By: Sean Fairholm
If you close your eyes and picture Northern California golf, the first images are likely of waves dancing around Stillwater Cove at Pebble Beach or stoic Monterey Cypress trees framing a foggy dogleg at Olympic Club. But George Kelley envisioned something totally different back in 2012 when his team at Greenway Golf beat out several national management groups for a 25-year lease at city- owned Corica Park Golf Course on the east side of the San Francisco Bay in Alameda, Calif.
“I had played professionally for a few years in Australia,” Kelley explained. “And I always thought the fast and firm turf conditions were far superior to what we had here. Curiously, there has never really been anyone in this area who followed the design of those Sandbelt golf courses. So we thought this opportunity was the perfect fit for that.”
The result of this daring plan has been a wild success story. Corica Park’s recently renovated South Course is a masterclass in challenging yet fair public golf, an Aussie-inspired venue where the 70,000 rounds played annually have drawn more rave reviews than golf balls lost. Like Royal Melbourne, Metropolitan or other Australian classics, you will find large greens near 8,500 square feet on average, more than 100 carefully placed bunkers and inviting fairways. High-handicappers can take advantage of firm conditions to run their ball onto the green, while beer players have to think on nearly every tee ball.
Greens at a municipal course are typically cut longer to combat the many rounds of golf, but these are quite the opposite — with a root system that reaches down eight inches, the South Course greens are cut low enough to run around 11.5 on the Stimpmeter every day.“The reputation has already gone across the state and across the country,” chief designer Rees Jones said. “It’s distinctive, it’s something we’ve never seen in California before. And it’s strategic. It’s not really penal around the greens, but you have to maneuver your shots around the bunkers and around the trees. You have to think your way around.”
How Corica Park reached this new life is a meandering, serendipitous story, one that should inspire other facilities across the country to take copious notes.
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