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Sly Changes Chase Away Old,
Bring in New at Foxtail Golf Club

Fairways & Greens Magazine
April 2003, Volume 6, Number 3


As one of the principals at Mountain View, California based Knott-Brooks-Linn golf course design group, Gary Linn knows how to make a Bay Area track work for the modern golfer while maintaining a sense of tradition passed down from such design giants as Alister MacKenzie and George Thomas.

Linn was the lead architect for Robert Trent Jones, Jr. at such stellar Northern California layouts as The Ridge in Auburn and Cordevalle in San Martin, but considers his complete redesign of Foxtail’s North Course a high point in his career because of its unique challenges – working within a tight, home-lined space on a limited municipal budget. He recently sat down with Fairways & Greens to discuss the project.

We remember the old north course at Mountain Shadows as fairly flat, not much personality. You’ve gone in and moved some dirt, put in some nice bunkering. What were your first impressions of the site and what experience did you draw from to rebuild it to what it is now?

GARY LINN: There were some huge technical problems. The course didn’t drain; there were water-holding pockets year-round that did not lead to quality playing conditions. They were accentuated by a poor irrigation system that had seen better days. That led to poor turf and trees that weren’t doing well.

The greens drained well, but they were all pitched from 4 _ to 5 percent from back to front. That’s pretty radical. When you stand from 200 yards away and you can see the pitch in the green, you go, “Whoa.”

I don’t know if the words “fair” and “golf” go together, but they had limited pin positions with those greens. If you missed long you had a huge slope to get the ball over and it was going to run away from you like a racetrack.

The bunkering was fairly simplistic in its construction, cookie-cutter shapes. They weren’t shaped, molded, folded with artistic qualities. And the bunker positioning was weak in a lot of places, so we took the opportunity to fix them. We relocated seven greens, rebuilt the lakes, reshaped from tee to green. The tee complexes were a different style from a different era, running diagonal to the line of play. They didn’t aim you at targets. We made more tees, made them bigger and slid them back where we could. It’s more of a classical style, rectangular tees.

On the back portion of the course – holes 12 trough 16 – the homes don’t really come into play now like they used to.

GARY LINN: You get a number of holes out there where you wouldn’t think you were in a housing [tract]. There are stands of mature redwoods and the sightlines pick up the hills in the distance. And we did some tricks, sliding tees closer to homes and realigned landing areas away from homes, especially on holes where the doglegs were too short. Tiger can fly them now, but others won’t.

On No. 18, the green is smaller, but there’s at least 10 to 12 good pin positions.

GARY LINN: That’s one we totally reconstructed. There was a neck of the lake that came around and made it a peninsula green; it didn’t impact a good player, but it did impact the average player who can’t get it off the ground and is scared to death by that kind of thing. So we filled in the neck of the lake and lowered the green.
We purposely broke all the greens complexes into sections, draining in different directions. That allows you to fold the greens and get more interesting breaks and contours. That’s always been my philosophy: Taking a green and breaking it into smaller greens, where the contours happen between “pinnable” locations. Reward the shot that nestles into the right portion and make it more challenging if you missed it.

You’ve worked on a lot of courses in the West. Is there one or two that this compares to.

GARY LINN: You’re always asked which is your best one; it should be your next one. The site dictates it. Everything you learn is brought forth, and each course has its own challenges. The tees, the way the fairways flow, the contouring and strategy, have evolved over time. I would say that courses in this region that jump out are The Ridge in Auburn, which is a different kind of site – more tight with rock outcroppings – but it’s also a public, daily-fee course. At the other end, with a much bigger budget and grander site, was Cordevalle.

The bunkering at that course is gorgeous, too.

GARY LINN: I’d say that at Foxtail, the bunkering is the one place where we could be artistic and different. The previous bunkers had no visual quality or character; they didn’t jump out at you. That will be the eyewash that catches people’s attention.

That’s true right off the No. 1 tee.

GARY LINN: Yep. It looked more like a practice range than a golf hole; you could hit the ball anywhere off the first tee, there was no bunkering. So that gave us flexibility to do some creative things in those envelopes, make the hole feel like it slightly doglegs and stagger bunkers, yet still have ample landing areas to keep the ball in play and have fun.

We purposely talked about a theme – the old MacKenzie-style bunkering at Cypress Point. Thomas at Riviera, Tillinghast at San Francisco Golf Club, that sort of feel. Classic old sweeping noses that are saddled out. Bays that are the high point, flashed to show the sand. I sold Tom on the idea that it would make the course really stand out. It’s worth it to devote more time and manpower to maintaining the bunkers. They’re beyond the traditional daily-fee golf course.

It’s like night and day from the South Course.

GARY LINN: We had a more limited budget [there]. Weren’t touching the greens and there weren’t any fairway bunkers when we started, but we put some in there to give it some interest. Just keeping it between the trees was the previous strategy.
It fits in more with the old school philosophy, a simpler shape, and that’s what they wanted.


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