There are renovations, re-models, and even re-do's, and then there is Baylands Golf Links — a totally new course that sits on the site of what was the old Palo Alto Golf Club
PALO ALTO, Calif. — There are renovations, re-models, and even re-do's, and then there is Baylands Golf Links — a totally new course that sits on the site of what was the old Palo Alto Golf Club. But to get a better beat on how that transformation came about, it may help to know a bit about that old course and about the city of Palo Alto itself.
Built in the mid-1950s, Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course was one of the muni mainstays of the San Francisco Peninsula. At its peak in the late 1980s, the course was estimated to have done some 65,000-70,000 rounds annually, marking it as one of the busiest in California. As a municipal operation, the course was a fitting compliment to what was the relatively typical middle-class town of Palo Alto.
Then came the advent of Silicon Valley and hi-tech. Palo Alto became the unofficial capital of the valley, and over the last few decades has rapidly evolved into one of the five most expensive cities in America. It is the home to Hewlett-Packard, Tesla, Skype, Stanford University, two of the country's top academic high schools, and a major array of the some of the top venture capital firms on the planet.
While Palo Alto grew more upscale, it was becoming viewed less as a muni town. The course was being ravaged by rains, turf erosion, and vicious winds that blew in off the adjacent San Francisco Bay. Numerous efforts were made to clean it up, but the course just couldn’t keep up — it was hardly a fit to the new Palo Alto. The City folks finally pulled the plug and started all over with a completely new concept and new design by Forrest Richardson.
The result is Baylands Golf Links, which after two years of construction, opened in May. Visually stunning, this pseudo links-like layout, plays somewhat like the inside of a pinball machine, punctuated by a pervasive assortment of meandering humps, bumps, mounds, bunkers, and many times unseen natural and wetland hazards that extend and pop up seemingly out of nowhere.
“At Baylands, the goal is not just about length, but about planning shots, and being clever,” said Richardson. “When you figure out the puzzle, you will score well.”
More than 400 trees were removed to help create a links-like feel to this layout. [Photo: Dave Sansom | Forrest Richardson & Assoc.]
Certainly, Baylands is one course that will make a golfer work and think — virtually every hole, every shot demands a substantial degree of forethought, planning, and execution. Bring rangefinders, yardage guides, cell phone apps, binoculars, and maybe a periscope, because if you think you knew the old Palo Alto muni, well this ain’t it.
The course is situated on the same land mass, however, adjacent to San Francisco Bay, San Francisquito Creek, and Palo Alto airport. Over 400 trees were removed from the old acreage, and some unknown amount of dead elephants were imported to be buried under the new Seashore Paspalum fairway turf, as well as a few under some of the new bentgrass greens too. Ironic, that a guy named Forrest would have such an aversion to trees, but those who know his work are aware of that going in.
A reported $12 million were attached by the City to the overall project, which, according to Richardson, “would not only rejuvenate the golf, but would transform the landscape to integrate with the Baylands Preserve, a crucial part of the City’s commitment to the environment.”
The greens roll true and clean, the fairways crisp and firm, the course genuinely fun to play, and the overall sense is that like the town of Palo Alto, everything about the new Baylands has really been upscaled.
“No, it’s not a muni feel, that’s correct,” said Ed Winiecki, Baylands general manager. “It has the feel of a resort or high-end daily fee, which is exactly what it is, and that’s what brought OB in the picture to bring a higher end service aspect to match the look and feel of a resort course.”
Both Richardson and Winiecki agree that it will take more than a one- or two-time crack at the course to begin to figure it out.
“The old course was dated and tired, it was like running on dial-up, so we went from dial-up to Cat6 Ethernet,” said Winiecki. “A fun golf course is one you can play everyday and not get bored playing, and that’s exactly what Baylands is.”
Barry Salberg, based in the San Francisco Bay area, has written about golf for over two decades. His work has appeared in Golf Digest, Golf Magazine, Golfweek, Golf for Women, Links, the USGA's Golf Journal, and the NorCal Golf Association's NCGA Golf.