San Juan Oaks Golf Club lacks Couples' trophies, but it's a winning course
HOLLISTER, Calif. -- When San Juan Oaks Golf Club Head Professional Bruce Lewis asked Fred Couples for some trophies to put in a trophy room, the modest Couples, winner of 14 tournaments on the PGA Tour said no.
Lewis said Couples remarked that he hasn't even taken his trophies out the crates that the tournaments ship them in. And that includes The Masters.
"Fred said he doesn't want to see his name on things," Lewis said.
Needless to say The Fred Couples Room, a private conference/board room, is looking for memorabilia. Still, there are interesting displays of Couples' awards, photography and other career memorabilia including a replica trophy.
Despite Couples' low-key personality his name is attached to San Juan Oaks in a real way. He is the "co-architect" with San Jose's Gene Bates, and this is his first California signature layout which opened on October 1, 1996.
The modest Couples said: "San Juan Oaks ranks right up there with the very best on the Monterey Peninsula."
Covering 7,133 yards from the back tees, this par 72 offers five tee areas from plush tee boxes, fairways in great condition and smooth, true-rolling bentgrass greens. The green course is contrasted beautifully with the golden hillsides and huge old live oaks on historic California ranch land.
"We give all the credit to our superintendent Brad Langley," said Lewis. "He's the son of Cypress Point's head pro Jim Langley and he's just done a phenomenal job." Langley got his training in an internship at Poppy Hills.
Lewis, who worked for the Pebble Beach Company said: "We don't compete with the Monterey Peninsula. We want to complement it. So we will be very happy just catching the golfers coming and going from Monterey. Since we opened we have been running at 90 percent during the week and 100 percent during weekends, so we are continually sold out."
San Juan Oaks has a huge 19,000-square foot main clubhouse reminiscent of an early California hacienda. It fits perfectly in the surroundings, especially with the historic 200-year old San Juan Bautista Mission just minutes away (sitting next to the San Andreas fault).
With zero houses nearby for the present, this golf outing is quiet. Two golden eagles fly the skies above San Juan Oaks and the front nine opens with holes through land that was once rancher Everett Nutting's grazing pasture. No. 2, named "Nutting's Creek" is a par-5, 578-yard hole. The tee shot has to clear a lake and the approach to the green is guarded by the creek and a huge live oak.
No. 3 must be one of Couples' favorites. Since he is a "fader" you will find nine holes out of 18 where a fade is a good choice off the tee. This one, named "Fade Away" is a 359-yard par 4 with big trouble if your fade turns into a slice.
San Juan Oaks Golf Club's back nine
San Juan Oaks really gets interesting on the back nine when the direction goes up toward "Spitts' Canyon", which was the site of a famous 1800's squatting rights gun battle between Spitts and Bixby. And that's the name of the 15th, which can be played as a par-5 for the men and par-4 for the women. You have to rip the tee shot to have a good shot over a deep creek protected by mature oaks.
Just before that, at the 14th, you will find another interesting hole. This par 4, 397 yards, has two separate fairways divided by a seasonal creek. The best route is left, where a good tee shot will have a shorter more open approach. Choose the right fairway and your route is longer and you will have to deal with another huge live oak just right of the green.
The signature hole plays from the highest point on the course. The 17th, named Eagles' Flight, is 487 yards from the back, a par 4. From the tee you are 150 feet above the green and can see for miles across the farm lands of the San Juan Valley.
The 18th will require you to do some thinking too. The par-4, 461-yard hole is a sharp dogleg right that requires a booming drive over native grass to the left-center side of the fairway. The second shot must carry a deep ravine to a huge stadium-style green that has a narrow entrance. There's trouble right and a large green-side bunker on the right.
High marks for service and value
According to Lewis, in a recent survey, Golf Digest asked its 1.5 million subscribers to rank more than 5,000 public and resort courses in North America on the overall golf experience based on service and value. San Juan Oaks received special recognition as one of the top courses in North America and ranked in the top 10 in California for good service, and in the top 10 for value. San Juan Oaks was the only California course to rank high in both categories. It was one of only 30 courses in all of North America to achieve special recognition for both service and value.
Tom White, who lives in the Bay Area, said San Juan Oaks Golf Club was in absolutely perfect condition when he played it.
"If you live in the Bay Area, do yourself a favor and make the drive," he said. "Anybody over a 10 handicap should play from the white tees and if you can't hit a driver more than 200 yards play from the gold tees ... you'll have more fun. This courses forces you to hit all types of shots ... make sure to practice bunker shots because there's lots of sand out there.
"I can't wait to play it again."
May 5, 2003