Franklin Canyon Golf Course: An Enjoyable Round in Hercules

By Ben Malone, Contributor

If you're a true golf fan, you've seen Kevin Costner's 1996 film "Tin Cup." If you're a golf fanatic, you've probably seen it multiple times. Either way, when you travel along a small stretch of Northern California State Highway 4, you'll come upon a golf course that will remind you of the middle-of-nowhere driving range in Salome, Texas that is owned by Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy.

If you go

Franklin Canyon Golf Course

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Highway 4
Hercules, California 94547
Contra Costa County
Phone(s): (510) 799-6191
18 Holes | Public golf course | Par: 72 | 6550 yards | Book online | ... details »

Franklin Canyon Golf Course, owned and operated by American Golf, is located in Hercules, Calif., just minutes to the northeast of San Francisco. It is cut into the hills of northern Contra Costa County, and the course's design (following the contours of the hills in which it was placed) provides golf shots of all different types: uphill, downhill, sidehill, and flat.

It is very difficult to get into a rhythm at Franklin Canyon because you never know, from shot to shot, what the course is going to ask you to do. The variety of golf shots required to play well at Franklin Canyon is what makes a round there so enjoyable. The greens are challenging, not in their shape, but in their speed. They play so fast that it is possible to putt from one end of the green to the other and end up 10 to 15 yards off the green.

Another bonus of playing at Franklin Canyon is that it is very easy to walk all 18 holes, even if it has slightly more hills than your average golf course. Many courses are beginning to require golf carts, which has had an adverse effect on golf in general. To begin with, mandatory carts has made the average green fee that much higher. If golfers don't have to ride, they don't have to pay to use the cart, and they can save money. Also, mandatory cart rules have created a breed of lazy golfer.

It is very difficult to get into a rhythm because you never know what the course is going to ask you to do.

Granted, it may speed up your round slightly, but a course that plays slow with everyone walking will play slowly with everyone riding. A course stacked with players will be slow no matter how you slice it. So it's up to the staff of any golf course to make sure that all golfers keep a brisk pace of play. Which is where Franklin Canyon is so far ahead of other courses in the area.

The marshals are never very far away, and on every par-3, it seems like every golfer knows to wave up the next group. Overall, the staff of Franklin Canyon has created a very pleasant atmosphere for golfers of all ability levels.

The opening hole is an uphill par-5 that measures 472 yards from the white tees (441 yds from the reds). The fairway doglegs to the left, with a small gully to the left of the hole. The fairway slopes from right to left, so a well-placed tee shot lands on the right side of the elbow in the fairway. Only the really long hitters will have any chance of reaching this green in two shots, so the smart second shot is to lay up to the right side of the fairway (remembering the slope).

There isn't much sand to speak of on the opening hole, but the green slopes from back to front, and any shot from above the hole will leave you a downhill putt that will likely run off the front of the green. So the smart golfer will favor the front of this green, no matter the pin placement.

The par-3 sixth hole (189 yards from the whites, 165 yards from the reds) is a visually intimidating hole that probably plays more difficult than it should. There isn't much to the whole, given that the green and tee are at approximately the same elevation and there isn't much sand to speak of. However, right after the teebox, there is a deep gully filled with bushes and trees, making this medium-distanced shot seem more challenging.

The gully runs along the right side of the hole, and all the way up to the green, so an errant tee shot hit to the right could be lost. But beyond that, this hole should be relatively easy once you get to the green. There is a generous landing area, as the green is very large. It's a pretty flat green, so even if you have to cover the entire length of the putting surface, the distance is very manageable.

The next hole is one of the more enjoyable holes to play from tee to green. It's a medium-length par-5 (511 yards from the whites, 490 from the reds) with two sand traps sitting approximately 200 yards away from the teebox. (* Author's very careful when judging distance on this hole. I hit a poor drive on this hole and left myself what I thought was a 250 - 260 yard shot into the green, uphill. So I attempted to lay up with a 6-iron. I ended up reaching the green, and angering the group in front of me.)

I checked the club and checked the distance markers, and according to the markers in the 7th fairway, I hit a 250-yard 6-iron uphill. I'd love to say that I could really do that, but I simply can't. For your sake, and for those in the group in front of you, please double check.) The fairway slopes from right to left, and sitting approximately 20 yards in front of the green is a rather large oak tree.

The tree will make anyone think twice about going for the green in two shots, as any shot that fails to reach the green will leave an impossible third shot.

The green itself is small and if you hit your approach shot long, there is a significant drop behind the green, leaving a blind pitch shot. Once you get on the green, it's conceivable to make your putt from pretty much anywhere. There isn't much challenge in reading this green, with very few undulations that affect your putt.

The back nine is slightly less open than the front. On many of the first nine holes, an errant tee shot can be found, and sometimes even played back towards the green. But the back nine is much less forgiving. Hit your shot anywhere but the fairway or immediate rough and you will probably lose it in the surrounding wildlife or the large ravine that runs through the middle of the back nine.

Golfers have more than their fair share of elevated tee boxes at Franklin Canyon, allowing everyone to throw caution to the wind and swing out of their shoes, taking advantage of the extra ball flight. One such hole is the short par-4 12th (338 yards from the whites and 320 yards from the reds). Again, right after the tee box is a ravine filled with brush and trees.

This tee shot is more or less blind, as the hole doglegs to the right and once your tee shot clears the trees, you can only assume where it's going to land. Hit your tee shot well and you can hit the green, although you probably should wait for the group ahead of you to leave the green on the assumption that you'll hit the green.

It should also be noted that going for the green means cutting off the dogleg, and if you try to bite off too much, you'll end up losing your ball in the ravine. It will take the perfect golf shot to get to the putting surface from the green.

Even still, most approach shots will require no more than a pitching wedge, although you must be careful of the trees surrounding the green. It is very possible that the trees could swallow your approach, and then what started out as a promising hole could turn into a disaster.

Once on the green, there is no excuse for anything more than a two-putt, as the putting surface is extremely flat.

The par-4 14th hole (335 yards from the whites, 312 from the whites) is the shortest par-4 on the course, and the fact that it plays downhill makes it even shorter. However, this hole should not be taken for granted simply because it's not a 450-yard monster.

There is a right way to approach this hole, and attempting to play it any other way could ruin an otherwise pleasant round. You really need no more than a 6-iron off the tee to put your tee shot in the perfect position.

Golfers have more than their fair share of elevated tee boxes at Franklin Canyon.

While the hole is downhill the entire way, its slope begins gradually and drops off significantly approximately 180 yards out from the tee. Placing your tee shot here will leave you with no more than a wedge to the green. An errant tee shot, however, will leave you with few options. Sand traps and trees line the entire right side of the fairway, guarding against the big hitters who think they can drive the green.

Land in this area and double or triple bogey is a very real possibility. Just getting on the green isn't good enough either. You must pay close attention to pin placement, as the speed of this green makes putting very dangerous. It slopes significantly from back to front, making any side-to-side putts break drastically.

The par-3 17th hole is another short hole (138 yards from the whites, 135 yards from the reds) that derives its difficulty from the layout, not from its distance. In between tee and green is the same ravine from the 12th hole, and any tee shot that does not have enough distance will fall back into the ravine.

There is some possibility of hitting from the very edge of the ravine, as rough does go all the way down the hill and into the ravine. But a shot from there is next to impossible, requiring golfers to hit 30 feet higher than where the ball is sitting, and any shot hit over the green is lost in a creek. No relief is in sight just because you're on the green.

The green is no more than 25 feet deep and breaks hard from back to front. So if you leave your ball above the hole, it is conceivable that your putt will end up in the ravine.

Assuming you can manage the speed of the green and keep your shots in the general vicinity of the fairway, it is possible to shoot very low scores at Franklin Canyon. However, if you can't keep your game in check, it is also equally possible to blow up and shoot a very high round. It all comes down to how much control you have over shots, but then again, doesn't it always?

Franklin Canyon Golf Course
Highway 4
Hercules, CA 94547

Ben Malone, Contributor

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