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Southeast of San Jose, California, Coyote Creek G.C. offers golfers two afforable, challenging Nicklaus courses

By Doug Saunders, Contributor

MORGAN HILL, Calif. -- San Jose and the Silicon Valley have been at the center of the upheaval in how things function in our lives today. The visionary ideas that fostered the spectacular expansion of the "New Economy" exploded from behind the glass walls of the non descript buildings that fill the lower peninsula of the Bay Area. Those dreams have seeped into the consciousness of the world and helped to transform how we communicate, work, and function as civilization moves into the 21st century. There is no further proof of that impact than the fact that you are reading this on the internet right now.

Coyote Creek Golf Club - Valley Course - hole 17
Coyote Creek's Valley golf course utilizes mature cypress, oaks, and Monterey pines.
Coyote Creek Golf Club - Valley Course - hole 17Coyote Creek Golf Club - clubhouse

As the computer economy exploded, all things changed in this region. Housing costs went through the roof. Traffic exploded. Many people jumped into the fray to catch a piece of the pie with the full belief that it could not be stopped. But as we all know now, what goes up must come down eventually. Now, that white-hot sector has cooled off and dragged the stock market along with it.

This fast moving, highly innovative, and intellectually stimulating atmosphere also creates a fervent environment for stress. Finding release for that stress is important, so it is no surprise that hitting the links has become a very popular release for the computer crowd. It could be that the game of golf is so much like the computer world, in that some days it can hold such promise, and other days it seems as if nothing goes right. Coyote Creek Golf Club was created by Castle & Cooke Properties, just south of San Jose on Route 101, to fill the need for quality golf courses in this region.

Coyote Creek lies just seven miles south of the city and occupies a site that was the home of Riverside Golf Course, a public fee facility that was built back in the fifties by the same owner. Castle & Cooke has had a long relationship to this area, as it is the real estate arm of Del Monte Company. You know, the ones that own Del Monte Foods and the same company that developed a little chunk of land down the coast by the name of Pebble Beach.

The original course was a combination of developments. The first nine holes were built in the early fifties and was designed by Jack Fleming, the former head of the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department who learned his trade while being the construction supervisor for Alister Mackenzie when he was building such great Bay Area courses such as Green Hills, Pasatiempo, and Cypress Point.

A few years later, another nine was added that was laid out by William Bell who was a prolific designer of public courses in California in the fifties and sixties. Over the years, Riverside Country Club was a popular public course in this quiet valley far from the bustling city.

When their 20 year lease to a golf management firm ran out in 1995, Castle & Cooke management had to re-evaluate what to do with the course with an eye on the future.

"It was obvious that we needed to do some upgrade at the Riverside course. We have 2000 acres of land there but would have a difficult time getting approvals for housing. With the economy so strong, it made sense to not only completely rebuild the old course but to also add another upscale course to complement it," explained Gordon Carter, General Manager for Cooke & Castle Golf Properties.

The choice of Jack Nicklaus to create two Signature Course designs was an easy decision for Castle & Cooke Chairman David H. Murdock, as Nicklaus helped Murdoch by designing the renowned Sherwood Forest Country Club in Sherman Oaks, California, Golden Bear Golf Club in Keene's Point, Florida, and the Challenge at Manale in Lana'i, Hawaii.

Coyote Creek Golf Club's Tournament Course

The first course, Coyote Creek's Tournament Course, opened in 1999 and runs right along Route 101 giving it high visibility to the heavily traveled freeway. The course is set up with five sets of tees and plays from 5,184 yards up front to 7,027 yards at the tips. The Blue tees create a strong, demanding course at 6,633 yards.

From the clubhouse, the course opens with a long par four and then the cart path takes you under the freeway and over into the grassy hills for the next seven holes. These holes are the most enjoyable of the course as the combination of rolling terrain and lovely hillsides give the site a sense of serenity. If there is a drawback, it has to be the huge power line that cuts across the 2nd hole, but Californians are very power conscious, so don't expect anyone to complain about them.

The third hole, a 536 yard par five is a classic Jack Nicklaus style hole. This is a uphill hole that actually starts from an elevated tee. Everything is presented to you from this high vantage point and the wide target lets you rip it off of the tee. The second shot though can be tricky as you have to consider your stance, a natural grass area about 180 yards from the green and the slope of the areas in front of the green as you determine your next play. And not surprisingly, you need to hit a high soft shot in here to catch the sloping green.

After working along the hills on these seven holes, you come back under the freeway to finish up the front. The back nine plays over a rather bland open landscape where the creativity of the earth movers were needed to create any character. This open landscape gives you little protection from the prevailing winds that funnel through this area almost every afternoon so be ready for the breeze. The final three holes are the strength on this side and the 406 yard par 4 18th hole, with its dangerous water feature, is a hole that will leave a lasting impression on every golfer.

Coyote Creek Golf Club's Valley Course

The second course, Coyote Creek's Valley Course, utilizes the mature cypress, oaks, and Monterey pines that lined the original holes of the old Riverside course. The first challenge to designer Nicklaus was to create a routing that would take the course out and back to the new clubhouse setting that was built for the two courses. To do this, Nicklaus had to create seven holes to get over to the old course location.

The mature trees give this layout an entirely different feel than the Championship course. There is a bit of protection from the wind and the subtle rolls of the fairways are accented by a series of mounded bunkers that create a very classic look to the golf course. Anyone who had played the old Riverside course will be hard pressed to find any similarities to the old routing. Nicklaus also clipped out a few trees and stretched out some tees to make the course one that won't become obsolete in the near future.

The course has four sets of tees and plays from 5,187 yards up front to 7,066 all the way back. In many ways, Nicklaus found the setting of the trees even more enjoyable than the new Championship Course and he put a lot of effort into massaging this layout for play.

Coyote Creek Golf Club: The verdict

The downturn in the local economy has been felt at every course but at Coyote Creek they feel fortunate that they can offer a choice for the public fee golfer and still provide a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course. These are courses that are worth your attention the next time your travels bring you to the Silicon Valley.

Doug Saunders, Contributor

Doug Saunders has covered more than 20 major championships and his unique perspectives on the game have appeared in numerous publications including Golf World, GolfWeek, Golf Course Management, Golf Course News, Golfdom, and the USGA Golf Journal. He is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, California Golf Writers, and the Sierra Nevada Golf Course Superintendents Association.

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