Golf course review: San Geronimo GC

Par: 72
Yardage: 5330-6800 yards
Rating: 69.1-73.5
Slope: 125-138

San Geronimo Golf Club is located a little more than half an hour north of San Francisco, but it looks, smells, and feels like the Sierra foothills. You will find the course in a valley surrounded by pines, firs, and hilly terrain that change colors with the seasons. San Geronimo is always beautiful, and is also a good test of golf.

Architect Vernon Macan designed the original course in 1961. Robert Muir Graves renovated it in 1989, with two notable changes. The par-4, 8th, now requires tee shots to carry a small lake that begins in front of the teeing ground. And, he dug a lake into what used to be the 18th fairway, rerouting that dirt to the right side. What used to be a weak, straight-away hole is now an interesting dogleg left.

Except for a couple of uphill trudges, San Geronimo provides a pleasant, although robust walk along the valley floor. You will climb your biggest hill when transitioning to the back nine.

San Geronimo's pace of play can sometimes be slow, partly due to the demands of this course. The fairways are fairly generous, and roll well in summer. You can swing away, in places, but beware out-of-bounds on fourteen of the holes.

Mostly, San Geronimo is all about approach shots and green complexes. They feature water, artful bunkers, contours, ridges, swales, and reflect Vernon Macon's design philosophy. "Today, the uninformed believe a green should be constructed with the slope from back to front, so that it will retain the ball. In brief, this suggests the shot should be a mechanical operation and the result a mathematical certainty. This is not the game of golf. Golf was not conceived as a mechanical operation but rather full of fun and adventure. "

In short, it is difficult, and also quite rewarding, to save par from around a missed Macan green.

Notable holes:

#6, Par-4, 394/365/ 325/ 294 yards: When the prevailing wind blows, this hole plays much longer than its yardage. A barranca and creek guards the front, and then continues up the fairway on the right side. Challenge that area for your best approach to the green, which slopes dramatically from left to right.

#8, Par 4, 377/ 34/,/306/ 284 yards: Bite off as much of the lake and bunkers as you dare. Your approach will be uphill to a green that favors well struck shots from the right side of the fairway, which also happens to require the longest carry across the lake. A deep bunker menaces any shot from the left. The green's contours will kick a ball viciously towards the back of the green. Out-of-bounds runs along the left side of this hole all the way to the green.

#11, Par 4, 421/401/384/351: This is a demanding, slight dogleg left, and one of the more memorable holes in Marin County. Although the fairway is wide, a tree-lined barranca dominates the left side. If you pull your shot, those trees will block it. Thread your approach between trees and over a creek to a two-tiered green that nestles on a slight rise. It's a beautiful sight, but also a treacherous one. The green offers a bunker short-left, out-of-bounds left and long, and that continuing barranca hard by the right side bunker.

#14, Par 4, 397/ 388/ 320 228 yards: This is the most controversial hole on the course. It's a matter of love or hate. From the tee, golfers hit a blind shot over a hill to a fairway that turns hard left on the other side. Your ideal tee shot is a right-handed draw near the left side of crest of that hills. This is no small feat considering the out-of-bounds all along that side of the hole. If you execute, the hole rewards you with an approach from the left side of that fairway. But, that is not to say it is easy. The green is fairly small, etched onto a peninsula surrounded by trouble left, long and right. A small hump juts from the back, breaking it into two sections. That small detail is pure design genius because it rewards two perfectly placed shots.. So now, if your playing partners are among the many who hate this hole, you can educate them with your subtle, erudite knowledge.

#16, Par 4, 358//347/327/ 290: From an elevated tee, the golfer must decide how aggressively to play this hole. A shallow green sits above the fairway and is angled slightly from left to right, guarded by a bunker short, a barranca left, and mounds rear. The sixteenth demands a perfect approach shot, hopefully from short grass on the right side of the fairway. A lake running along the left comes into play on from the tee. The only way to take the lake out of play is to play something much shorter than a driver, leaving a most demanding shot with a longer iron that may not hold the green. This is a gorgeous, slightly evil golf hole.

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