Hiddenbrooke Golf Club

By Tim Booth, Contributor

VALLEJO, CA - Arnold Palmer has never come off as a vengeful golfer.

But the day he designed the greens at Hiddenbrooke Golf Club in Vallejo, California, about 35 miles northeast of San Francisco, Arnie must not have been in the best of moods.

The greens steal the show at the gorgeous, six-year old championship golf course. It's Golf Digest "Five-star" rating is well deserved and it's no wonder the LPGA came to Hiddenbrooke for its Samsung World Championships.

The Samsung championships will return again to Hiddenbrooke this October for its second year, part of a multi-year contract with the club. Last year, Juli Inkster handled the lightning fast greens to hold off Anika Sorenstam on the final day.

But despite the challenge Hiddenbrooke presents for the biggest stars of the LPGA Tour, it's still a course that your mid-handicapper can go out and score well on. That is, if you are smart and play from the front tees.

From the black (Palmer) tees Hiddenbrooke plays at a brutal 6,701 yards, while the blue (championship) tees are at 6,235 yards. We played our round from the white (member) tees, which measure 5,773 yards, easily the toughest 5,800 yards north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The course itself is the centerpiece to a major development, taking place in the isolated area of Vallejo. The city of Vallejo is only a half-hour - well, if there is no traffic, but there's never a shortage of traffic in this area - from San Francisco.

It's become one of the most popular communities in the entire Bay Area because of its proximity to Oakland, San Francisco and Concord, and it's relatively low home prices and rents. What it costs for an apartment or home in San Francisco is double what it costs in Vallejo.

By the same token, Vallejo lacks a community of truly luxury homes. It's a residential, bedroom community for the Bay Area and will never be confused with the money and luxury of the Napa Valley.

That's where the Hiddenbrooke development steps in. Sandwiched in-between a dual set of rolling hills, Hiddenbrooke provides isolation and closeness to amenities for those who want and can afford it. Hundreds of homes are now under construction or are already being lived in, lining different areas of the course.

There are a few pockets on the front nine, namely around the beautiful fifth hole, which provides views of the valley that Hiddenbrooke lies in, and on the ninth. There are also areas under construction on the backside, mostly between holes 14 and 16.

One of the nice things though, is that the homes under construction are far enough back from the course as to not interfere with play. They are luxurious to look at, but you really don't have to worry about breaking someone's window should a shot snap hook to the left or slice right.

One disadvantage though, is with the homes pushed back so far; it leaves more of the natural wispy brush in play. One bad shot and you'll find yourself hitting out of weeds, thorny bushes and who knows what else.

Legit birdie opportunities are very scattered, so any possibility of getting the ball close and leaving a short putt is the ultimate goal on this course. The greens are so fast and hard to read that any putt over 15 feet can turn into an adventure. Many of the greens give false reads and a couple have more movement than the read.

The centerpiece of this championship course is its four par-5's and a beautiful pair of par-3.

The second hole is the first of these fives, a bear measuring from 429-481 yards. But the hole plays much longer as it rises about 50-60 feet from tee to green. Even with a perfect tee shot, which must stay short of the creek about 160 yards from the green, reaching the green in two is still tough. Make sure to take at least one or two extra clubs on the second shot. The best play is to lay up the left hand side of the two-tiered fairway as to avoid having to play the third shot over a threesome of deadly bunkers. A five is a great score here.

The fifth hole is magnificent. A long par-5 with an elevated tee shot, water all down the left side, bunkers in the middle of the fairway requiring a precise tee shot and a tough second shot. The green is surrounded by water on the left and deep in the back. A slight draw on the second shot could run the ball up to the green. But anything out of the fairway can lead to a monster score. Number two and No. 5 are the two toughest and best holes on the front side.

The backside is just as tough as the front has a bit more character to it. All nine holes on the back are fun and each has their own quirks.

The 12th is another magnificent par-5. A slight dogleg right, the hole has junk, and I mean junk, all down the right hand side. Don't even think about the green in two. Even if you can make it in two, the green is such that if you're not on the right level of the multi-tiered green, a three-putt comes starring you in the face. Lay-up short, hit a tight pitch and try to make birdie. It really is a fun golf hole to play.

After a fun par-5, comes the first of the exciting par-3s. The 13th tee is situated on a cliff. Depending on the tees you're playing from, you hit anywhere from 20-70 feet above the green. The green is very treacherous, running incredibly fast from back to front. There is large brush and deep pot bunkers short of the green and a large hill guarding the back. Take enough club - but not too much.

The 17th is Arnie's signature hole, the second of the par-3's. The tee-shot is over marshy water to a tightly guarded green. The green is very tricky, but you should be more conscious about clearing the water. A beautiful par-3.

The home hole is a long par-5 leading right up to the foot of the new $11 million clubhouse. It's definitely a three-shot par-5 to reach the green, with a very narrow fairway the entire length of the hole. A five on the closing hole is a very good score.

Hiddenbrooke is a gorgeous, fun golf course. It offers challenges for every level of golfer, although a new golfer or high handicapper may find the track a little too tough. With tight fairways and long rough, a premium is put on smart golf shots.

The most frustrating part of the course is trying to figure out the speed of the greens. As an example, I left myself 11 birdie putts in my round and didn't make a single one. They are fast, faster and fastest, but fortunately are soft enough to hold good golf shots. The practice green is of some help, as it runs just a bit slower than the course.

Stay out of the rough, if at all possible. Right now, it's beginning to grow out to the 4-5 inches it will be for the LPGA event. It's thick and hairy. Of note: if you're sitting up in the rough, it'll come out hot. If the ball is down, bring a weed-whacker.

The pro shop is well stocked with friendly, helpful staff. If you come play, try to avoid windy days, for it can get a little breezy, as the course is sandwiched in-between a set of rolling hills causing a wind tunnel at times.

It costs $75 during the week and $100 on weekends to play Hiddenbrooke. Here's a tip, save up your money and play it at least once. You won't regret saying you played Hiddenbrooke.

Hiddenbrooke Golf Club
1095 Hiddenbrooke Parkway
Vallejo, CA 94591

Men's ratings:
Palmer 72 6701 72.8/142
Championship 72 6235 71.2/136
Member 72 5773 69.2/126

Women's ratings:
Member 72 5773 73.8/134
Executive 72 5268 71.1/128
Red 72 4648 67.6/121

Tim Booth, Contributor

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