Keeping the Count in the East Bay

As you may already know, the final countdown to 1,000 courses was in full effect on my most recent Northern California trip. On Sunday, I played one round at Baylands in Palo Alto (#996). On Monday, I had three rounds on tap. It was a specific plan to be sitting at #999 by the end of the day because I had a special round planned for 1K on Tuesday morning.

However, things do not always work out exactly as planned. Such is the life of the Golf Nomad. Sometimes, I have to roll with the punches.

I will say that the first round of the day did go according to plan…

Franklin Canyon Golf Course • Hercules, CA • 7/16/18

Originally, my friend and I had scheduled a 5:35 tee time here online once the bookings became available. However, they bumped us back to 6:00 because they don’t actually open that early. At least they did let us know in advance. We showed up early and there were a few other people hanging around by the time they opened the pro shop around 5:45. A couple of walking singles even teed off while we waited to check in and get our cart.

We purchased vouchers on GroupGolfer, which were only $25 and had minimal restrictions. It was a great price for an early morning round. We ultimately played through two singles on the front nine and then caught up to a few back nine groups after we made our turn. Still, they all moved relatively quickly and we were making great time no matter what. It only took us about two hours to complete our full 18.

Franklin Canyon was designed by Robert Muir Graves and it offers a nice setting for golf with no homes on the course. There is a busy highway and train tracks nearby, so it’s not completely secluded.

There are a few sections of the course with some good elevation changes and then other stretches that play pretty open and flat. Trees line all the fairways (mostly eucalyptus) and there are a number of hazards in play. In general, though, the layout isn’t overly demanding or difficult. Most fairways offer generous bailout room and the greens aren’t too hard to get at. The greens do have some natural slope with the hilly terrain, so it is important to figure out whether you are above the hole or not before putting. Sometimes that is easier said than done on a course like this.

Probably my favorite part of the course comes on the back nine. The stretch of 13-15 is pretty fun. The 13th is an uphill par-5 that doglegs hard left along a hillside, with tall trees running along the right side and a semi-blind second shot unless you clear the corner on your drive.

The 14th is a tighter downhiller that doglegs right, kind of running parallel to the 13th. This hole has some nice bunkering from the right corner all the way down to the green. There are numerous bunkers lined up and you want to avoid all of them to prevent a sand shot from an awkward lie and distance.

Then, you have the 15th, which is a straight and quite wide open hole with an elevated tee shot. This is a fun hole to grip it and rip it on, as long as you don’t go too far left where the OB fence awaits.

The course was just in okay condition and pretty rough around the edges. Tee boxes were adequate and the fairways were okay at best. Off the fairways, things got really rough and unmaintained. It was mostly just dirt. Clearly they focus their watering efforts on the fairways and greens. The greens were a little bumpy, but mostly pretty good and rolling at medium speeds. Bunkers had decent sand, but were in desperate need of some raking/dragging.

Franklin Canyon is a solid course with a nice setting, and it’s definitely worth a look if you get the right price. Bay Area golf can be expensive, so it’s nice having a decent value course around. They do have a local membership where you only play $1 per round. I don’t know all the details, but we saw numerous guys go into the pro shop and dropping one buck on the counter before heading out.

Some pictures from Franklin Canyon Golf Course (7/16/18):

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

 

Our second round on Monday (and #998 on the countdown) was actually at Berkeley Country Club in an NCGA member outing. However, I will review that one separately. That round did go as planned, though it was a slow pace as expected and made our intended third round a bit trickier.

We were originally planning on playing Tilden Park at 4:30, which should have offered enough daylight to finish all 18. We got over there just in time, but the place was absolutely packed. When we went to check in, the guy in the pro shop didn’t seem confident in us being able to finish.

It was a risk I was not willing to take. After all, this was to be the 999th course on the countdown. I wanted to make sure it was a round that I would finish. So, it was onto plan B…

Mission Hills of Hayward Golf Course • Hayward, CA • 7/16/18

I hadn’t planned on playing any short courses on this trip, but desperate times call for desperate measures. And fortunately, there are still a handful of short courses in the East Bay area that I haven’t played yet. That came in handy Monday when I needed to squeeze in a “for sure” round.

We called over to Mission Hills of Hayward and they said it was pretty wide open out there. I was able to buy a voucher on GolfGuide.net for $14 (plus $2 processing) for nine holes with a cart. My buddy had already played this course, so he ran some errands and took a cat nap while I zipped around the nine holes in under an hour. I did play around one walking single and had to wait on a slow twosome for the final two holes, but otherwise it went super quickly and I was just happy to get it done to keep the course count on track.

In an odd way, it’s kind of fitting I had to scramble to find a short course for #999. Heck, #1 on my list (Kings Valley) is the short course I grew up playing and I will always have a soft spot for them. Plus, changing plans at the last minute is something that happens often on these crazy road trips. It’s just part of the Golf Nomad lifestyle.

As for Mission Hills of Hayward, this is actually a pretty solid short course. It is a par-30 executive with two short par-4s mixed in with a decent variety of par-3s. You go out and back with a street on one side and some houses on the other. The holes are fairly simple, but not plain as there are some hazards in play and the greens have some undulation to contend with.

I imagine they consider the finishing 9th hole the signature hole as you hit over water to a green that is tucked back with the trees left and the clubhouse behind.

Conditions were actually pretty good, as well. Things were relatively lush and green throughout the course. There were some iffy spots here and there, but overall rather good for a course of this caliber. The greens were well-kept and rolling smooth at medium speeds. The bunkers were also decent.

Mission Hills of Hayward came through when I absolutely needed it. It’s nothing that special, but it may forever hold a special spot in my memory bank because of how it worked out in the last minute as my 999th course.

Some pictures from Mission Hills of Hayward Golf Course (7/16/18):

 

After my special 1,000th course on Tuesday, there was still plenty of time left to play an additional round in the evening. By the way, stay tuned to this site to see where I played for #1K—unless you follow me on social media, in which case you should already know.

We ended up going after the “one the got away.” In other words, the course that was supposed to be #999 ended up being #1001 instead…

Tilden Park Golf Course • Berkeley, CA • 7/17/18

Going out here on Monday evening, but not playing, kind of made Tilden Park an immediate thorn in the side. Not only is it kind of isolated geographically (making it a pain to pair with other courses on future trips), it looked like a really fun course from what we saw. In a way, we were determined to still play it on this trip.

Fortunately, we were able to get out there a little earlier on Tuesday and we teed off at 3:50. The twilight rate was a very reasonable $28 with a cart and we just played as a twosome amongst the threesomes and foursomes. It was still rather busy out here, but it didn’t seem quite as bad as it looked Monday and there really weren’t any concerns of not finishing.

There was one slow group backing things up on the front nine and a well-placed three hole loop allowed us to skip ahead at just the right time. We ended up playing holes 1-4 kind of slowly. Then, we played holes 8-18. We were behind other players the whole way, but it definitely saved us a lot of time by skipping ahead. By the time we went back to play holes 5-7, it was pretty wide open and we zipped through those. The total pace was four hours and we were out of there with plenty of daylight to spare.

As hoped, Tilden Park was a very enjoyable course. I was actually quite impressed with this place as a relatively affordable course that obviously gets a ton of play being right up the road from UC Berkeley (it is one of the Cal Bears’ home courses). The first couple holes are kind of funky. The 1st hole is a steep uphill par-4 that is relatively long. It’s a tough one to start with. Then, the 2nd is a wacky downhill dogleg left par-4 with a very awkward tee shot to a corner landing area that slopes away from you.

After that, the course just settles in with better designed holes and a beautiful secluded natural setting. There are definitely a few more quirky holes throughout (the 9th also comes to mind), but the William F. Bell layout offers plenty of character an classic charm as the course dates back to 1937. Clearly, not a lot of earth was moved to make this course. It seemed they used the dramatic natural terrain to shape the design.

We did notice what looked like it used to be fun short par-3 as the 3rd hole. I don’t know what hole was added to replace it because nothing else feels out of place, but there was clearly a hole here at some point not that long ago.

Even without that hole, Tilden Park has a very memorable set of par-3s. The 4th is the only reasonably short one at 143 yards from the blue tees (137 whites) over a natural hazard. The rest play pretty darn long. From the blue tees, you will be faced with three more par-3s over 200 yards in length. The 7th is 221, the 11th is 234 and the 16th is 206 and none are that significantly downhill or wide open. I was glad to be playing the whites.

The two par-3s on the back nine, however, are real beauties to look at. The 11th has you hitting from an elevated tee box through a chute of trees. It looked awesome in the afternoon shadows as you’ll see in my pictures. The 16th is the signature hole here as you hit from the tee box across to an elevated green in the corner of the property.

There are no boring moments at Tilden Park. Some people may find the layout to be too quirky at times, but I really enjoyed it overall. Plus, it was in fairly good shape and they had the golden native grasses around the edges of the course grown out. It looked gorgeous with the contrast of colors in the late afternoon sunlight. Oh, and I didn’t even mention all the tall mature trees (mostly redwoods) throughout the property. It feels more like a mountain course than anything in the East Bay. You could easily pick this course up and drop it over by Lake Tahoe, where it would easily fit in and fetch much higher green fees than it does as a public muni course in Berkeley.

As mentioned, the conditions were good overall. The tee boxes were good. The fairways were nice and lush for the most part with some weak areas here and there. The rough was a little less consistent, but generally nice enough in the areas that mattered. As for the golden native grasses around the edges, these areas are nice to look at but best avoided. You aren’t likely to find your ball, and even if you do it’s going to be a very tough recovery. I wasn’t in any bunkers, but they seemed decent from what I saw. The greens were also good, rolling pretty smooth at medium/quick speeds. There is plenty of natural slope to contend with here.

I could easily call Tilden Park a “hidden gem,” especially from a traveling golfer’s perspective. It’s not one that gets much outside attention, and I don’t know why. However, calling it “hidden” certainly doesn’t apply to the locals because the secret is out. This course gets a ton of play and is probably almost always packed. Don’t go here expecting a quick round!

Some pictures from Tilden Park Golf Course (7/17/18):

 

 

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