th (or 16th) hole. The 7th and 16th are two different holes playing from the same basic teeing area. The 7th is an uphill dogleg right par-5 while the 16th veers off to the left as a fairly straight uphill par-4. Both holes take you on either side of a small hill where you will find totally separate tee boxes for the 8th and 17th holes that play down to the same green.

The 8th is the signature hole at Gilroy. It is a 260-yard par-3 that features a massive drop from tee to green. The signs say it plays closer to 200 yards from the back tees (basically a warning because the street is not far beyond the green and they don’t want people hitting too long). The 17th hole is a 338-yard par-4 that is also fun. You hit from the elevated tee through a fairly narrow chute. The hole then doglegs right and down toward the green. The tee boxes on the 17th are so awkwardly placed on the hillside that they actually put down large patches of astroturf instead of grass. It’s kind of funky, but it’s the kind you can actually stick a normal tee in, so it really won’t affect your ability to hit whatever kind of tee shot you want.

With my fresh cart and blessings from the pro shop guy, I went back and played just those alternate two holes to make sure I got as much as I could out of the unique Gilroy Golf Course experience.

The course was in decent condition. The tee boxes were a bit shaggy, but okay enough with the ball teed up. The fairways were pretty solid while the rough was somewhat hit or miss, getting worse the further you stray from any of the fairway cuts. The bunkers had very soft sand. The greens were great and maybe the best I’ve encountered on this trip so far. One hole (the 4th) had a big damaged spot on the green that they are had marked off as GUR. Otherwise, the greens were excellent, receptive and rolling well at medium-quick speeds.

Gilroy is not a must-play in the greater San Jose area that has no shortage of good golf, but it is good for what it is and it also happens to be the oldest golf course in Santa Clara County with its origins dating all the way back to 1923. It definitely evokes that friendly old school charm and the quirky 11-hole routing is something you won’t see every day.

Some pictures from Gilroy Golf Course (4/23/18):

 

 

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