Course Review: Stanford Golf Course

One of the main reasons for my recent golf trip to the Silicon Valley was because I had a chance to play Stanford Golf Course. This is the university’s course and it is considered a private club reserved for members, students and faculty/staff. Naturally, it is home to the Stanford University golf team (who can forget a young Tiger in that 90s-style oversized red-and-white striped polo?) and it has hosted many big collegiate golf tournaments throughout the years.

There is one easy—yet costly—loophole to play this course as an unaccompanied guest, and that is to stay at the nearby Rosewood Sand Hill resort. Well, my main golf travel buddy got a bug up his butt recently and decided he wanted to go nuts this weekend with not one, but two expensive stay-and-play packages. You’ll learn about the other in the next review. He shelled out for the resort stays and I simply got to tag along as a golf guest, though I did get to crash in his Sand Hill room Saturday night and that was quite fancy. I rarely get to stay in places as nice as this (my last being last summer at the equally impressive Entrada in St. George, UT), so it’s always a nice treat to get a real luxury hotel experience.

Anyway, I was really there for the golf. Just paying the lofty guest green fees still wasn’t cheap, but I might have never splurged for a stay-and-play myself. It would probably be the best deal I ever got to play Stanford unless a member invited me. Technically, there are not any specific stay-and-play package deals with the Rosewood. Staying there just gets you guest access to the course and the golf is a separate cost.

We booked a 12:30 tee time and it was quite busy out there, so we waited on every shot. We were initially paired with another twosome of students who were both beginners and just never seemed comfortable playing with us. They moved really slow and hesitantly, and we fell off pace just a couple holes in. We decided it was best to split apart. After that, we could tell they felt more at ease and kept up a better pace behind us. In total, the round still took about 4.5 hours as there was nowhere to go with member groups stacked up in front of us.

Anyway, this is a course that I have always been curious about. It dates back to 1930 and was originally designed by George C. Thomas and William P. Bell. That kind of pedigree is enough to sell me right there. Since then, it has gone through several updates and renovations. GolfAdvisor lists Robert Trent Jones Sr., Robert Trent Jones Jr. John Harbottle III, Beau Welling, Jay Blasi and George Waters all as architects associated with this course throughout the years. It’s hard to say how much of the current course resembles the original design, but most of California’s older private clubs have similar histories. That includes the top three Bay Area private clubs I’ve had the great fortune to play so far (Olympic (Lake), Cal Club and Lake Merced).

However the Stanford course came to be what it is today, I definitely enjoyed the layout overall. The opening tee shot is kind of a unique one. It is a very elevated tee box next to the pro shop. You hit over some trees and there is also a road down there that is pretty easy to clear. After this, the front nine is fairly flat without any significant changes in elevation until you reach the 9th hole.

The front nine features three excellent par-3s, and really all five of the par-3s at Stanford stand out among the most memorable holes. San Francisquito Creek runs through parts of the course and the first four par-3s have you hitting across it to well-protected greens. The 3rd and 4th holes are a nice back-to-back set of par-3s.

The 8th hole was my favorite hole on the entire course. It is set back in a corner of the property and just has a beautiful presentation. Then, the 14th is perhaps what they consider the signature par-3 with a big bridge running over the creek on the right and connecting the teeing grounds and the green. The bridge has a really old school vibe and provides so much character to the hole.

Lastly, the 17th hole is only par-3 that doesn’t play over the creek, but it is still a fantastic design. Beyond the three great par-3s on the front, I found the back nine to be more interesting overall. This side is hillier and more big trees seem to be in play. Given Stanford’s logo (and creepy mascot) is a tree, the back nine just felt like what you would expect from a course on this impressive campus.

Stanford was in good overall condition for winter. It’s not really the ideal time of year to play here and the gray skies surely didn’t help with my photos. It was very soft throughout as we pretty much expected, but still lush and maintained fairly well. The tee boxes were good. The fairways were mostly good, but provided no roll-out and a lot of soft turf underneath for plenty of fat shots. The rough was lush and pretty punitive, especially if you found some of the really deep stuff on the outer edges. The bunkers had awesome sand, though one I found provided an unfortunately lumpy lie with the ball sitting down a lot. The greens were also great, rolling well at medium-quick speeds. I assume it’s always best to stay below the hole when you can. Most of the greens here are quite big and there’s plenty of natural slope in play.

I’ve always heard somewhat mixed reviews about Stanford. Overall, I thought it was a great course, but it is definitely not quite in that upper tier of private clubs in the Bay Area. I wouldn’t pay to stay at the Rosewood Sand Hill just to play here. However, if you happen to be staying at that resort, you might as well use the excuse to play Stanford Golf Course. Otherwise, if you get an invite and affordable guest rates, I wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to play here. If you are a Stanford student or faculty/staff, then consider yourself incredibly lucky to be able to play this wonderful course for extremely cheap rates (not counting the insane tuition fees, of course)!

Some pictures from Stanford Golf Course (1/26/19):

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

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