Thursday, October 20, 2011

Santa Teresa’s Short Course: The South Bay’s Nine-Hole Jewel

Santa Teresa Golf Club is nestled up against the feet of the Santa Teresa Hills, a rugged outrider of the Santa Cruz Mountains which separates Almaden Valley from the southern end of the Santa Clara Valley; and tucked up to one side of the 18-hole course, actually climbing the lower slopes of Coyote Peak, is the 9-hole, par-27 Short Course.

A 9-hole course of this length is usually described as a “pitch-and-putt," a mildly derisive term for a beginner’s collection of short holes which require only an easy pitch shot from the tee and a putt or two on a flat, featureless green. “Pitch-and-putts” lie somewhere between an executive 9-hole course (which will generally feature at least a pair of par-4s) and a mini-golf layout in the golfing spectrum, and are generally looked down upon by accomplished golfers, but the Short Course at Santa Teresa is a notable exception to that rule.

Challenging but not overly difficult, the Short Course offers a variety of holes ranging in length from 74 to 124 yards. Where the main course at Santa Teresa has water in play in only one location – right of the fairway at 18 (and that’s a seasonal hazard that’s dry a good 10 months of the year, typically) – there is water in play on five of the nine holes on the Short Course. The greens, like all of the greens at Santa Teresa, are smooth, well-tended and consistent, with shape and contour ranging from fairly flat and straightforward to moderately-sloped and undulating, and there are hole-position possibilities that range from easy to challenging on most of the greens.

Santa Teresa’s Short Course is convenient, and affordable too. No tee-time is required – just pay your green fee in the Pro Shop ($11 weekdays, $15 on the weekend) and walk to the first tee. Hit from the grass in the tee boxes instead of teeing it up and it’s like playing nine holes worth of testing approach shots and read-and-speed putting – a great way to strengthen your short game.

All nine of the holes on the Short Course have their own quirks and character, but the most noteworthy are #4, #7, and #9. The 4th hole, the longest hole on the course at 124 yards, features a well-elevated tee box, a big eucalyptus tree intruding on the fairway from the left, water right and long, and bunkers left and right front. If the wind is blowing it’s most likely to be left to right, toward the water, so depending upon the strength of the breeze this hole offers you a choice of a high, arcing shot over the intruding foliage of the big eucalyptus, or a low, under-the-wind punch shot. The high shot offers a softer, hit-and-stop landing at the risk of a bunker shot or a water ball if the wind catches it; the low punch reduces the danger from the wind, but if overdone may run through the back-to-front sloped green to the mounds behind, or if severely over-played, to the water hazard between the 4th and 9th greens.

You don’t expect to find a risk-reward hole on a par-27 nine-holer, but #4 merits the name. Holding a high soft 8-iron into that left-to-right breeze, over the big overhanging branch of the eucalyptus and dropping it right in the center of the green for a chance at birdie is a moment you’ll remember like your first kiss.

The 7th hole is the second-longest on the course, playing a nominal 122 yards, with the added attraction of playing into the prevailing wind. #7 features a pair of tee boxes, and plays somewhat differently depending on which of the two the markers are in use that day. The right-hand tee box offers a straighter shot to the green, but brings the wooded copse bordering the right side of the fairway more into play. The trees are more visual intimidation than real obstacles, but a ball that goes into the trees will rattle around and come to rest in some pretty tall grass, with a slim chance of a clean recovery shot to the green from there.

The left-hand tee box at #7 is surrounded by good-sized trees, creating a closed-in feeling that makes the tee shot feel tighter than it is, and which also brings the lone bunker, which sits at the left front of the green, into play. Shy away from that bunker and your tee ball may well find the low ground, and high grass, right of the green – but the good news is that a ball on the near-side upslope there will offer a fairly simple chip back onto the large, nearly dead-flat green.

The last of these three notable holes, the 9th, offers a great finish to your round. Playing to a nominal length of 116 yards, #9 generally plays down wind. The water right of the fairway isn’t particularly dangerous unless you’ve contracted a case of the shanks, but the pond that borders the full length of the right-hand side of the green is a ball magnet. The left-front bunker can be a daunting up-and-down if your ball lands too close to the back lip, and once on the green there are two levels and a long, undulating center portion that will test your green-reading skills.

A word to the wise: if the flag is back-right on this hole, don’t challenge it from the tee unless you are feeling very Hogan-like that day. There is a drop-off just past the usual pin position up in that corner which will feed an overcooked tee shot right off the green into the water. Even an over-zealous putt from near the front of the green is dangerous with that hole position – if your ball crests the rise with too much momentum, and the hole hasn’t gotten in the way, you had better hope the grounds crew haven’t cut the rough between the green and the water hazard too short! When I see that back-right flag on #9, I know that whoever set the pin positions that morning is taking out a bad mood on poor, defenseless golfers.

If you are looking for a good spot for a quick round of golf when you don’t have time for 18 holes, or if you want to tune up your short game to prepare for an important tournament – or to show up your buddies during your regular round – come down to Santa Teresa and try the Short Course.

Santa Teresa Golf Course is located at 260 Bernal Road, San Jose – phone 408/225-2650 or visit for more information.

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