Berkeley's Distinctive Tilden Park Golf Course
Just over the Berkeley hills, a couple of miles from the counter culture bustle of Telegraph Ave and the University of California, lies Tilden Park Golf Course, a public course that is worth a visit for any Bay Area golfer or travelling golf aficionado. While golfers line up to play the countless new courses being built around the country, Tilden remains a pleasant reminder of golfing tradition.
With more than 90,000 rounds played annually, Tilden is always packed with eager faces, awaiting tee times on the putting green or hitting balls on Tilden's new 3-tiered driving range. And from the beginning Tilden is a demanding golf course.
The 411- yard, uphill first hole, with a trademark elevated green, is rated the toughest on the course. Although Tilden isn't glaringly long at 6,294 yards from the back tees and 5,823 yards from the middle, this isn't a target golf course that deprives longer players the pleasure of hitting driver.
In the tradition of Donald Ross, William Park Bell, Jr. laid out a golf course on the woodsy hillside adjacent to Lake Anza in 1937 that challenges players to contemplate club selection from the tee. No where is this more obvious than on the second hole, a 399- yard dogleg left.
A conservative 4-iron might leave a long iron approach to another elevated green, but the other option is to cut the corner with driver or 3-wood over towering trees, leaving an approach within 150 yards.
If you find yourself discouraged after the first two holes, struggling to find the swing, a wait at Tilden's third hole could be refreshing. The downhill par-4 measures 464 from the back, with the middle tee hitters getting a break from 377 yards. Yet, before you can admire a sweet drive, rolling forever towards the green, be sure to soak in the beautiful mountain vistas beyond the tree lined fairways.
And if your golf game is frighteningly disappointing, some of the local wildlife, an array of creatures including deer and hawks might cheer you up.
With more than 90,000 rounds played annually, Tilden is always packed with eager faces.
The fourth hole is your first chance to get a taste of Tilden's greatest strength. While the hole only measures 143 yards to an elevated green, it is the first of four impressive par 3's. You better make a par on this hole because the remaining three all measure over 200 yards from the back tees.
Holes five and six are both shorter par 4's that bring water into play. Big hitters will probably want to hit a 2-iron off the fifth to avoid the water running alongside the right side of the fairway and in front of the green. The same water will swallow an errant attempt at driving the 316-yard par-4 sixth.
The slightly downhill seventh hole, a 221-yard par-3 will test the long game, while the reachable 475-yard par-5 eighth offers an opportunity to make birdie.
What becomes clear early in any round at Tilden is the importance of hitting the ball straight and finding some consistency with the putter. For a public course with so much play, Tilden boasts remarkable putting surfaces with subtle breaks and penalizing pin positions. Like so many good golf courses, Tilden demands that you keep the ball below the hole.
The ninth hole, a 334-yard dogleg par-4 that climbs towards the clubhouse, with a pitched green from back to front, takes this notion to the extreme. A week chip landing on the front of the green might roll back to you while a ball left above the hole will require a gentle touch and some luck.
If the front nine proves challenging, you might want to pull into the Grizzly Bar and Grill drive thru before teeing it up on the 395-yard par-4 tenth. A hot dog and a beer might quell any anxieties that come with a tee shot to a fairway 100 feet below. The fairway slopes from right to left, and like many holes at Tilden, demands a little local knowledge for some extra roll.
The 11th and 12th present perhaps the fiercest challenges on the course. The 234-yard shot at the 11th is all carry to a another tester of a green. And the 12th, despite its seemingly manageable 350 yards, asks for two shots over water. The 13th is the second of two par 5's on the par 70 layout that is reachable for a long hitter, but a two tiered green makes getting it close difficult.
The next two holes are best to play as the sun begins to down. Walking in and out of shadows might distract you as you try to birdie two of the easiest holes on the course, and a look back towards the clubhouse only solidifies the beauty of the entire landscape. These musings may disappear as you step onto the 16th tee and face a treacherous shot to the green on the 206-yard par three.
Two bunkers in front of the green make a run-up shot nearly impossible while overhanging trees on the right can knock down any shot played from right to left. If you can walk away from the 16th having played the par 3's in two-over-par, you have tamed Tilden's toughest.
The 17th and 18th, both challenging driving holes, head back to the clubhouse. As with many tee shots on the layout, overhanging redwoods increase the intimidation factor. After holing your last putt at Tilden, you realize that you've used all the clubs in your bag. What Tilden endures with all its year round play, the wear and tear on fairways and tees, it makes up for with its finely aged greens and natural layout.
If you can walk away from the 16th having played the par 3's in two-over-par, you have tamed Tilden's toughest.
The American Golf Corporation made Tilden its first course in Northern California in the 1970's and continues to make improvements. The key to Tilden is getting a tee time and trying to avoid the five- or six-hour round that plagues so many public courses. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are usually the slow days, and the morning is your best bet as far as playing at a reasonable pace.
Between Monday and Thursday it will cost you $25 for 18 holes, with the ante raised on Fridays to $35 and $40 on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. Twilight and sunset rates give you a little deal when it gets darker, but Cal students get the big break on Tuesdays when they can play for $10 and drink dollar beers.
If you can't handle the up and down walk over the 18 holes, golf carts are available for $15 and are equipped with computerized caddies to lead you around the course. Walking might be the way to go, though, providing an opportunity to better appreciate a solid, old school golf course in one of the Bay Area's most wondrous settings.
Tilden Park Golf Course
Grizzly Peak Boulevard (at Shasta)
Berkeley, CA 94708