With his designs at Whitney Oaks, The Bridges, Eagle Ridge and others, Miller has proven that he knows how to make a difficult golf course. But it seems to have taken him longer to learn the art of making a course that is also fun to play. In Metropolitan, he has struck that elusive balance between challenge and fun.
Despite its setting near the Oakland airport, and the difficulty in working with an essentially bland piece of land, Miller and Bliss crafted a fine course that should appeal to players of all levels. On a late summer evening, looking out across the bay at the San Francisco skyline, or at the east bay hills as orange rays shine on downtown Oakland, Metropolitan can be ethereally beautiful.
Metropolitan provides five sets of tees. This review is from the Blue set which plays to 6600 yards. The 1st hole gets you off to a good start. While only 342 yards, the length can deceive you; for Metropolitan is windy most of the time, and quite windy the rest. On a relatively calm day, an accurate 3-wood from the tee leaves a short pitch. In the wind, you'll need a driver. Your approach, too, will likely demand more club than the actual yardage.
Wetlands come in to play on Metropolitan. They're marked stakes with green-colored caps. You cannot enter these protected areas.
A strategic hole by design, the 1st offers a large landing area. But beware---wetlands guard all of the right side, along with a beautifully placed fairway bunker. If you play safely up the left side, which has ample room, you'll face an exacting shot over bunkers to a shallow green. Or challenge the right side, which opens up a kidney shaped green for your approach. This is a very pleasant opening to the round. It's easy enough to settle your nerves and loosen your muscles, but strategic enough to keep your interest.
You won't get any help from the wind until the 4th, and at 446 yards, you'll need it. This is a beautiful, gentle dogleg to the left. Because of the length, you may be tempted to play down the left side to shorten this long hole. But because the green is angled right-to-left, you'll prefer an approach from the right side.
Miller & Bliss then provide respite with a modest, 166 yard par 3. Rather than strength, you'll need accuracy to tame this hole, which plays across a pond angling away to the left. There is a large green, and room to bail on the right. After fighting wind and length for the previous four holes, this is a very good par three, and perfectly placed in the round.
You'll finish the front nine with two par four's. The 8th hole is a dogleg left of 389 yards. A grove of trees and out-of-bounds guards the left side of the fairway. The green again angles slightly away from right to left. The left side and the back side of the green complex fall sharply away towards a dangerously close water hazard.
The 9th begins with a semi-blind tee shot on a modified version of the famous Cape Hole. There is quite a bit more room on the left than appears from the tee. To open up the green, however, ignore the water hazard left of the fairway, and challenge the bunker guarding the right side. From there, your approach provides a better angle and more options. You'll find an open green in the front, which allows a running shot, available only from this side of the fairway. From the left, you'll have to carry two formidable greenside bunkers.
If you relished the front side at Metropolitan, you'll fall in love with the back nine. This stretch of holes has more fun and risk/reward packed into it than all the dot.com explosion years. If these holes had a voice they would be saying, "Let us tempt you?"
The par five, 528 yard 10th, a double dogleg, pleads for you to cut the first dogleg right. If you carry the wetland and the bunkers down the right side, you'll have a shorter route home. Still, the second shot is exhilarating. To reach the green in two you must carry another marsh fronting the green. To lay up, thread a shot between the marsh and a bunker. The faint of heart are left with a quite formidable approach shot on this long hole. And in case I forgot to mention it, every shot plays into the wind. Wow.
For sheer excitement and risk-reward, the 14th might be the best hole on the course. Choose to carry the cross bunkers down the left hand side and you can greatly shorten this 400 yard par four. With a helping wind from the right, it's tempting. If you fail to carry those bunkers, however, or pull your shot left, you'll be floundering to recover. The approach shot must carry an ominous small stream and settle onto a severely contoured green with two distinct tiers. Again, you'll find this to be an easier task from the left side. From the right side, your approach will be magnitudes more difficult.
The finishing holes offer more risk-reward. Two good strokes can get you home on the downwind 17th, a par five of 525 yards. But the green is angled across a pond and the risk is great. If you pull the shot off, you'll be putting for eagle.
At 386 yards and playing downwind, the final hole is a modest par four with all of the classic elements of strategic design. You'll have multiple options from the tee on this slight dogleg left. Running with the prevailing wind, the temptation is great to cut the corner and carry the cross bunker. The reward is a direct, short approach to the green. Play safe from the tee and your approach will be much more difficult. When the hole is cut in the front quadrant of this final green, and the wind is slashing from your back, you will need to bump and run your approach to stay below the hole. From the right side, this pin position is doubly challenging. A pleasing finish to a splendid course.
Metropolitan is rightfully proud of their practice facilities. The driving range has grass tees. Beautifully crafted and of ample size, the chipping and putting areas are perfect for practicing your short game.
Here's a Miller quote from his golf design web site: "I think the hardest thing to do as a designer...is to create shots that are challenging but fair for everyone. I see many designers who seem to get it right most of the time but because they're not good, experienced players, they really don't know the difference between what's challenging but fair and what's hard because it's unfair."
With Metropolitan, Johnny Miller got it right.