TPC Stonebrae thrives in Bay Area’s East Bay Hills
The Stonebrae Classic is growing up, right alongside its host course TPC Stonebrae and the Stonebrae Country Club community.
Centrally located along the ridge of the East Bay Hills – approximately 20 miles from Oakland and San Mateo, and 30 miles from San Francisco and San Jose – the diverse Stonebrae community offers a wide range of activities for all ages.
“In addition to the club amenities, you’re adjacent to the East Bay Area park district and the Bay Area trails, so you can hike literally for tens of miles in any direction,” said TPC Stonebrae managing director Mike Letchinger. “Plenty of open space, playgrounds, all-weather soccer fields … there is a rich range of active and passive recreational facilities.”
A private residential gated community, Stonebrae even offers its own Stonebrae Elementary School for grades K-5. The Bay Area might be known for its abundance of multi-generational clubs, but Stonebrae is a relatively new community – the process of building and selling homes began in 2005, and the David McLay Kidd-designed golf course opened in 2007.
Immediately, the TPC Stonebrae club and community started to attract a young and diverse population. The average member age is 41, said club general manager Eric Jacobsen, and the average golf handicap is 12.
This fosters a friendly, competitive vibe across the club, which manifests itself in the Stonebrae Cup, a 14-event, season-long competition which allows members to battle for the right to represent TPC Stonebrae in a three-day TPC interclub challenge (to be held this year at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia).
The course itself can be demanding at first glance – “The only place you’re going to be guaranteed a flat lie is basically off the tee,” said former club general manager and tournament director Jody Brothers. But once you play the course a few times, Brothers said, you begin to get a feel for it — learning which types of shots to play at the appropriate times.
“I think David McLay Kidd used the topography perfectly,” added Jacobsen. “A lot of movement, some elevation changes from high to low. There are some sloping fairways, there’s some great bunkering. It fits the eye very, very well.”
Not to be lost is the scenery. Elevated more than 1,500 feet above sea level in the Hayward hills, TPC Stonebrae offers a “multi-bridge view.”
“If you think of the four bridges that connect the East Bay with San Francisco – starting south down by San Jose, and working your way north up to Marin – there are days when you can stand on the golf course and see all four bridges,” Brothers said. “It’s a beautiful panoramic view of the entire Bay Area.”
It’s an optimal setting for a professional golf tournament, with the course to match.
The Web.com Tour’s first Stonebrae Classic was held in 2009, with Australian Michael Sim emerging victorious. 2014 champion Tony Finau, who earned $108,000 of the $600,000 prize fund, used the win as a springboard to the PGA TOUR — on which he earned four top-15 finishes in the first five events of the 2014-15 wraparound season.
The Web.com Tour and the Stonebrae Classic have proven to be a good fit. The Web.com Tour serves as the premier path to the PGA TOUR; the top 25 money winners each Regular Season earn PGA TOUR status, with another 25 TOUR cards earned via the four-event Web.com Tour Finals.
Effective in 2013, the traditional fall qualifying tournament known as Q-School no longer provides direct access to the PGA TOUR. The top finishers at Q-School earn Web.com Tour status for the following season. To earn their way to the big leagues, they must prove their merit at events such as the Stonebrae Classic.
“The interesting thing with how the TOUR is structured now, the Web.com Tour provides a dynamic mix of young professionals that you might have heard from – Patrick Rodgers from Stanford; Brandon Hagy from Cal – and then you get the Carlos Francos of the world that are journeymen,” said Jacobsen.
With the high level of golf on display at the Stonebrae Classic, the fan experience is second-to-none. Professionals take time after their rounds to sign autographs for young fans and interact with spectators, and a number of prime viewing locations allow fans to relax with a snack or beverage, watching the groups as they play through.
“The Stonebrae Classic provides a family-friendly, up-close fan experience with exceptional access to our players,” Gregovich said. “For them, it’s another opportunity to play golf at the highest level and fulfill the dream of earning a PGA TOUR card. We are the lucky ones who get front-row seats to the action, with the Bay Area views as a backdrop. It’s fun, accessible and feels like golf’s version of spring training.”
The spectator experience is enhanced even more so by the elevation, Jacobsen added.
“You have some great view corridors where you can see four or five holes at a time,” Jacobsen said. “It’s unlike any other venue; in essence, you can perch yourself above everything and look down on the playing field.”
The Web.com Tour’s Stonebrae Classic was held from 2009-12, but took 2013 off, as construction of a new 31,000 square-foot clubhouse was completed. The event’s return for 2014 marked the emergence of the three-hole junior shootout on Youth Day, which was a rousing success. Under the guidance of tournament director Trish Gregovich, the Stonebrae Classic will continue to strengthen its connection with youth golf organizations moving forward – plans are in place to expand the shootout to nine holes, with more teams, for 2015.
Other new and exciting initiatives for 2015 include the Youth on Course paid internship program at TPC Stonebrae. Part of the Northern California Golf Association Foundation, Youth on Course consists of several opportunities for juniors to build life skills and values through golf – its 9,400 members can play approximately 120 courses in the region for $5 or less.
This summer, a selection of Youth on Course interns will have the chance to work at TPC Stonebrae in the weeks leading up to and during the Stonebrae Classic, participating firsthand in the event’s preparation and presentation.
“The opportunity at TPC Stonebrae is going to be very unique,” said Youth on Course program director Michael Lowe. “It will give them the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of how a professional golf tournament operates.”
Less than a decade into its life, the Stonebrae community is on the rise – there are currently about 350 full-time residences, and the number should grow to approximately 650 when the development is fully built out.
As part of the PGA TOUR’s Tournament Players Club (TPC) network, members and tournament spectators know they can expect the highest level of service and course conditions while at TPC Stonebrae.
“It’s a unique relationship where the PGA TOUR has licensed the facility, put the TPC brand on the facility, operates the tournament and will be doing so for the sixth time this year,” Brothers said. “It’s a really neat partnership with the Stonebrae community. You’ve got these wonderful homes being built, a brand-new clubhouse, and this long-standing tournament that helps bring exposure to the community.”
Jacobsen believes that kids are the lifeblood of golf’s future – and the future of golf clubs. If that’s the case, TPC Stonebrae and the Web.com Tour’s Stonebrae Classic are doing their best to ensure the game’s viability moving forward.