Courses

Startling renovation has transformed this city course into public golf heaven

Corica Park is a bright spot in muni renovations.

With golf enjoying an historic boom and tee times seemingly as scarce as aces, any increase in supply is a cause for celebration. 

When that supply is at a top-notch, bargain-priced muni, in the heart of a congested, golf-mad region, well, consider us euphoric.

So it has been of late for Bay Area golfers dialed into the goings-on at Corica Park, a 45-hole facility just east of San Francisco that is fast becoming one of the country’s marquee municipal complexes, up there in the conversation with the multi-course likes of Bethpage State Park and Torrey Pines.

Already home to the recently redone South Course, a Rees Jones design that channels the spirit of an Australian Sandbelt layout, and a newly reworked nine-hole par-3 course that offers a similar style of golf, in miniature, Corica Park is about to unveil the latest phase of its property-wide renovations.

This coming Thursday, the front nine of the North Course opens for play.

Like the South Course prior to its overhaul, the North Course used to be pancake-flat, with little more than two feet of elevation change across its entire footprint. To kickstart the transformation, Greenway Golf, the golf management company that runs Corica Park, brought in a planet’s worth of sand (okay, 15,000 truckloads, if you want to be more literal), the prized leftovers from big-dig construction projects in San Francisco.

Then it set Marc Logan loose.

A 58-year-old Australian who began his career a half a lifetime ago on the turf-care team at Royal Melbourne, Logan is not a superintendent, a general contractor, or a course architect. He is all of the above, evidenced by the myriad roles he has played on the job.

Not only did he install the North’s new irrigation and drainage systems, along with other critical infrastructure. Logan also handled the agronomy and the redesign, sticking largely to the original routing while transforming every hole into a vastly improved version of its former self.

The details on the North Course are coming in nicely.

Courtesy Photo

To anyone familiar with the old North layout, the result is unrecognizable, in a very welcome way.

Like its sibling, the South Course, the North is meant to play firm and fast, with bouncy, drought-resistant turf, but it’s not intended as a tribute to the Sandbelt. It draws clearer inspiration from Golden Age designs in this country and their antecedents across the pond.

Consider the fairways, which are wide but dramatic and strategic, with flat landing areas flanked by humps and hollows, and swatches of fescue guarding the margins. Though losing a ball is unlikely, finding the sweet slot can take some doing. It’s not matter of rearing back and blasting. Let a tee shot stray and you’re apt to be confronted with an awkward lie or a less-than-ideal line to your next target. Bunkers, though few, have steep, riveted faces. Sideways is often the only way out.

At a shade over 3,000 yards, this new nine isn’t long, but distance isn’t always the best defense. Nor is it the most interesting.

Corica’s North Course has nine holes open for play beginning in mid-October.

Courtesy Photo

“So much of golf these days is about length, length, length, but that’s not what this is about here,” Logan says. “I’m not out to punish the player who hits it long and straight. But if you hit it long and crooked, you’re not going to have an advantage over the guy who knocks it shorter but takes the right line. I was trying to level out the playing field.”

In a cap-tip to the Golden Age giant CB MacDonald, Logan has enlivened the design with template-like holes. Template-like, he says, because they aren’t faithful replicas but renditions, relying on elements of iconic designs. While 4th hole is a par-3 you could fairly call Redan-ish, given its canted green and fronting bunker, the 5th, a par-5 with a gulley running through its putting surface, carries echoes of a Biarritz.

Logan will have even more of this in store (a double-plateau green; a postage stamp-like par-3) when he finishes work on the back nine next year. In his original plans, all 18 of the North were slated to be done by now, but then, of course, the pandemic intervened, sending golf participation through the roof even as it gummed up construction projects. 

So, nine new holes it what Corica has for now, and that’s a whole lot better than nothing, especially nine holes as fine as these. No wonder the buzz around this week’s ribbon cutting.

“Be happy—play often,” reads the slogan on the North’s new scorecard. Words to live by.

Now, let’s see what the tee sheet allows.

This is part of our Muni Monday series, spotlighting stories from the world of city- and county-owned golf courses around the world. Got a muni story that needs telling? Send tips to Dylan Dethier or to munimondays@gmail.com and follow Muni Mondays on Instagram.

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