The newest member of the TPC network is the TPC Stonebrae. Opened as Stonebrae, with the name changing literally month’s after the first balls were struck high in the Hayward hills, the course will be the new home of the Nationwide Tour’s Bay Area event formerly played at Wente Vineyards.
Director of Golf Brian Paul, who has been there from the beginning, has taken the change in stride.
“I’ve been through this before (at Mayacama, and later StoneTree) and you always spend a lot on marketing early on,” said the easy-going Paul.
But stationary, logos, divot tools and the like aside, the breathtaking setting and layout hasn’t changed. And it is, without a doubt, the most unique course in the TPC network.
For one, there is the location. The 10 minute climb uphill from the 580 freeway in Hayward took me to a place that I had only seen from an airplane. (My ears literally popped on the way down.) And I knew I was in for a visual treat, and likely something more than your “course as an afterthought to real estate” design.
You see, The TPC Stonebrae was designed by Scottish designer David McLay Kidd. Like Director of Golf Paul (who even runs a club called the Bandoneers) I am a huge fan of Bandon Dunes – the much-talked about and beloved resort on the Oregon Coast where the first links course was designed by none other than Mr. Kidd.
What he did at Stonebrae is carve out 18 holes from the hilly, rocky, and stunningly visual terrain where no two are alike and where fun will definitely require you to “think different” as Apple Computer used to advertise.
Paul said it best when he talked about links golf before I teed off.
“I love everything about it – the ground game, the wind, the firm conditions.”
One of my most important criteria for any golf course I play is how many holes I can remember after a round (granted, you remember more when you play well…) And TPC Stonebrae passes that test.
On the front nine the 5th hole, a dogleg left of 316 yards where there is enough room to go for the well bunkered green, but where the smarter play is a layup. The middle-back of the green has a cavern of about three feet deep (I couldn’t help but try the putt from one tier to the other) and the views of the bay reminded me of an invisible edge pool.
On the back, I was floored by the par three 11th (pictured) – just a 240 yard poke from the back tees. And that hole is followed by a straight downhill par-5 of 593 yards, with a black-diamond fairway that levels off to a plateau launching pad. I followed Brian Paul’s advice and aimed for the cart path on the right, and the ball rolled all the way to the plateau for a drive of 350 yards. My ego was boosted until I looked back at the tee and realized that I really only hit it 275 and the rest was gravity.
Another un-TPC thing about this TPC SF Bay is the greens. They are not the modern, angular designs that show up on some of the new resort courses -- these surfaces are huge, wonderful (albeit sometimes diabolical) to putt on and chip to, and the ball hardly leaves a mark.
Almost nothing about the course struck me as negative, but the rub that it gets “on the street” among golfers is that it is windy up in them-thar hills. For anyone who plays links golf, wind is just part of the fun. My only complaint is that I prefer to walk, and I’m not in the kind of shape to walk this one; the elevation changes alone would kill me. But I did see two brave souls hoofing it, and when the Nationwide Tour comes through they will no doubt put in better walking paths and shortcuts. As for the wind, bring it on, and turn the Bandoneers loose.