News

It's almost tee time in the Baylands

Palo Alto lets nature run its golf course

Golfers utilize the new putting greens at the Baylands Golf Links in Palo Alto on April 10, 2018. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Surprises abound at Baylands Golf Links, Palo Alto's newly reconfigured golf course.

Some are still and fragile, like the abandoned goose egg lying on the fairway near the third hole. Others are fleeting and majestic, like the red-tailed hawks and herons that soar above the marshlands.

Most, however, are here by design: The sweeping panorama from the 18th hole overlooks the Bay and allows the visitor to view the East Bay hills and Dumbarton Bridge, while geese waddle and squirrels scatter below.

At the 14th hole, two greens offer the golfer two different playing experiences depending of the day of the week.

Holes 15 and 3 share a "double green" — a reference to the august "Old Course" at St. Andrews, largely considered the "home of golf." The famous Scottish course featured numerous double greens, a common feature for old links-style courses, said Forrest Richardson, whose firm redesigned the course previously known as the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course.

On a recent weekday, the Baylands course felt particularly Scottish, with gray skies overhead and winds whipping through. Typically, links courses are shaped by the seas and the winds, Richardson said. Here, the ground was shaped by the Bay tides.

"A true links course is one that's a seaside course, but it's also windswept and open," he noted.

Scheduled for a late May opening, the golf course overhaul began in 2012 as part of the city's effort to accommodate a flood-control project involving the volatile San Francisquito Creek — an effort that entailed the relocation of a levee onto the course. But rather than pursuing minor adjustments, the City Council decided to go all out and, quite literally, let nature take its course.

For the city and its consultants, the hardest part of rebuilding the golf course was getting to the starting line: Permits took years to obtain because the concurrent flood-control project significantly complicated the environmental-approval process. In June 2016, both projects finally received the green light from the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the City Council approved a construction contract with Wadsworth Golf Construction Company.

Since then, things have proceeded apace. Workers removed 40 percent of the turf at the course and expanded the vegetation and wetlands areas, which today comprise 55 acres. As part of the roughly $10-million project, all 18 holes were reconfigured and a 10.5-acre plot next to the Baylands Athletic Center was set aside for the city's future recreational needs. Hundreds of non-native trees, many of which were dying, were removed and replaced with native species. And nearly half a million cubic yards of soil was brought in from Stanford University — which, fortuitously, was looking to discard its construction dirt — transforming what was once a flat, green expanse into a hilly landscape. The ditches that once populated the course have been extended, reshaped and turned into wetlands, with natural shrubs and grasses.

One goal of the reconfiguration was to make the course look "intriguing, exciting and very natural," Richardson said. Another was to create a fun experience for players of all levels. Some holes have as many as six different tees, allowing players to adjust their distances based on skill level. And nearly all holes have interesting features, like the pair of stone pines at the 18th hole or the "pot bunker" on the 12th.

"The strategy was to weave the holes in and out of these landforms, so you'd have holes in the uphill, you'd have holes in the downhill and holes that play around the landforms, lay across them and alongside them," Richardson said.

The new course can make for a more challenging playing experience, said Deputy City Manager Rob de Geus, who has spent the past six years shepherding the project toward the finish line. The undulating landscape means players will have to adjust to conditions and make more decisions when they come out to play.

"Where it used to be flat and you'd do the same thing every time, now you're going to be hitting in a variety of places," de Geus said.

Ecological goals were just as important as recreational ones, Richardson said. This is, after all, the Baylands, a place where birds always take precedence over birdies and where endangered species such as the elusive salt marsh harvest mouse make their home.

It became evident early in the design process, Richardson said, that the right thing to do was to transform the landscape into something that more closely resembles the Baylands and that enhances the wetlands ecosystems.

Recently, Richardson received a sign that the plan is working when, for the first time, he encountered frogs at the golf course. This, he said, was an indication that the water is clear and that the wetlands are functioning as they should, he said.

"I've spent thousands of hours there and I cannot remember ever hearing a frog," Richardson said. "I'm very enthusiastic to hear them now because that's just a sign that the water is back and the wetlands are back."

While the construction is now complete, the city still has a minor few items on its to-do list before the games can begin: install signs, print scorecards and spruce up the bunkers. It is also looking to bring in a dog that can chase away the gaggles of geese that congregate throughout the course and leave droppings on the fairways.

The next two milestones for the project are scheduled for Monday, when the City Council considers approving a $9-million contract for the new course operator, OB Sports. If approved, OB Sports will take over from the Brad Lozares Golf Shop, which has been operating in the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course for more than three decades. OB Sports — which manages 55 courses, including the Golf Club at Moffett Field — will run the entire operation, including the pro shop and the café.

In addition, the council could authorize on Monday the sale of $9.8 million in bonds to finance the reconstruction. Unlike other major infrastructure projects, such as the public-safety building and the new garages in downtown and California Avenue, the golf course reconfiguration will be financed through golf fees over a period of 30 years.

The city will have to tap into its General Fund for ongoing costs such as staff oversight, water costs (which are expected to total more than $200,000 annually) and utilities. Altogether, these costs are projected to exceed $1 million in fiscal year 2019, which starts on July 1, 2018.

But officials also believe that the course will soon become a money-maker for the city. The course has a revenue target of $3.7 million in the next year, and an outside consultant whom the city hired to review the projections concluded that this is a reasonable expectation.

A new report from the Community Services Department states that starting in 2020, the city anticipates that it will no longer need General Fund subsidies since revenue from the restaurant lease, green fees, driving range and golf shop should be sufficient to cover both the management costs and the additional staff costs.

De Geus said that there is always a risk of things not going as planned: One can't always bank on good weather or a strong economy. There's also plenty of competition from other golf courses along the Peninsula and it's impossible to guarantee that golfers will choose Baylands Links.

The city tried to mitigate its risks by hiring an experienced operator to manage the new course, de Geus said, and by giving the company extra incentives to succeed: The contract includes a bonus for OB Sports if it exceeds its revenue targets. The biggest driver of success, however, is creating a course in the Baylands that will keep players coming back.

"We have to make sure we provide an experience that's exceptional," de Geus said. "That's what we're focused on."

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Comments

15 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2018 at 8:23 am

Did you notice what little detail was left out of the story? If you gotta ask, you can’t afford it I guess. This whole process has been a disaster. Millions over budget and years behind schedule. Each year the course was closed coast them millions in lost greens fees. But hey, it is going to save the froggies. I predict they will kill it with outrageous green fees.


7 people like this
Posted by Mama
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 13, 2018 at 10:42 am

Is there a decent restaurant there?


7 people like this
Posted by Barbara
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 13, 2018 at 11:24 am

Is the Baylands Golf Links EVER going to open? It was late April, now it's late May. What's going on here?


3 people like this
Posted by Sports Guy
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2018 at 12:01 pm

Sports Guy is a registered user.

The Grand Opening of the new course is set for May 26. The final day for the Brad Lozares golf shop will be April 17 (driving range and pro shop close at 5 p.m. that day), with new management taking over April 18. What this all means is that, with head pro Brad Lozares retiring, all those familiar faces you used to see at the pro shop and providing instruction, most likely will be gone -- replaced by the new management company. Expect prices to go up. Once again, out with the old and in with the new.


4 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Golfer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 13, 2018 at 12:18 pm

We have been hoping and praying that they would finish this project for years. Now let's get it done. Saying that it's important to hire "an experienced operator to manage the new course" when they already had one in Brad Lozares and company already, puts the course in the hands of a group that doesn't know the clientele in Palo Alto. Anyone golfer who has played Moffett Field knows how badly it is maintained. Let's just hope that the same won't be done to Baylands (they already fired the maintenance team who kept PAGC so well). Many of us are looking forward to the new course. Let's hope they keep some of the personnel who have treated us so well over the years.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Apr 13, 2018 at 1:38 pm

they took out a huge number of trees....zero link between trees and City's Green program = unacceptable


3 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 13, 2018 at 2:00 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Yes, it's me, the same guy who chimes in on many other issues, and I would say, more important issues, in our city.

I remember the course from it's infancy. I started playing at Paly in 1961, right after we moved here. Pat Mahoney was the pro who managed the shop and the course operation. There was a little lunch counter and a funny guy, wish I could remember his name, flipped burgers and hot dogs.

I wrote a story for my Avenidas 'Life Stories' class about my golfing experiences..."Birdies, Bogies, and Divots". If anyone is interested I will be happy to forward it to you. My email address is ggandglj@yahoo.com. I included Paly in the story.

I will miss the gang I played with and with all of the staff and pros working under Brad in the shop. Good luck Rich and Mark! Brad always called me "Mr. Johnson". That was so nice. The other pros did too for a long time, but eventually Mark just started calling me by my first name...'Gale'. That was nice also. He gave lessons to my wife, Garnet, and our two sons.

I need to expand my story to include memorable experiences/moments at Paly. Sinking a 72 ft uphill breaking putt on 15, a sandy birdie on 3, an eagle on 16, birdieing every hole over the course of playing them for so many years, breaking 80 (needing a par and a birdie on 17 and 18 to do it), and seeing my neighbor and golfing buddy, Bill Overton, get two 'holes in one'.

Why couldn't this have happened 20 years ago? The layout sounds really interesting and exciting. I might be enticed to drag out my clubs and give it a try, but I will use a motorized golf cart. All the times I played at Paly I packed my own bag, over my shoulders, and walked all 18 holes. Can't do that anymore.

Green fees...I used to buy month play cards for $125. I have no idea what the new fees will be. If they are prohibitive of most PA residents purchasing them, then this will be another failure.

I went out to Paly...okay...Baylands Golf Links...to putt on their new practice greens a few months ago. Mark was giving a lesson. We made eye contact and he said "Hi, Gale, haven't seen you in a long time". He was right and that's the cordiality and friendly voices I will miss with the new ownership and management operation at 'Paly'.


2 people like this
Posted by Carl Jones
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 13, 2018 at 2:37 pm

Carl Jones is a registered user.

I don't play golf. But I wonder if, perhaps a day or two before the official opening, there could be an opportunity for 'pedestrians' to walk the course? Not unlike walking the CA 85 extension before it opened, or a bridge (as was the Golden Gate, once). I have accompanied friends when they were playing golf (in Colorado) and appreciated the beauty of a well designed course. I would genuinely appreciate the opportunity to see what ours is like. Could something like that be arranged?


Like this comment
Posted by Barbara
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 13, 2018 at 3:13 pm

To Gale Johnson -- I think you want to remember Jimmy Saita, the owner of the little café - he used to give me bowls of chili because I wasn't big enough to give the ball a long whack! And Bob Volker, the golf pro?? I miss those times in the '70s!


1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 13, 2018 at 8:49 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@Barbara
Bingo, and thank you for your good memory! Jim Saita is the guy, and how could I forget his trademark recipe...chili with chopped onions and shredded cheese on top! I'm getting heartburn just thinking about it.


7 people like this
Posted by Sally
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 14, 2018 at 6:47 am

To Barbara's point above -- The city is indeed costing taxpayers an additional small fortune in lost revenue (beyond project costs) by not having the course up and running by now, missing their stated targets for no discernible reason.

This fact is embarrassing, and obtains independently of whatever positive or negative feelings one may have about other aspects of the project.


3 people like this
Posted by Sam
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 15, 2018 at 2:24 pm

I actually think the management at moffet is doing a fine job. The course continues to improve and the feedback from others tends to be the same. Yes the have the backing off Google but they will have the backing of the city of Palo Alto and a brand spanking new course.
I'm excited for the new course and look forward to lots of playing there.


1 person likes this
Posted by cant wait to golf.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 15, 2018 at 5:40 pm

The new Baylands golf course needs to have a nice discount for the resident rate on their green fees.


1 person likes this
Posted by Biker
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2018 at 6:26 pm

I have a question. I wonder if is permitted to bike there in the paths for us non-golfers after the project opens. I did bike there a couple of weeks ago. The landscape is very nice and the gulf course is very expansive.


1 person likes this
Posted by JR Fent
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2018 at 5:32 am

So looking forward to this course opening! It would be interesting if people could walk the course soon. I'm curious as to the layout of the fairways now - has there been any changes since it's early days. We Web Link did a tree removal job on a course recently. The word back was that the removal improved & speeded up play. I think that always has to be considered when a course is in a place that assures that it will be busy.


Like this comment
Posted by cafe
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 3, 2018 at 2:43 pm

Can we just get a decent hot dog please,

Not sure where the last one's were coming from but they were disgusting


2 people like this
Posted by Jc
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 26, 2018 at 6:55 pm

The delays show show you what happens when political appointees get appointed to boards dealing with issues they know nothing about. Some members started asking questions that had been asked and answered years ago. Others could not grasp that there was already a course which was being downsized with regard to grass planting and water use. It w as a total nightmare dealing with some of these clueless people and their lack of sophistication cost us a lot of time - two years and money. There should be a test for people being appointed that will determine that they have some knowledge about the issues
That they will be adjudicating....


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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