Full-service golf with options: Blue Rock Springs Golf Club in Vallejo
VALLEJO, Calif. -- Such is golf in the Bay Area that wind patterns that funnel through the Golden Gate opening into the San Francisco Bay Area bring a decided impact on club selection. Also the terrain -- largely hilly with a clay-based soil -- adds to the challenges of making pars.
Blue Rock Springs Golf Club in Vallejo, about 40 miles northeast of San Francisco, embodies these elements on its two courses. The West Course opened in the late 1940s, with the East Course getting established in the mid 1970s. Both work their way up and about hillsides with Monterey pine and some eucalyptus serving as barriers between the holes.
But it's a testament to the unique nature of the region that neither course gives any indication of the challenges. The West, from the back tees, barely tops 6,000 yards for a par of 71. The par-70 East, which was designed by Robert Muir Graves, gets up to 6,133 yards, no doubt making long-hitters drool thinking that they're in Birdie Land.
Blue Rock Springs G.C.: Deceptive
Through delicate routing, as well as knowledge of the prevailing wind patterns, neither ends up being a driver-wedge course. First is the prevailing breeze: From several holes on the East Course, for example, you can glimpse the back portion of the San Francisco Bay, and those in the region know that water means wind. And wind means more or less club. A lot more or a lot less. Depending.
Consider the East's second hole, a downhill, 141-yard par 3: A shot off a pitching wedge gauged to be 125 yards flew over the green. Although the it reads to be a short course, judging distance and wind make it much more difficult. Toss in some wickedly deceptive breaks on the greens, and what seems easy has turned into a grind fest.
The 551-yard, par-5 14th on the East is a good example. A good tee shot sets up a slight downhill second shot that just has to avoid the bunker on the left.
If so, the ball will roll down a steep fairway to a landing about 80 yards short of the green. But what a green: kidney-shaped with severe sloping from front right to back left. Welcome to Three-Putt City.
Then come tough par 4s at No. 15 and No. 17, with an into-the-wind, 167-yard par 3 at 16 to deal with. Such is Blue Rock Springs, where doubt can creep into your mind. Which club? How hard? What angle?
Blue Rock Springs Golf Club: The verdict
With two golf courses, this facility has appeal, because even with a late call on a weekend morning, there is a good chance the pro shop can find a slot on the tee sheet.
"It's an easy drive for me on the weekend," said Bill Brandt, who lives in San Rafael, about 30 miles to the west. "There are two courses, so you get to pick. It's pretty fair, and it's fun, and that's good for a player like me. There's a lot to like."
Add in a nice bar and grill and a large practice facility, Blue Rock Springs comes across as a full-service, municipally owned golf facility.
Of the two, however, I prefer the East. Graves used to have his offices in nearby Walnut Creek, and he fit the East Course to scale. That means many of the par 4s are not punishing. But a 380-yard, downhill par 4 into the prevailing breeze does not necessarily bring out the second-shot wedge. It's more like a full-volume 8- or 9-iron.
There is plenty of grass around the holes, so mis-hits don't end up in wetlands or ponds. The bunkers are strategic with somewhat deep elevation, but they don't dominate your mind on approach shots.
There are wicked breaks on some greens that you have to have played three or four times to understand, much less see. That's why many par 4s in the 360-380 yard range are hardly anything but easy. One reason: The fronts of some greens are flared up (example: No. 9 and No. 11), which means balls have to be flown to the putting surface.
This is one course in the Bay Area where you will find patches of kikuyu grass, that devilish African import that can induce either a perfect lie in the rough or something akin to living barbed wire.
To their credit, both Blue Rock Springs golf courses are an easy walk, though the elevation changes on both will leave a little lactic acid in your calves. But then, that's part of the up-and-down nature of golf in the Bay Area.