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Hiddenbrooke Golf Club: Arnold Palmer makes the most of a great opportunity in northern California

Ted JohnsonBy Ted Johnson,
Hiddenbrooke Golf Club - 1st hole
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The first hole is just a taste of the natural beauty throughout Hiddenbrooke Golf Club. (Mike Bailey/TravelGolf)

VALLEJO, Calif. -- Too often golf courses that become the centerpieces of residential developments suffer from land loss. That is, the homes get the good spots and the golf course is left with difficult terrain.

At Hiddenbrooke Golf Club, 50 minutes northeast of San Francisco in Solano County, that wasn't the case. To his credit, Arnold Palmer turned this opportunity into one of his best designs.

The accolades are there: Golf World ranked it as one of the best public golf courses in the country. Hiddenbrooke held the 2001 Samsung Championship and San Francisco native Dorothy Delasin won over the best women golfers in the world.

Weaving and winding through the hillsides, you do cross over residential streets and for that it's a cart-only course. Though some hole-to-hole transitions are long, Palmer did well to maximize a risk-reward course that is part target golf, part strategy, part power.

It's a thinking man's golf course. Palmer worked with the land so some holes required right-to-left tee or approach shots, others left-to-right. A certain contemporary of Palmer's also designs and many of his layouts have a bearish tendency to play left-to-right.

The other thing I loved is that parts of this course extend into open space. You get away from the homes and play in nature, though you can hear the C-5As circling as they practice their approaches to Travis Air Force Base about 15 miles to the east.

That said, Palmer had some wonderful land to work with. The par-5 second is only 462 yards from the blue tees, but it rises into the hills. A good drive brings an inviting temptation to go for the green on the second shot, but the terrain sets up for a right-to-left shot shape for a shot that rewards left-to-right.

That's good design. The next three holes play off the hill, with the par-5 fifth being a Palmer staple: Downhill dogleg left, with water left.

Palmer has good instincts into how the aggressive golfer (and who was more aggressive than Arnie?) thinks. The par-4 fourth is only 325 yards from the blue tees. It has enough downhill slope to make the good golfer think that a strong drive can reach the green.

But the side hill slant kicks the ball kick left, where bunkers catch most shots, leaving a tricky 40-yard shot from sand into the green.

In contrast, Hiddenbrooke Golf Club's 315-yard seventh looks like a layup hole, but a deceptive longer carry is required to carry a lake on the left. The first-time player will realize afterward that a big right-center drive will run very close to the green.

Arnie, you old dog. You faked me out twice.

The 12th is another short, tight par 5 that climbs back into open space. The green -- canted right, protected immediately in front by a creek -- is tucked into a hillside and its long-and-narrow shape makes a back pin look like it sits on a patio.

The downhill par-3 13th requires pure ball striking. The downhill par-4 14th invites a good drive that will check out at 300 yards or longer.

The par-5 16th is another classic risk-reward hole, though a long drive on this 521-yarder is essential. Trees and a water hazard left and right of the green make precision essential.

"The back nine is a little tighter and it has more elevation changes," said Tony Oliver of Sacramento. "But I like the risk-reward of the par 5s, especially No. 12 and No. 16."

Hiddenbrooke Golf Club's back nine closes 5-3-5, with the last being 520 yards with water right and mounding in the fairway to put more pressure on distance control for a short approach.

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Hiddenbrooke G.C. - 7th holeHiddenbrooke Golf Club - 12th

Ted Johnson has been writing about golf for more than 25 years. Having traveled the world with his clubs, he counts himself lucky to have played Cypress Point, but Turnberry’s Ailsa, Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath in Australia and Ireland’s Royal County Down tend to rotate as favorites. And then there was the trip to Vietnam, where he found himself in Vung Tao and his luggage in Ho Chi Minh City. That’s why to this day he carries a toothbrush in his golf bag.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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