There are a handful of golf courses that get an unequivocal “play it under any circumstances” recommendation from me. Pacific Dunes comes to mind. There are other courses that are fantastic but are (in my opinion) too hard for 90% of golfers. Oakmont and Whistling Straits fall into this category. Sand Hollow, happily, falls into the former category. If you ever have the opportunity to play it, do not hesitate, just say yes and reserve your tee time. It is a wonderful track. The views on the back nine are so sublime that I told my wife next time she should just ride along in the cart and enjoy it. As for the details and why you should play it read on for the rest of my review.
Price Paid – $45 via teeoff.com
Full Price – $125 if booked directly through the golf course
Practice Area – A
Much like the course itself, the practice facilities at Sand Hollow are great. Not only is there a full driving range with target greens, short game area, and putting green, they have what they call their “Wee Course.” The Wee Course is a chip, pitch, and putt par 3 course with holes ranging from 50-120 yards. Not only is it fun to play it gives you a good feel for the type of shots (a lot of bump and run) necessary to score well on the Championship Course. If I lived close by I’d be spending a lot of time here.
Course Conditions – B+
The front nine in particular at Sand Hollow has a very linksy feel to it. By that I mean it plays very firm and fast. The roll you’ll get with the firm fairways, coupled with the elevation, means the course plays much shorter than the yardage would indicate. For perspective, I’m an average-length driver (225-250 off the tee under normal conditions) and the whites at 6500 were almost too short.
This isn’t to say that the course is burnt-out or subpar in any way. It just means that it’s not the soft, lush, and green parkland-style course that many are used to. If you’ve ever played any traditional links course, you’ll know what I mean. That being said almost all the greens, tee boxes, bunkers, etc. were in great shape.
Layout – A
Most of the reviews and general commentary on Sand Hollow revolve around the front nine being rather average and the back nine being out of this world. I disagree with this slightly.
The front at Sand Hollow doesn’t have the same views as the back. To be fair, pretty much every direction you look in this part of the country is gorgeous. The difference with Sand Hollow is that on the front nine, you’re not playing over any ridges where you can see for miles. The front is just a superb layout without the need for any wow factor.
The first hole at first glance appears rather mundane; an extremely wide fairway, a green so large you could fit a small village on it, and downhill to boot. Once you play it, you realize that to score well it needs to be played rather precisely. A drive down the right side of the fairway leaves a downhill approach, a firm green running away from you, and a carry over a bunker. A drive down the left side leaves a level, unencumbered approach. It’s the classic “easy bogey, difficult par” type of design. I could go on and on but in a nutshell, think the front is severely underrated.
The fireworks on the back nine start with the par 3 11th hole. The hole itself isn’t particularly demanding however once you get to the green and look over the ridge behind it you’ll see why everyone raves about Sand Hollow. Here you can see for miles. You’ll see mountains, red rocks, and simply some of the most stunning views you’ll see anywhere in the world. The next five holes play along a ridge where on every tee box you’ll stand there and be thankful you’re alive and decided to learn to play golf. I said at the time the views were the best I’ve ever seen on a golf course. I’ve never played Pebble Beach, so I can’t compare it to that. Pacific (and Bandon for that matter) are also spectacular, but those are ocean views. If I had to pick which is more beautiful, I’m not sure I could do it. Mountain or Ocean views? I suppose it’s a personal preference thing but any course that’s in the same conversation with Pacific Dunes should be a must-play for any golfer.
Pace of Play – A
The day I played this winter was a beautiful, 75-degree day and play moved along fabulously. I suppose in the heart of the season things might get backed up but when I was there things were perfect. Our threesome played our round in just under four hours and were never pushed or held back.
Amenities – B
The clubhouse at Sand Hollow is very nice if not basic. There are the usual shirts, hats, and the necessary supplies for a round of golf. It’s perfectly fine, but I’ve seen larger and more luxurious. As far as I could tell there are no locker room facilities. Aside from that the course has all the typical amenities; bathrooms on the course, cart service, etc. The off-course highlight is the superb 19th hole. Here you’ll sit and watch the 9th and 18th greens from a deck high above as the sun goes down (at least for our afternoon round). It’s the perfect end to a perfect day of golf.
Overall – A
Like I said earlier, if you are ever given the opportunity to play Sand Hollow, do not pause, just say yes without hesitation. It’s superb on every possible level. I cannot wait to go back.
A gallery with full-size images from the course can be found here.