Skywest Golf Course in Hayward: Great potential but fits the market

By Ted Johnson, Contributor

HAYWARD, Calif. -- It doesn't take much time on Skywest Golf Course in Hayward, 15 miles south of the Oakland International Airport, to realize that this layout has great potential.

Skywest Golf Course - 17
Wide-open approaches to greens, like here at the par-5 17th, are common at Skywest Golf Course.
Skywest Golf Course - 17Skywest Golf Course - 12Skywest Golf Course - hole 7Skywest Golf Course - 9th
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Skywest Golf Course

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SkyWest Golf Course is part of the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District, it's one of two municipal courses. Opened in 1964, the course has a traditional layout with classic lines. Mature trees line the fairways and there are two lakes that come into play. The large greens play true and they can be subtly tricky.

18 Holes | Municipal golf course | Par: 72 | 6721 yards | Book online | ... details »

The golf course stretches from the blue tees to 6,750 yards, and there's room to lengthen holes, not that many need it. Mature eucalyptus, oak and willow trees line the fairways. The course, designed by Bob Balcock, came to be in 1965 and has that old-time core-course feel marked by short walks from green to tees and adjoining holes.

Some small canals and holding ponds pose a minor threat, but they don't really come into play. And that's why it's 6,800 yards and has a slope rating of 123 from the tips -- hardly an intimidating presence.

Those who play golf with an eye for course design, however, can see the unearthed gem waiting to come out. All it would take is around $5 million to re-do tees, provide target and directional bunkers in the fairways, and build up green complexes to modern standards.

Skywest Golf Club: The design

In one of the country's highest real estate markets, Skywest has a huge advantage in that the land is there. And not much engineering (drainage, bridges, holding ponds) would be needed. The result would be a first-rate challenge capable of testing the very good player as well as providing plenty of fun for the higher handicapper and recreational golfer.

But that's probably not going to happen. Skywest is owned by the Hayward Area Recreation District, a public entity designed to provide open space and recreation facilities for this city of 144,000 that hugs the I-880 freeway. It sits next to the regional Hayward Airport, which is known as a hub for traffic helicopters.

This is a course meant for easy, quick access to locals and everyone else for a reasonable price. Green fees range from $20 to $36. And though it indeed is a diamond waiting to be re-done and polished, there's no way HARD would shut down a large source of revenue (more than 50,000 rounds annually) for a year or two and then spend millions for a modern (and albeit more compelling) course.

A full driving range that includes artificial tees and grass hitting areas is available, as are private and group lessons.

Skywest Golf Course: The verdict

Located near San Francisco Bay and at the same elevation, the flat course is known for holding water during the wet months. Even during this year's record dry winter, the clay-based fairways offer relatively little roll, and thus the eight par 4s that are more than 400 yards (from the blues) play much longer.

Also, the prevailing breezes off the bay in the afternoon can be chilling and heavy, further adding distance to shots heading west.

"We tend not to play this course in the winter," said Dave Dergen, of Hayward, a Skywest regular. "It really holds the water. But it's a great course we can all afford."

The flat layout with minimal directional or even greenside bunkers can make depth perception an issue. Most of the greens have wide-open approach areas with minimal bunkering, and the traps are raised above the greens rather than dug into edges of the putting surfaces.

Course markings are minimal; no yardages adorn sprinkler heads, and only blue, white and red stakes astride the fairways give indications of distance (200, 150 and 100 yards, respectively). Red (front), white (middle) and blue (back) flags indicate pin positions on the green.

In that sense, this is old-time "feel" golf. But for those who prefer precise distances, especially on approaches, this is a good course where a relatively high-quality range finder can make a big difference.

It's a course where the long hitters can pull driver on every par 4 and par 5 and bomb away. In terms of scoring, accuracy off the tee falls way behind distance. Grip it and rip it is the way to go here.

At the same time, the flat layout and wide access to the greens enables the net-bogey crowd plenty of chance to reach even the longest par 4s on their third shots. And with the greens being relatively benign, everyone can scoot around on this course at a good pace.

In that perspective, it's easy to say Skywest could be so much more, but right now it is enough as a public-owned course with access to all at a very good price.

Ted JohnsonTed Johnson, Contributor

Ted Johnson has been writing about golf for more than 25 years. Having traveled the world with his clubs, he counts himself lucky to have played Cypress Point, but Turnberry’s Ailsa, Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath in Australia and Ireland’s Royal County Down tend to rotate as favorites. And then there was the trip to Vietnam, where he found himself in Vung Tao and his luggage in Ho Chi Minh City. That’s why to this day he carries a toothbrush in his golf bag.

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