Last updateWed, 18 Oct 2017 10am


Play links golf in Scottish broom with views of San Francisco Bay

This is the eighth in a series of articles reviewing the top 20 public golf courses within easy reach of Los Altos.

Yearn to play Royal Troon or Muirfield courses in Scotland, where links golf began?

There's a little touch of Scotland right here in our own backyard.

You can avoid that 10-hour flight across that big pond off our East Coast by driving to the Tony Lema Course at the Monarch Bay Golf Club in San Leandro, only 40 minutes from Los Altos – an affordable way to experience what links golf is all about.

Tony Lema ranks No. 13 in Dawson's countdown of the best 20 golf courses around the South Bay.

The course is special for a couple of reasons. Not only does it have the wind, the bunkers and the tall, thick grasses that define links courses, it offers expansive views of San Francisco Bay. On clear days, the San Mateo Bridge and downtown San Francisco seem close enough to touch – and the Bay is close enough to catch very errant shots.

While the property is as flat as an estuary, the builders arranged the dirt to create sculptured bunkers and elevated greens – though major expanses of rough and fairway remain fairly level and treeless. Heavy marsh grasses added around the tees and other prominent spots contribute to the British Isle texture without interfering with shot landing areas.

The course is in good condition. Fairways are firm but smooth, with enough grass that the ball sits up. Roughs are good and not too heavy but vary in density depending on the sprinkler setup. The greens are consistent and have the shape and character one might expect on a links course.

The seventh hole, a long par 3 into the breeze with a very long, narrow, elevated green, is special. Deep bunkers surround the putting surface and the hole is as tough and Scottish as they come.

The real sweet spot at Monarch Bay is the challenge of approaching greens with unusual pin positions, over deep, well-placed bunkers.

A key to having a good round here is to select the correct set of tees. Inexperienced golfers should choose a shorter set to make sure they can out-hit the heavy grasses surrounding the elevated tee boxes. Better golfers should opt for the championship or the tournament blocks because the front, white tees eliminate much of the excitement of hitting over water or avoiding fairway bunkers. Also, green approach shots are much less interesting from the front layout.

Unless you want to dare the gusty winds, get an early start time or play on a very warm day. Otherwise, as one might expect on a bayside course, the wind can create havoc – like the winds at St. Andrews, which turn a short course into a beast.

Greens fees range from $14 to $59, cart fees, $20-$26.

For more information, call (510) 895-2162 or visit www.monarchbay.americangolf.com.

Longtime Los Altos resident Doug Dawson is a retired manufacturing business manager, who is researching and writing "Northern California's 100 Best Public and Resort Golf Courses."

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