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Imagine:

A round of golf with arguably the most spectacular bay views of any course in the area&

Eighteen challenging holes with a links style and feel&

Course conditioning as good as most private clubs&

A bonus excursion into the bay area's wartime past&

A remarkably down-home feel to the clubhouse and facilities&

Amazingly uncrowded conditions, just 35 miles from San Francisco, for as little as $25/round on weekdays.

That's the experience waiting for you at mare island golf course.

Try to play on a clear day. The panoramas of San Pablo Bay, Mt. Tamalpais, and both east and west horizons are stunning. Wind-players, rejoice, if the day presents "full conditions". You will feel you are truly out in the elements. Most holes, including the recently redesigned back nine, have a links feel. This elevated, seaside layout reflects the rolling natural contours of the land. Official yardage from the tips (6150) plays to more like 6500 yards when enhanced by upwind tee shots and approaches into a four-club gale. At some point you may have to hit a crisp, wind-cheating 5-iron from 125 yards out.

That is a shot we seldom play this side of Scotland.

As for conditioning, Mare Island isn't the field of neglect you may have played years ago. Eleven greens are new and interestingly contoured. Older greens are tiny and often pie-shaped, but they roll true (albeit slower). Fairways and green-side areas are well defined and consistently lush.

While several tree-lined opening and closing holes contrast with the more windswept regions, the character of this place remains steady. I am hard-pressed to identify any one hole as either wildly superlative or ill-conceived. But several shots remain particularly vivid. For example: the telescopic 193-yard tee shot into the downhill 3rd, with its imposing rock escarpment to the left and omnivorous shrubby abyss to the right. Another is the intimidating, severely downhill drive on the 14th to a perplexingly bunkered landing area. Or you may simply prefer the collective chorus of wind-hewn approaches on holes 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, and 14.

To visit Mare Island is also to step into a time machine. You'll be transported back into bay area military history. The naval shipyard built its first warship, the paddle-wheeled gunboat Saginaw, in 1859, and its last, the nuclear submarine USS Drum, in 1970. The island population burgeoned to 46,000 during its world war ii heyday. The panorama of abandoned dry docks, cranes, and industrial plants, all now silent, haunts the imagination throughout the round.

Concrete bunkers still dot the course. You will feel comfortably protected from wind as well as unfriendly fire at the converted bomb shelter/snack shop at the turn. The clubhouse is also a throw-back in charm, having been last "remodeled" in the early 60's. Walking in for the first time, you'll feel transported to some local, beloved municipal course in Smalltown, USA, where you might have learned the game. With continued celebrity and financial investment, this building may eventually be bulldozed, but somehow you wish it never will.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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