NCGA Golf

Summer 2017

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Still, there's one thing not at all in dispute: Mare Island boasts a rich and underappre- ciated history, a distinctive military flavor and some of the most spectacular views on the Bay Area golf landscape. The uncommon blend becomes evi- dent on the first few holes of the front nine, which was added in 2000. (The new holes originally were played as the back nine, until the sides were flipped about a year and a half ago.) Between No. 2 green and No. 3 tee, tucked into the hillside, is a stark gray ammunition bunker, one of 10 scattered throughout the property. This particular bunker once served as a concession stand; a handwritten sign remains on the wall, offering options rang- ing from a hot dog for $4.50 to chips for $1.50. Another onetime bunker serves as a maintenance facility. And, man, those views. Mare Island's front nine is a links-style layout, with fewer trees and bigger greens than the original nine. The front side also weaves through hilly terrain, which yields some memorable vistas. On the No. 1 tee, the strait and adjacent city of Vallejo are visible to the left. No. 2 features a sweeping view of the bay, looking southwest toward Mount Tamalpais; No. 3 has another good vantage point of the marsh leading to the bay; and after a steep hike to No. 4 tee, the highest point on the course, there's a stunning, far-reaching view across the bay, toward San Rafael and Novato. Sometimes, even the peaks of the Golden Gate Bridge become visible in the distance. "On a clear day, you can see just about everything," said Elliot Busichio, the course's head pro and assistant manager. Busichio has worked at Mare Island the past 3½ years. He has come to appreciate the invigorating setting, mixed with the island's military past. "They covered up a few of the bunkers when they put in the new nine, but there are still some along the edges of the course," he said. "On a lot of the holes on the back nine, the original nine, if you look out to- ward the marsh you can see the old huts where they stored a lot of parts for the submarines they worked on. "We still use some of the bunkers to store stuff and a couple anchors from the ships are right out in the open." In its earliest years, the course included sand greens and dry fairways. It presented golfers with some curious hazards, from rattlesnakes and ground squirrels to a horse. (An anti-venom kit was left on a fence post to help those unfortunate enough to cross paths with a snake.) As legend has it, the horse of Mare Island Marine Lt. Jack Meyers habitually found its way onto the course and into the path of a player's shot. Local rules ultimately were adopted, allowing a player to move any ball blocked by the horse. Several holes were relocated during World War I, and the 1940s and WW II brought more changes – creating a layout using both the east and west sides of Mare Island. The course meandered through the 94 huts used for storage, plus those ammunition bunkers. This all creates an unmistakable mystique and bigger-than-golf vibe while navigating the course. Just imagine what Mare Island was like during the wars, with submarines streaming in and out of San Pablo Bay. As for the actual golf in 2017, the course offers a tougher challenge than the score- card suggests (only 6,150 yards from the blue tees). There's not much room to miss around the greens and the wind can become a factor. The course includes quirky features, such as seven consecutive par 4s to start and only one par 5 (on No. 14). The back/original nine finishes with a flourish, an uphill par 3 over water on No. 17 and a cool, tree-framed approach shot to an elevated, picturesque green on No. 18. The back side is much more tree-lined than the front, creating a pleasant contrast. "It's a tale of two worlds," Busichio said. He was speaking about the course itself, but widen the scope and his words still ring true. Mare Island's military history lingers in the background, another world from another time. Ron Kroichick covers golf for the San Francisco Chronicle. 30 SUMMER 2017 | NCGA.ORG In wartime, submarines and battleships streamed in and out of Mare Island's San Pablo Bay. ARCHIVAL PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN, COURTESY OF NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND

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