Callippe Preserve

December 29, 2007 3:22:12 PM PST
If you're searching for a model of what municipal golf can be, look no further than Callippe Preserve in Pleasanton, California. That city has put together a beautifully designed 18-hole golf course with a grass driving range, a short game practice area, and two well-crafted practice putting greens.Brian Costello's design is tantalizing, playful, and adventurous. It offers five sets of tees, fifty-nine bunkers, and bears striking similarities to his work at Roddy Ranch Golf Club in Antioch, with cross-bunkers, dramatic elevation changes, and strategic design principles. Both courses encourage the ground game.

Good architects use elevation changes as a natural design element because they add drama and interest. It takes skill to showcase such features without turning the walk into a slog. Costello did a marvelous job with the routing of the holes, although you should expect some hilly treks on the back nine, especially.

The course opens with a 339/361/388/412/433 yard, par four from an elevated tee. It doglegs down the hill in a soft, graceful curve to the left. This is a terrific starting hole. All golfers love a downhill shot, and on this hole, Costello gives you two opportunities. He chose to let natural slopes and contours guard most of the green, with a water hazard behind. There is no greenside bunker. That would have been redundant.

He gives you a generous landing area for your tee shot, with a solitary fairway bunker guarding the left corner along your optimal line of play. Land close to that bunker and you have an ideal line to attack the green. Play away to the right, and you will have to deal with a much more difficult, due to the shape and contour of the green, which slopes dramatically from right to left.

Callippe treats players to a recurring theme in its magnificent short par four's. You will encounter the first of these on the 228/285/319/344 yard, 2nd. From the tee, the green skews at slightly less than ninety degrees, making it appear shallow, but wide. If you're feeling aggressive, carry the bunkers guarding the inside elbow of this dogleg left.

Costello adds enchantment to this hole by allowing multiple options. To avoid all trouble off the tee, one need play only a moderate length tee shot down the right side. From a proper angle, it is possible to play a bump and run shot into the green.

The 258/288/315/348/371 yard, 5th, is another top notch short par four. You could use an iron from the tee to the left side of the fairway, laying back from a creek running along the entire left side of the hole. That's the safe play, but you may be tempted to pull driver and lash one at the green. Two players in our group had less than 40 yards in after doing so. Neither of their second shots got within twenty-five feet of the hole, due to the severe slope of the green. This is a superb short par four hole.

At this point in the round, our group reached a consensus regarding the tone of this course. It's fun---plain and simple fun.

The 253/305/366/405/423 yard, par 4, 7th is the first hole requiring length from the tee. Because of prevailing winds and the uphill topography, it plays longer than its yardage. It doglegs slightly left as you approach the green with a sinister bunker guarding the right side of the fairway. Because the green angles dramatically from right to left, it opens on the far side of the dogleg. The smart play is to approach from the right side of the fairway near the bunker. And, because this angle is open, a player can attack the green along the ground.

Callippe's 189/273/295/310/326 yard, 8this the third of its great short par fours. It plays straightaway across a barranca, and uphill to a shallow, but wide green. A lone bunker guards the left side entrance, and a smaller pot bunker looms over the back of this green. Two cross-bunkers split the center of the fairway, directly in line to the green. The safe play is to take an iron or fairway wood, laying up short of all the bunkers. This leaves a pitch uphill of about 100-120 yards.

Layup? Are you kidding me?! Costello knows a golfer's weakness and he preys on it, here. Costello provides you a rollicking ride full of thrills, risk, and reward. And if you fail, you get to attempt the recovery shot of a lifetime.

All four of us drove successfully over the fairway bunkers, but we didn't exhale the ball met terra firma. Amen. Isn't that what makes golf so beguiling?

One of my pet peeves in golf course architecture is the forced lay-up shot. That's the excitement of golf for me---the risk-reward-succeed-fail. When an architect removes such choices, the body and soul sag in disappointment. Because of the landscape, Costello had plenty of opportunities to employ forced lay-ups upon the golfer, but each time, he seems to have found a way around it.

As you make the turn to the 340/364/403/429/446 yard, par 4, 10th, the golf course changes character, with more dramatic elevation changes, and the appearance of oak trees. The tee shot plays downhill and generally downwind. It's the first par four of any length where a golfer might consider using a fairway wood off the tee. A driver will work, but involves more risk, as you may run out of fairway down the left side. A shot down the right leaves more room, and offers the best angle to attack the green, but also adds danger in the form of two fairway bunkers.

The approach shot demands perfection. It must cross a barranca to a two-tiered green that clings precariously to the side of a hill that also provides a natural slope to this green. It dictates a right-to-left approach shot ? or else gravity and friction will collude to scuttle your ball to the right, and down the slope. Get your par, say a prayer of thanks, and move on.

The most unusual hole on the course is the understated 320//336 yard, par 4, 11th. Don't let the stated yardage fool you. This is no pushover. It plays dramatically uphill, into the prevailing winds. The 11th has just one bunker on the left side of the fairway, but is diabolical. The green slopes severely from back to front, with a hogs back splitting it into left and right sections. Try to keep your tee ball short enough to keep it off the uphill slope, but long enough to be able to come in with the shortest club you can muster. Distance control is paramount.

Another great short par four awaits you on the downwind, 257/268/282/299/322 yard 12th., Costello dares you to know you own game and your limits. This is a wonderful hole. From an elevated tee, drive downhill to the fairway, then back up to the green. Although the hole is fairly straight, Costello has created the illusion of a slight left- to-right dogleg by pinching the fairway with a creek on the right, and adding two striking bunkers on the left.

This green perches upon a bluff, angling slightly away, left to right. Directly right is trouble. Long is trouble. Short right is double-trouble in the form of two carnivorous bunkers. Long left is another pot-like bunker. The Callippe yardage guide wisely advises, "Although it's tempting to try and drive the green, remember this: at the narrowest point, the bunker on the left and the creek are only 15 paces apart." About the only thing missing here is someone screaming in the middle of your downswing. Undaunted, we unsheathed our drivers. Our combined score was 23. But, we enjoyed every single one of those 23 strokes.

The par 4, 199/263/346/323/346 yard 14th hole is the most strikingly beautiful hole on the course. It's a gentle, sweeping dogleg offering everything you could ask for, short of a seaside location. From another elevated tee the golfer must drive across a creek and barranca that curves along the entire left side of the hole. The hole drapes over the side of a hill on the right, which cants the fairway from right to left. Even a perfectly straight ball will track towards the hole as gravity and slope combine to offer you a perfect "ground hook."

The adventurous player will drive over a fairway bunker defending the direct route to the green. This shortens the hole and provides a perfect angle to go birdie hunting. The safer tee shot up the right side leaves a challenging approach. The green complex is beautiful, but sinister, following natural slopes of the hill, and sloping dramatically from right to left. The rear half falls away from the front of the green. It's another illustration of how a talented architect can use natural contours as a significant design element.

The finishing holes at Callippe are brilliant, starting with the17th, a charming but tough long par four that can stretch to 450 yards. The hole employs deception and camouflage to get a player's attention. A huge bunker appears to protect the left side of the green, but that is an illusion. The hazard is actually a good 10 to 15 yards short of the green, and you can carry it, easily. But when you're staring at that "greenside" bunker, it's difficult to muster up that certitude.

Some of our group thought the last hole, a 528/557 yard par five, was unfair. I believe 'fair' is a four letter word. Every golfer plays the same hole. Having done so once, he knows what to expect. My bottom line is, "Is the hole fun to play?" If "yes", the question of "fair" becomes moot.

The 18th plays uphill into the prevailing wind. Costello has broken it into three segments. The tee shot is played along a fairly level piece of fairway fraught with dangerous hills on the right and a creek on the left. The further you hit your tee shot, the narrower the fairway.

The second shot must cross the creek, which makes a sudden turn and runs along the right side of the second fairway segment. It's an uphill shot between the creek right, a fairway bunker left, and a fairway that narrows with distance. The third shot is uphill, and again crosses the creek. The green is 49 yards deep, clinging to the side of a hill, It falls sharply on the left, back towards the creek.

One not of warning about this course, because while the fairways allow ample room to miss, their generosity has limits. Should your ball land in protected grasslands, don't enter, don't look for it, forget it. Take a stroke and a drop.

Figure 14-Bad news. Remain in front of the stakes, and plays errant balls behind them as you would a water hazard.

If your main criterion for playing golf is to have fun ? Callippe is your course. If you play for the inherent challenge, Callippe might surprise you. Callippe makes demands on every part of your game, including your decision-making and your sense of humor. This is one fine golf course---a welcome addition to the top tier of Bay Area public golf courses.


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