Anchored in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, the long awaited remake of the old Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course, now called Baylands Golf Links, is finally nearing completion. Golf Course Architect Forrest Richardson, ASGCA began the project nearly six years ago after being awarded the assignment among a field of golf course architects shortlisted by the City of Palo Alto.
“It began as work to make way for flood control,” notes Richardson. “We quickly focused on how the community could benefit in many more ways, such as returning the environment to natural habitat and opening the golf course to more diverse use.”
The project to re-build the original early 1950s course by William F. Bell began as a result of chronic flooding from San Francisquito Creek that winds its way through Palo Alto and along the golf course. Engineering concluded that the best solution was to shift the creek toward the course while increasing levee heights. “It was the classic domino effect,” says Richardson. “We looked at all options with the best outcome being a fresh look at everything. It also gave us the chance to replace some very old and tired infrastructure.”
The course is located between the main campuses of Facebook and Google in the heart of Silicon Valley. The 140 acre site is located just off US 101, one of the busiest interstate highways in the United States, and sits on the edge of the 2,000 acre Baylands Nature Preserve of San Francisco Bay. Historically the site was an estuary of the creek with tidal and marsh landforms reminiscent of a low-lying coastline.
Federal and state permits delayed the project for 2-3 years to satisfy concerns over endangered and protected species. Addressed through a lengthy process involving more than 35 public hearings, six environmental agencies and study by four separate biologists, the final approval came in Summer of 2016. “Our team was exceptional at sticking with it,” adds Richardson. “It took time, but in the end we demonstrated how a golf course can amount to a win-win for everybody. We not only solved flood control, but we have created new habitat, more wetlands and a landscape that now integrates to San Francisco Bay rather than the former tree-covered parkland that just happened to sit beside the Bay.”
The work has involved removal of more than 600 trees that were not indigenous to the coastline area of San Francisco Bay. To compensate, the team replanted more than 40 acres of ground within the course to native trees and grasses.
Renamed Baylands Golf Links, the 18-hole par-72 course will play from 4,200 yards to 6,800 yards. Richardson’s routing sports five par-3s and five par-5s with two interesting green complexes: No. 3 (par-5) and 15 (par-3) share a 20,000 s.f. green, while No. 14 (par-4) has two separate greens, one a classic punchbowl and the alternate a very small peninsula jutting out into a wetlands. The work also included an new 3-hole youth course, The Little Baylands Links, and a two acre short game area.
Construction involved importing nearly 500,000 cubic yards of soil that was brought into the site from nearby Stanford University. The material was shaped by Richardson to form dunes features and raise the entire site by as much as 6-7 feet. Wadsworth Golf Construction was the general contractor with specialized support from Toro, Watertronics, Better Billy Bunker and Profile Products. Greens turf is Pure Select Bentgrass with all fairways and roughs planted in Platinum TE Paspalum, a first for the Silicon Valley region. West Coast Turf grew and planted the paspalum which covers approximately 80 acres.
Opening of the new course is expected in Spring 2018. The City of Palo Alto is currently reviewing proposals from management companies to operate and maintain the course as a high quality daily fee facility that will be open to the public.