Signs of Improvement at San Ramon Royal Vista Golf Course

By F. Richard Allen, Contributor

SAN RAMON, Calif. - This course is located just off of Alcosta Blvd. near route 680, which runs north and south through the very heart of Contra Costa County. Although residents here enjoy fine weather year around, in February it often rains. Venture out to your local golf course prepared for the bad weather and you may even slosh around in ground water.

We arrived on a gray morning with the constant threat of rain. We met the head pro and manager Michael Reed.

Royal Vista Golf Course is a 6,500 yard course, with a par 72 from the blues. The whites are about 6,200 yards. Blue ratings are 71.1 with a slope of 122. During the week seniors are $20, regulars are $27 and on the weekend everyone is $37 for a round of 18 holes of golf. You can rent a golf cart for $24.

In response to a variety of questions concerning the course and its history, Mr. Reed stated that this, "is a very tight golf course which runs throughout the housing development here in San Ramon. Accuracy is definitely a key off the tee and towards the green.

"Our signature hole is an island green of 11,000 square feet, really a huge target. But standing in the middle of the fairway it looks like a teacup. We extended the lake from the ninth around to the 18th making the finish even better. The two nines are fairly different. As you'll notice the front nine is fairly flat. The back nine does have some slight elevation, gains and losses. Also the fairways and greens on the back nine are a little bit larger, a little bit easier to get to."

If you like to practice hitting some balls, the first thing you'll notice at Royal Vista is the convenient and thorough practice setup. There are chipping and putting greens and a large driving range. $4 for a bucket of 40 balls or $7 for a bucket of 90 balls. With so few driving ranges in this neighborhood, it's a heck of a good deal.

The Royal Vista is owned by Waterhouse Inc., which owns four golf courses, the other three in southern California.

Mr. Reed, commenting on the origins of the club and what they've been doing recently, said, "The front nine was built in '61, the back nine in '62. Now we have a newly renovated golf course, pro shop, expanded club house, and a new irrigation system."

Reed is right about the narrowness of the fairways being a major problem. For me it was a matter of moving down one club in order to stay in better control. Unfortunately it took me a few holes to realize that a good look doesn't necessarily mean your ball will land on the fairway. You always feel contained.

The 1st hole is a good example of the kind of problems you may encounter. It's a 331 yard, par 4 from the blues, with a dogleg right. The driving range on the right and the driveway into the golf course on the left narrow the first part of the fairway down to about 30 yards across.

The dogleg is marked by a large oak tree which you should shoot wide of on the left. But then there's a small water filled creek to get over on your drive to the green. I mistakenly drove to beneath the tree on the right leaving a difficult shot under the limbs, but over the water.

Pine trees, olive trees, and geese are already very apparent. The sign at the tee indicates that this first fairway is pretty much split in half by the dogleg, but when you get there you realize that it can't be more than 100 yards from the large oak to the green. So a good drive or two just past the oak should put you in line for a nice shot onto the green from 75 to 100 yards out. However, once you get to the green, your problems have only begun.

As is often times typical on courses billing themselves as relatively easy, they take it out on you on the greens with multi-undulations.

The 3rd hole is across the Ironhorse Trail, a great blacktop bike and walking trail which utilizes an old railroad bed. The Ironhorse stretches from Dublin through San Ramon, Danville, Alamo, Walnut Creek and eventually hooks up with the Concord Canal Trail which encircles the city of Concord connecting to Martinez, Pacheco, Clayton, and now, I'm told goes into East Contra Costa County up to Pittsburg and Antioch.

I've ridden my bike in most of these areas and with the advent of the backpack golf bag, have only recently found a reasonable way to load my clubs onto my bike and ride over to play a game of golf.

The golf courses which come to mind connected within a few miles of this extensive trail system include Royal View and the Canyon Lakes course just north of here off of Bollinger Canyon Road, Buchanan Fields in Concord, Diablo Hills and Diablo Canyon, Boundary Oak, Franklin Canyon, Delta View, Brentwood, and Lone Tree.

What about a Bike and Golf marathon called the Contra Costa County (COCO to the locals) Bike and Golf Marathon? It could last up to four days and cover approximately 162 holes of golf. My rules would be "under your own steam by bike or shoe leather." Looks like about 45 miles of walking and about the same on the bike.

For a time frame, put it in the early spring, at the end of March. Charge $200 and contribute the money to some worthy cause...the Old Duffers Home or something. If you're interested, send me an email and we'll see if we can pull it together. As things stand, I may be the only bicycling golfer in the world, but I doubt it.

The 4th hole, is another par 4, 442 yards from the blues. It's pretty typical of the ten par 4s on this course. They range in length from a low of 305 to a high of 429. They're very narrow at both ends and fatten out in the middle. The greens are convoluted and well-protected by sand.

On the back nine, the par fours enjoy undulating earth. Someone knows that it's harder to hit a ball straight from a slope than it is from the flat. Many of these par 4s have large dry irrigation canals crossing the middle of the fairway.

The 6th hole is the first par five, a 488 yard dogleg right. Very narrow off the tee. Hit out into the middle away from a huge pine tree at the turn. This is like that first hole with another canal, this time a dry one towards the end of the fairway after the turn.

The green is well protected by sandtraps on left and right and the green itself tips away from the fairway. As you approach the green the fairway is only ten or fifteen yards across. There are four par 5s ranging in length from a low of 488 to a high of 519.

The 9th is the par 4 onto the aforementioned island, 356 yards away A little bit of the cart path can be seen just before the water which our playing partner, who plays often on this course, suggests we aim for. That bit of visible cart path is about 200 yards out. I hit my ball off to the right on both the first and second stroke sending it eventually under a bridge which leads back to the mainland.

Low and behold, I retrieved it from the grassy area on the other side of the bridge, but when I tried to place it on the island, which is domed, it rolled into the drink. Tough hole.

The 18th is very narrow out of the gate and therein lies the rub. I witnessed six drives that headed into the rough between the 18th and the 9th off to the right. Although water doesn't actually go all the way around the 18th as it does on the 9th, you do have to go over it. And there's something about water that's daunting to almost everyone. Lay up close is my suggestion.

At San Ramon Royal Vista Golf Club, Russell Davies is not only the GM but enjoys the lowest registered score on the course..that of a 63. Ernie Barbour is the PGA teaching pro and Tony Magtoto is the head tournament director.

I had a good day all and all. My playing buddy helps as the photographer on these trips and he also keeps score. I'm so ambitious myself, that if I do well and it becomes clear to me that I'm playing over my head, I then falter.

At one point, he simply turned to me in amazement and said, "Look at these scores..." That's all it took. After that I even had one ouch-bogey (ouch). Some people don't believe you can write down a score that high, but you can.

Anyway it was certainly more difficult than Michael Reed led us to believe. But it was a great day.

San Ramon Royal Vista Golf Course
9430 Fircrest Lane
San Ramon, CA 94583
(925) 828-6100

F. Richard Allen, Contributor

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