North Bay Trip, Part 4: From the Hills to the Plains

If my Part 3 reviews were a study of contrast in terms of playing conditions, the final two stops on my recent North Bay Area trip also represent quite a contrast. This time, the playing conditions at both courses were very good. However, the layouts and settings couldn’t be more different from one another.

After we finished up quickly at Peacock Gap on Wednesday morning, we headed up toward Vallejo for what we knew would probably be a slower round…

Hiddenbrooke Golf Club • Vallejo, CA • 4/10/19

Places like Hiddenbrooke are what make the Golf Nomad quest to play as many courses as possible worthwhile. Though it’s a fairly highly rated course, it’s just not one you hear much about in the pantheon of greater Bay Area (or Napa Valley) golf. That’s especially odd when you consider this is an Arnold Palmer design and it’s managed by Troon—both pretty good things in my experience. It even hosted the LPGA’s Samsung Championship from 2000-2002.

I can’t say I’ve ever heard that much about it, but it was on my list and I knew I’d get to play here someday. I just didn’t know I probably should have made more of an effort to get out here sooner. This turned out to easily be my favorite course of this trip!

At first glance and with a few helpful tips from the guy in the pro shop, we could see that this was going to be a very dramatic course. Unfortunately, we could also see it would be a slow round as expected. The only negative parts of the round at Hiddenbrooke were the facts it took five hours to finish as we were behind the men’s club groups and there was no marshal out there helping to move things along. On a positive note, this was yet another excellent GolfMoose deal ($69 for two players). This course is generally known for being a pretty decent value on most days.

If you like flat and “traditional” courses like some of the ones we played on this trip, you may want to scroll down to the next review. Otherwise, strap in for some entertainment at Hiddenbrooke. This course is anything but boring.

It made me think of The Bridges Golf Club in San Ramon, which is a course that a lot of Bay Area locals love to hate because it’s also a pretty dramatic layout. When I reviewed that course last year, I compared it to more of a Southern California style of “canyon golf” that maybe feels a bit out place in Northern California. Hiddenbrooke gave me a similar feeling on a number of levels.

The golf course at Hiddenbrooke runs through the residential community of the same name, but houses never really feel much in play. The hills and canyons keep everything feeling separated. This is a very hilly layout with some severe changes in elevation that I loved. A couple of the tee boxes provide a nice “top of the world” view.

There are big doglegs, forced carries, hazards and all sorts of interesting and challenging features. The fairways can seem narrow, but the prevailing strategy here is to aim for the high side. Oftentimes, you can land in the rough and let gravity feed you back into the middle. The greens are pretty big and feature a lot of undulation. This is simply a course that will make you work on each shot. Oddly enough, I played my best round of the trip here, so something about the layout worked for me.

There are many memorable holes at Hiddenbrooke and probably too many to feature here. Of the five par-3s, I really liked the 3rd and the 13th. The 3rd will play uphill or level to the green depending on which tee box you choose. It’s basically an elevated island green and anything short will be trouble.

The 13th is another beauty, especially if you take the time to walk up to the far back tees that are way up a giant staircase on the top of the hill. This tee box looked like it’s not in use anymore as it wasn’t maintained, but it’s quite a spectacular spot to stand and look around. The par-4 14th tee is similarly elevated and gives you a clear look back at that 13th tee box and staircase across the canyon.

The 16th was may favorite of the par-5s with a double-dogleg design (first right and then left at the end). The teeshot is downhill and then the hole levels out as you go. The deep green is kind of peninsula tucked back into a hazard area. This is just a fun and beautiful hole.

The turf was comparable to what we found over at Rooster Run the day before, with only a few soft/weak spots found anywhere and a couple fairways roped off as cart path only. Otherwise, Hiddenbrooke provided very firm and fast conditions that added to the fun. The tee boxes were good, though it was sometimes hard to get a tee in the ground. Also, the par-3 tees were a bit chewed up and sandy. The fairways provided plenty of roll-out and nice lies to hit from.

The rough was lush, but it was more wispy type of grass than the super thick stuff we had elsewhere. The ball sat down a lot and it was still challenging in its own way. It was also sometimes tough to find balls with a lot of grass clippings and little white flowers all around—both elements we had already been quite accustomed to on this trip. The bunkers were decent. The greens were crazy firm and pretty fast. It does not seem like they’ve aerated yet this spring, though they could benefit from one because it’s almost unfair at times. The slopes are so severe here, it’s very tough when it’s so hard to hold any of the greens.

I would call Hiddenbrooke a definite “hidden gem” in the North Bay, where there’s plenty of good golf to enjoy. It’s probably not a layout everyone will enjoy because it’s so dramatic and demanding, but it is my type of course. The setting is fantastic, the conditions are nice and the layout is fun and exciting from 1-18.

Some pictures from Hiddenbrooke Golf Club (4/10/19):

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

After a long, but entertaining round at Hiddenbrooke, we were ready to get back on the road for the exhausting drive home to Southern California as soon as possible. However, we had one last stop to make…

Cypress Lakes Golf Course • Vacaville, CA • 4/10/19

Speaking of “hidden,” this would easily be considered one of the more obscure regulation-length courses in this region. When we mentioned we were playing here at other courses, we were generally greeted with blank stares. Hardly anyone knew of its existence.

Part of the reason for that is because it’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere amongst the farmland near Travis Air Force Base. It also happens to be the base’s course, though it is not actually on the base and it is fully open for public play. Of course, military personnel receive better rates than us civilians, but it was still a decent twilight deal of $29 with a cart.

When we checked in a little before 4:00, we were told there was a high school group going out on the front nine and that we should start on the back. There were players scattered throughout the course. Fortunately, they were kind of spread out nicely. Wanting to finish as quickly as we could, we got very creative with the routing. We jumped around to any free holes we’d find. I had to make detailed notes on the order in which we played, so I could sort the photos and put them in proper sequence below. Ultimately, we played all 18 holes in about 2 hours and 20 minutes!

I mentioned the contrast between these two courses at the beginning of this article. Cypress Lakes couldn’t be a more different style course than Hiddenbrooke. This is a very traditional military course. It is long. It is flat. And, it’s a pretty straightforward layout. There are a few water hazards in play, as the name would imply. Otherwise, what you see is what you get.

There are a handful of somewhat interesting holes at Cypress Lakes like the par-3 11th and holes 16-18 provide a challenging closing stretch, but none I really need to highlight in too much detail. This course reminded me of some similar military courses in Southern California and also some old school Central Valley courses.

What I will say is that the conditions were very good here. The course apparently drains well and there weren’t many wet/soft spots to find. The tee boxes and fairways were nicely maintained and easy to play from. The rough had probably as many clover patches as it did grass, but it was consistently cut and not too punitive. The greens were firm-ish and rolling well at medium speeds. The bunkers were a mixed bag, however. Some had super soft (and lumpy) sand while others were rock hard.

Unless you live very nearby or are serving at Travis AFB, Cypress Lakes will be somewhat out of the way for you and it’s not worth the effort unless you have a desire to play everything like I do. For what it is, it’s a fine military course with decent practice/clubhouse facilities and good rates. They can’t all be destination courses and I’m sure the regulars here prefer the course stay a little off the radar.

Some pictures from Cypress Lakes Golf Course (4/10/19):

 

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