Short Course Blitz: East Bay Area

One of my primary goals of this most recent trip to the Bay Area was to check off as much of my remaining East Bay public list as I could. Ultimately, I played 12 new courses over four days and half of them were short courses.

Guess what that means? It’s Short Course Blitz time!

It’s been awhile, but we got a lot to get to in this post. Let’s get right to it…

Pleasanton Golf Center • Pleasanton, CA • 5/5/19

I was hoping to get to all the short courses I had left in this region, but this trip found me playing it by ear a lot of the time. I had some central rounds booked on each day, so which shorties I played and when was kind of at the mercy of the golf gods.

With my Sunday morning round at Skywest going so quickly, that left a good chunk of time before I had to get up to Alameda for a Greenskeeper.org GK Plays outing at Corica Park. I will not be re-reviewing the renovated South Course this time around, but you can check out my review from last year here.

Anyway, I decided to head out to Pleasanton to check out Pleasanton Golf Center. It is actually located within the Alameda County Fairgrounds. Getting there proved to be a bit tricky as my phone GPS took me to the driving range, which is located on a different side of the fairgrounds than the golf course.

I found my way back over to the correct place and saw the sign for the golf course. It pointed to a little parking lot and a small tunnel running through a drainage pipe. It did not look like it was intended for cars to drive through, so I parked in the small lot off to the side and walked through the tunnel. I was bummed when I reached the other side to find a regular parking lot inside the horse track. I guess I was supposed to drive through after all!

Oh well, it was fine. There were some people waiting to tee off on the first hole, but most of the course looked wide open. I paid my $18 to walk nine holes (too much) and mentioned I was in a bit of time crunch. The guy inside said I was welcome to start on the 3rd hole ahead of these other groups. It worked out perfectly as I played 3-9 and the then joined a single on the first tee to round out my last two holes at the end.

Easily the most interesting thing about Pleasanton is that the course is located within the horse racing track infield. They have a small driving range and a 9-hole executive golf course that plays to a total par of 30. There are three short par-5s to go with a pretty decent mix of par-3s ranging from 117 yards up to 175.

Being basically an open field means the course is really basic. There’s one water hazard that comes into play on the 7th and 8th holes. Otherwise, what you see is what you get.

Conditions were solid. The tees, fairways and rough were lush and in good shape overall The bunkers were okay and the greens were actually pretty nice. They were somewhat firm and rolling faster than expected for a course of this caliber. They were also pretty small and domed around the edges, which made them hard to hold at times.

Pleasanton is a good beginner’s course and it is home to the local First Tee program. I might have been more amused about playing inside a racetrack at the fairgrounds if I hadn’t already done the same thing (on the same kind of course, but a slightly better version, if you ask me) up in Santa Rosa at The Fairgrounds Golf Course a few years back.

Then, of course, there’s that time I played golf inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, speaking of a really amazing racetrack gimmick!

Some pictures from Pleasanton Golf Center (5/5/19):

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

 

 

 

After the GK outing that was a pretty slow Sunday afternoon round on a very busy course, I had just enough time to squeeze in one more nine that evening…

Fremont Park Golf Club • Fremont, CA • 5/5/19

I made my way down to Fremont and out to the golf course, which is well off any freeways and not terribly convenient unless you live nearby. I got there around 6:30 and it was very busy. Fortunately, all the people were out there on the driving range and using the other nice practice areas.

The 9-hole golf course was wide open, so I paid to walk and played quickly with ample daylight to spare. I don’t remember exactly what it was (I want to say $12), but I do remember thinking it was somewhat more reasonable than Pleasanton earlier for a similar level short course.

Fremont Park is another executive course that plays a little longer with a par of 33. There are four short par-4s and one short par-5 to go along with the four par-3s that range in length from 87 yards up to 178 from the blue tees. Most of the course is very beginner-friendly except a few holes like the 3rd, 5th and 7th that are kind of tricky with hazards very much in play.

The layout at Fremont Park was much more interesting than the super basic Pleasanton. It offers some decent scenery and those hazards to make it a little more than boring.

Unfortunately, of all the courses I played this trip, Fremont Park was probably in the weakest condition. It was pretty rough around the edges. The tee boxes were a bit beat up. The fairways were a little spotty. The rough was even spottier. The greens had just been aerated, so they were sandy and slow. Looks like they should be fine by the time they heal up. The bunkers were not terrible, but not great either.

I definitely get the sense that the driving range and practice areas get a lot more action and attention than the little course at Fremont Park. With the layout and setting, though, it has potential to be something better than it currently is. For me, it was just another one off the list!

Some pictures from Fremont Park Golf Club (5/5/19):

 

 

 

Monday only found me playing one short course at the tail end of the day. My earlier rounds at Boundary Oak and TPC Stonebrae will be chronicled in separate reviews. The NCGA member outing at Stonebrae turned out to be another really slow and exhausting round, so again I just barely had time to try and squeeze in one more…

Monarch Bay Golf Club (Marina Course) • San Leandro, CA • 5/6/19

I wasn’t even sure if I’d have enough daylight, but by the time I got over to Monarch Bay I could see the short course was wide open and it wouldn’t be a problem. I paid $20 for nine holes with a cart so I could play as quickly as possible and jump around the layout if needed. It turns out that wasn’t needed as a twosome let me play through on the 3rd hole and it was full-on sprint mode after that.

Monarch Bay has two courses. The main regulation course is Tony Lema, which after this trip is now the only East Bay public course left on my list!

I was glad to at least get to the shorter Marina Course this time around. It is an executive 9-hole layout that is a par-30. It features two short par-4s, one more average par-4 (351 yards) and then a mix of par-3s ranging from 111 yards up to 193.

The course was in decent shape. The tee boxes, fairway areas, rough and greens were all pretty good. The greens rolled fairly well and were soft on approaches, so it was fun to be pretty aggressive. The bunkers were the one real weak spot as they were very firm.

I felt like Monarch Bay was a good example of a short course that does what it should. It’s just interesting enough to keep a more experienced player mildly entertained or to provide a good warm-up/cool-down option when paired with the Lema Course. Meanwhile, it offers a pretty good layout for beginners, seniors or anyone not looking to take on a full-size course. It’s nice having a municipal facility with two very different course options to attract a lot of different players.

Some pictures from Monarch Bay Golf Club (Marina Course) (5/6/19):

 

 

 

On my last day of the trip (Tuesday), I actually started with my final three East Bay short courses to make sure they were finished up. I will only review two of them here, as I will cover the Links Course at Las Positas in a combo review with the Signature 18 there.

I was ready to go early Tuesday morning a bit further north…

Diablo Hills Golf Course • Walnut Creek, CA • 5/7/19

I had booked a 6:45 tee time prior to my trip, which is the earliest they had available for Tuesday. I guess really early play is not the norm at this sleepy little course. Still, I arrived early and milled around until they opened up a little after 6:00. They said they usually don’t allow any play until 6:30 and the maintenance guys just headed out while I was checking in. After a friendly discussion about my goals, they went ahead and let me go out earlier.

The price was steep for a weekday morning nine-hole rate with a cart ($35). This would be a trickier course to walk because it is somewhat hilly and it is rather spread out through some residential areas and local streets. I paid extra for the cart and played super quickly. Maintenance let me through on the 2nd hole and it was smooth sailing after that, playing greens that hadn’t been mowed yet and yesterday’s pin placements (neither of which bother me in the least when I’m in quick-play mode).

Of all the short courses played on this trip, Diablo Hills was easily the best. This is a pretty fun par-34 layout that has some quirky qualities, but is far from a boring short course. As I mentioned, it’s pretty hilly and it is also tight in some spots with houses/streets very much in play.

There aren’t too many distinctive design features until you reach the 9th hole. There you will find a large and elaborate bunker system guarding the sunken green of this short par-4. It kind of comes out of nowhere and I couldn’t get a good picture of it, but it’s pretty cool.

The conditions here were pretty decent overall. A few weak spots here and there, especially as you got off the fairways. The greens were soft and slow with morning moisture, but fine enough. The bunkers were not bad.

Diablo Hills isn’t anything that exciting, but it has some charming qualities, some good scenery and the staff seemed really nice once they warmed up. I don’t think they get many outsiders here, especially impatient dawn patrollers like me!

Some pictures from Diablo Hills Golf Course (5/7/19):

 

 

 

From Diablo Hills, I headed up the freeway a few miles to another one I was finally glad to check off the list…

Buchanan Fields Golf Course • Concord, CA • 5/7/19

I actually tried stopping and playing here a couple years ago, but they had a tournament going on that day and it’s been a thorn in my side ever since. This course is known to get a lot of play, so I have just been waiting and hoping to catch it on a slow day. Tuesday morning seemed like a good time.

However, when I showed up a little after 7:00 and paid my money (a very reasonable $11.50 to walk nine holes), the pro shop guy said I better rush out to the tee right away. I didn’t really see many players waiting around, but I didn’t waste any time just in case. I played through one fivesome on the 5th hole and otherwise had the place to myself. I saw a couple scattered groups of old guys go out behind me as I played, but I still don’t know what the “rush” was all about.

Buchanan Fields is another executive 9-holer that plays to a total par of 31. It has four fairly short par-4s and then five par-3s that range from 133 yards up to 156 from the blue tees. Unlike Fremont Park, the little golf course here seems to get plenty of play in addition to all the action they get on their large driving range. It’s definitely a popular practice facility and it’s conveniently located right off the I-680 freeway.

This would qualify as another fairly basic layout. The terrain is flat as the course sits next to the Buchanan Field airport. There are some trees lining the fairways that can make for some tight angles here and there, but that’s about as interesting as it gets.

The course was also in pretty solid condition. Pretty lush and green with some inconsistencies throughout. The greens were soft and rolling well enough at medium speeds. I wasn’t in any bunkers here.

For me, Buchanan Fields was purely a checklist course and I was glad to finally get it completed after getting denied previously. I know that’s a bit cynical, but it was enough to provide my own sense of satisfaction as an avid course collector. And, if you are looking for a little bit of a milestone, Buchanan ended up being my 800th different course played in California thus far.

Some pictures from Buchanan Fields Golf Course (5/7/19):

 

 

 

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