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Course review: Los Lagos Golf Club

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They say that great things come in small packages. That’s because there are limited-size 18-hole golf courses that are definitely worth playing.

You don’t have to do golf layouts in the 7,000-yard-plus range to enjoy the whole experience. The Los Lagos Golf Club more than fits the bill.

Located off Tuers Road and moments from Highway 101 in San Jose, Calif., this short 5,393-yard par-68 course course will more than satisfy your appetite for an enjoyable and challenging round of golf. This picturesque piece of property that was designed by Brian Castello and developed in a park-like setting is completely surrounded by a medium-priced home development that could have been there before the course was opened for play in 2002. Because of this, you will find many holes that are fenced-in by mile-high wire defensive framing.

You can’t say that the fencing helps in the natural beautification of Los Lagos, but there are many holes that are hidden by redwoods, oak, deep under brush and forested creek that more than offset the supporting mesh and metal posts that are around to avoid broken windows and other problems.

There are many holes that are separated from each other entailing long rides through their natural forested environment and over bridges to the following holes. It’s just a matter of observing their designated markers so you won’t get lost. There are also acres of environmentally sensitive areas where looking for lost balls is a “no-no” unless you are in the act of retrieving a Pro V1 within reach of your longest club in your bag.

Los Lagos consists of nine par threes, four par fours and five strong par fives. There is enough strength in some of its holes to make this golf course far from being easy and monotonous. It’s also especially true when you have to contend with water holes at Nos. 4, 6, 9, 12 and 16. They didn’t name it Los Lagos for nothing.

A 500-yard par five starts the proceedings with water to the left side of the four-tee driving area. It’s an upward thrust to an expansive bunker controlling the left side of a generous size green that breaks from left to right. It’s followed by the first of many one shooters that weighs in at 157 yards. This is the only double green that also makes the par-three No. 8 of 197 yards stand out from the rest of the course. The two-level oversize surface that elevates from front to back also breaks sharply from right to left while being backed up by front and back bunkers.

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 9.24.43 PM

After a long ride, it’s the No. 3 one-shot hole. A par four of 291 yards makes up for its short distance as it’s accompanied by a large lake on its right side with close trees on its left side, limiting fairway room in-between. If you are looking for action and strength with the driver, you can take a tee shot on a long ride over the water to a green that turns sharply right at the end of the hole.

Los Lagos prides itself on No. 6, its best of the best 567-yard par 5. It takes off on a majestic ride along fenced-in terrain on its immediate left as you make your way along narrowing fairway and downward where a lake hangs around on the right side. The water also faces the right side of the green. There are also two formidable bunkers on its left side. The putting surface is two levels with breaks from right to left that creeps slightly down in the rear.

A testy par three of 113 yards greets you at No. 7 with a substantial bunker covering the right side of the green and another smaller sand trap across the way. It’s where you will also contend with a two-level green with huge breaks that cater from left to right. Then a long ride takes you to No. 8 tee with beautiful foliage to keep your mind off the golf game. What awaits you is 197 yards of fun on the uplifting double, tilting green that undulates from left to right while raising from front to back.

The 485 yard par five No. 9 travels downhill with trees close enough to get in trouble on both sides. If you are looking for a place to stay cool with an interesting left-sided waterscape, you have to wait until you reach the bottom portion of the fairway. There you will find a sculpted pond fronting the elevated kidney-shaped green that slopes slightly downward.

The back side starts the golf ball rolling on 523 yards of uphill, undulating fairway with some quality bunkering especially on the right side where the green says hello. They are not deep but widespread and the putting surface hanging large is noted for its sloping bottom-to-top characteristics. If you are looking for the best of Los Lagos’ three pars, the 177-yard No. 12 gets the grand prize. An expansive pond hangs wet from tee to green with safe but dwindling turf grass on the far right. The oversized putting surface is raised while curving from right to left.

Another par three that shows off its water attributes is the 148-yard No. 16 with aqua on its right quarter. Once the predominantly poa annua green is attained you will find it oversized and slightly undulating with breaks making its way from left to right.

The 583-yard No. 18 ends the Los Lagos experience with everything outstanding and superlative from tee to green. From the driving grounds you will see a faraway sculpted pair of fences as you get close to the clubhouse with fencing throughout the left side of the entire hole. As the well-groomed turf grass continues downhill, you will contend with a bundle of bunkers as the fairway turns right at the end of the course with a slight elevation. Putter land consists of semi two-level property that turns sharply from right to left

What brings out multitudes of golfers at most hours is the course’s lighted, two-tier driving range along with a restaurant and full-service bar. As the San Jose Mercury News said “Los Lagos, a beautiful oasis in the center of urban San Jose.”

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. BlkNGld

    Oct 2, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    No review of this course is complete without mentioning the mischevious red foxes that like to hang out in the bunker waiting for an egg, er, ball to steal.

  2. Golfer X

    Sep 6, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    nice course, good time, SJ is lovely this time of year…

  3. Nick

    Sep 5, 2013 at 11:57 am

    I would also recommend The Ranch if you are in San Jose. Tough track but beautiful and well conditioned. Flip side of the coin from Los Lagos. Not easy, not cheap, imaculately maintained.

  4. Gianni

    Sep 5, 2013 at 2:43 am

    Nice review. This is one, if not the top confidence booster courses in the south bay. The greens are iffy in certain spots, but within 15 feet they are predictable and makeable. The rough is usually thick and the fairways/tee boxes are not trimmed properly. However, every par 4 leaves a short iron in and 3 of the 5 par 5’s are easily reachable in 2. Its defintely a good buy every now and then on golfnow.

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Branson, Missouri Continues to Evolve as a Golf Destination

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If you think you know Branson, Mo., it’s time to think again. While the live music venues that put the bucolic Ozark Mountains town on the map continue to thrive, its reputation as a top notch golf destination has grown … and continues to evolve.

Heck, golfers who’ve visited just a few years ago will find the scene almost unrecognizable. Sure, the awe-inspiring Top of the Rock — designed by legendary Jack Nicklaus and holding the honor of being the first-ever par-3 course to be included in a professional PGA championship — is as striking as ever, but its sister course, Buffalo Ridge, has undergone a metamorphosis.

No. 15 at Buffalo Ridge

Designed by renowned architect Tom Fazio and originally opened in 1999, Buffalo Ridge has done the unthinkable – make its list of previous accolades pale in comparison to what now graces the land. In conjunction with owner and visionary conservationist Johnny Morris, Fazio has exposed massive limestone formations, enhanced approaches and added water features to make every hole more memorable than the last.

Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio masterpieces not enough? Gary Player has stamped his signature in the Ozarks with the recently opened Mountain Top Course. This 13-hole, walking-only short course is unlike anything you’ve ever played.

Strap your bag to a trolley and let your imagination dictate your round. There are stakes in the ground with yardage markers nearby, but they’re merely suggestions. Play it long or play it short. Play it from different angles. The only mandate is to enjoy the course, nature and camaraderie.

No. 10 at Mountain Top

The Mountain Top greens are huge and as smooth as putting on a pool table. Nearly as quick, too. And the bunkers are as pristine as the white sands of an isolated Caribbean beach. Capping off your experience, the finishing hole plays back to the clubhouse and the green boasts multiple hole locations that enhance golfers’ chances at carding an ace. Hard to imagine a better way the end an already unforgettable round.

It shouldn’t take you much longer than two hours to get around Mountain Top Course. If it does, you were likely admiring the stunning panoramas. One notable addition to those views is Tiger Woods’ (TGR Design) first public access design — Payne’s Valley (named to honor Missouri golfing legend Payne Stewart) — which is full speed ahead on construction and scheduled to open in 2019. As a treat, the 19th hole was designed by Morris. Named “The Rock,” it’s a short par-3 that promises to be amazing.

Payne’s Valley will be both family-friendly and challenging. It has wide fairways and ample landing areas along with creative angles and approaches that shotmakers love and expect from a championship course.

If two years is too long to wait for new golf, then Morris and his Big Cedar Lodge have you covered with the yet-to-be-named ridge-top course by the industry’s hottest design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. With all the heavy lifting complete, the Ozarks is scheduled to be unveiled in 2018.

The Ozark Mountains form the backdrop on No. 5 at Buffalo Ridge.

Once opened, this par-71 (36-35) track will play “firm and fast” and offer multiple avenues into each green. Both Coore and Crenshaw bristle at the notion that there’s only one way to approach the playing surface. Bring it in high or run it along the ground. Considering the exposed nature of the course and propensity for high winds, the latter may be your best option.

There’s more. Tiger won’t be finished with Branson when he wraps up Payne’s Valley. He’s also designing a family-friendly par-3 course on the grounds of Big Cedar Lodge. There isn’t a date attached to this project, so stay tuned.

These new tracks join the likes of Thousand Hills, Branson Hills and Pointe Royale Golf Village to make Branson a powerful player on the golf destination scene. Combine that with world-class fishing and camping, as well as countless museums, restaurants and points of interest and this bustling Ozarks town is a must-visit spot in Middle America.

Learn more or plan your trip at explorebranson.com.

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Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club

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Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own. 

Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.

All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.

A view from the ninth fairway

Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.

Trees, or no trees?

The 18th tee

The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.

The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.

Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.

A good variety

Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16.  What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14.  These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set.  The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.

A view of the ninth fairway from across the Pennsylvania Turnpike

The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s tempt the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.

Green complexes are…complex

The green on the 18th hole

Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world.  They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.

The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a decent lie.

Ari’s last word

All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.

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Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

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My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers too many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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