Rebirth in Palo Alto: Baylands Golf Links

Recently, I posted my review of the new South Course at Corica Park in the East Bay Area. Well, the South Bay has a new and improved course of its own. Baylands Golf Links also reopened very recently and has kind of a similar story.

This used to be known as Palo Alto Golf Course. I believe it was actually a full regulation course at one point, but had to be shortened to a par-67 executive somewhere along the way. Most recently, the course had to be reshaped again because of work that had to be done along the bayfront. However, this time they went back to full length and decided to completely renovate the course along with a whole new name and brand.

Like Corica Park, this wasn’t just a renovation. It was a complete reimagining. They brought in Forrest Richardson to design the new layout and any remnants of the old Palo Alto course (which by all accounts wasn’t much to look at—I never played it) were wiped away and the new course was crafted and shaped from scratch. They decided to go with a links style design and it definitely works given the setting so close to the waterfront and the prevailing winds of this area. There is a very busy small craft airport next door, so it is fun watching the planes take off and land throughout your round.

I made arrangements to play here on Sunday afternoon. It was the first round on a 4-day Northern California trip that happened to find me playing my milestone 1,000th different golf course. Baylands was number 996, so you can count down with me as I catch up on all my reviews.

My friend and I had a 3:09 tee time and were paired with two other singles. There was a little confusion getting started because a single who was scheduled for the group ahead of us showed up late. It ultimately sorted itself out and we were off. It was a busy afternoon, so we waited on most shots. Still the pace was fine at 4.5 hours.

The new facilities at Baylands are nice. They have a nice new range, clubhouse, bar/cafe and all the practice amenities you could want at a good muni course.

Immediately when I took at look at the new Baylands course, I was reminded of Olivas Links down in Ventura. Coincidentally, this is also a Forrest Richardson creation and also the result of a complete course renovation/overhaul. There are actually numerous parallels and Baylands definitely had a lot of the same qualities as Olivas. They are definitely comparable in many ways. If you are familiar with Olivas, then your feelings about Baylands will probably be very similar.

Like Olivas, Baylands starts off very gently and is not terribly exciting. Yet, just like its SoCal cousin, it gets more and more interesting as the round progresses. The links styling starts to shine and the holes get increasingly enjoyable with more hazards, bunkers and undulations in play. The greens here are big and very undulated, and they definitely provide the biggest component of challenge on this course. Olivas has a lot of tricky greens, but I felt Baylands took them even another notch up in terms of trickiness.

Tee shots are generally quite forgiving and wide open with one consistent fairway cut of grass throughout the course. There is no primary cut of rough and many holes are interconnected in a links fashion, so you can often spray your ball quite wide and be in fine shape. There are some native outer areas that you want to avoid. There are long grasses and lumpy, dirty mounds that will generally not provide forgiving lies (if you find your ball at all).

I’m not sure what is considered the signature hole here. I liked the massive and pretty crazy-looking double green complex that makes up the 3rd and 15th greens. Then, you have the 14th hole, which actually has two different greens they can use on any given day to mix up the challenge a bit. We were playing to the right green on Saturday, which provides a somewhat blind approach to a green that is settled down behind some big mounding in front. There was obviously a lot of earth moved to build this course and create a lot of interesting mounding for added character.

Another feature I liked were the two British style pot bunkers that appear on the par-3 12th and the par-5 13th. They have the stacked turf faces that have a cool aesthetic presentation. However, you definitely want to try and avoid these bunkers because they look tough to escape. The one on the 13th is especially tricky because it is located probably 30-40 yards short of the green, so it not only leaves you with a big face to hit over, but an awkward distance in for a sand shot.

The course was in nice condition and still feeling very fresh after 5-6 weeks of public play thus far. The tee boxes and fairways use what I believe is a paspalum-based turf that makes for nice playing surfaces. Bunkers had super soft (too soft at the moment) beach sand. The ball would plug easily and there were also a lot of footprints from careless players during our weekend late afternoon round. The greens were excellent. They were still on the firm side and hard to hold. Hardly any ballmarks to deal with, though, and great bentgrass surfaces that were rolling very smooth. They were not very fast for us, but that will change as they continue to mature.

Like Corica Park, I wouldn’t necessarily consider Baylands a “destination course,” but it is a great addition to the South Bay lineup of courses. Golf prices around the Silicon Valley tend to be quite high and Baylands is no exception. Coming from out of town also means you will likely be paying more than locals. However, this is an enjoyable course and a wonderful renovation story that is positive to see with so many other good courses closing throughout California.

Some pictures from Baylands Golf Links (7/15/18):

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

 

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