FORE CHEAP Return to golf’s roots as the sport for the everyman

THE MURMUR of the crowd. The blaze of the plaid. The “whoosh” of the graphite.

Yes, the U.S. Open is coming to town well, across the Bay. It’s enough to get you all a-twitter to strike out on your own.

Maybe, though, you’ve hesitated because you don’t feel you’re in the right income bracket to qualify. Perhaps you do have the income, but disdain the clubby air of privilege.

Take heart. The first golfer, as the historical guess theorizes, was a bored shepherd taking his crook to some errant pebbles. Early recorded history doesn’t bear out golf’s natural privilege either. Common citizens played golf, so much so that the Scottish Parliament, fearing it was distracting the citizen army from practicing archery, thrice issued a ban beginning in 1457.

It was a simple cobbler whom James II at the time, duke of York and Lord High Commissioner enlisted in a bet against two English nobleman. The duke and John Paterson gave the two a sound thrashing and proved once and for all that golf had a proud Scottish, not British, lineage.

Nowadays, standards for attire have relaxed. A plenitude of local public courses makes an 18-holer cheaper than a day at a pro football game. The biggest savings come when you bypass the logo-heavy accessories and matching outfits. After all, as commentator Gary McCord points out in his “Golfing for Dummies” book, “Real golfers and you want to look and behave like one don’t go for all that. Accessories are all very uncool.”

Basic advice: Minimize, borrow and get free stuff. Whether you’re a beginner who wants to keep down the initial investment or someone who is just plain, unabashedly cheap, you can follow our hints for the trappings and concentrate on what’s important: smacking the innards out of that frustrating dimpled ball.

The look

Fifty bucks, for a shirt so loud that a blind man could see you coming? All you need is a collared cotton shirt, khaki pants or shorts and an emergency rain jacket. Jim Apfelbaum’s “Golf on $30 a Day (Or Less)” (Villard Books, $12.95) recommends visiting outlet malls for outdoor manufacturer brands such as Eddie Bauer or Patagonia, whose apparel outlasts that of most golf clothing makers’. West Berkeley around Gilman Street has a mass of outlets, including North Face and Royal Robbins. If you want to spend the big bucks, invest it in techno-underwear and waterproof socks.

Discount golf stores are easy to find in the Yellow Pages. A thrift store trip to a place like Salvation Army, for instance, can net shirts in excellent condition by Docker’s Golf and Titleist for a mere $3.80. Be a poseur and snap up the Pebble Beach-logo polo for the same price. For women, a red Lizsport golf polo shirt costs $3.40. A wool or Gap sweater, both with the proper V-neck, can be a whopping $4.

Then there are tournament freebies, hand-me-downs and castoffs. If the outfit reasonably matches and has no stains, you’ll fit in. Save the money for the clubs.

The gear

When transplanted Scot John Reid amassed a bit of a fortune working his way up at J.L. Mott Iron Works, he decided to give into his pining for his native sport in the late 1800s. The Yonkers resident bought some clubs from the homeland, dragged his friends into a three-hole cow pasture and started swinging. Since they only had the one bag, they would simply hand one another the appropriate club at the appropriate time.

Now, if the father of American golf let people mooch off him, why should your friends and relatives be so special? Yes, ideally, you should be fitted, but we’re talking thriftiness right now. It’ll also give you time to try out different gear and assemble your kit one club at a time.

Some of the premiere golfers carved their own from wooden sticks. The familiar overlapping grip was once known as the Vardon grip, after six-time British Open champion Harry Vardon (1896-1914 reign). Ingenuity may have guided his hands, but on a practical level, he was avoiding the knots that would otherwise rub him raw with blisters.

As a boy, Sandy Herd, the 1902 British Open champion, roamed the hallowed grounds around St. Andrews and cut stumps for club heads. Then he and his pals swatted balls made from champagne corks with nails.

Turn-of-the-century primitivism, you scoff? Ah, that scrappy spirit can still prosper today (with all the money it saves) with Apfelbaum’s hints on how to crochet your own practice balls. Imagine the savings when you figure out how to knit your own golf sweater. Slap together a practice club from a metal pipe, screw cap, powdered lead, aluminum foil and a size .600 golf grip or recycle old seven irons by wrapping successively lead tape, masking tape and sealing tape over the face for golf-oriented weight-lifting.

If your friends maintain a stranglehold on their clubs, pick up your own at thrift stores, garage sales or shops such as Play It Again Sports (1601 Contra Costa Blvd., Pleasant Hill, 925-825-3396; 5548 Springdale Ave., Pleasanton, 925-734-6750). Many retail and repair stores sell used. Also, ask about trade-in policies when you feel tempted to get some brand spanking new.

The place

Remember John Reid and his friends in the humble cow pasture? When their membership grew, they did upgrade to a six-hole apple orchard, thereby earning the sobriquet “Apple Tree Gang.” If pastures and orchards were good enough for the fathers of American golf, then the following courses should more than satisfactory.

You can get discount coupons two buckets for the price of one, for example from publications such as the Entertainment Publications Inc. (800-374-4464, September issue) and Douglas Bradshaw’s “The Golf Guide & Coupon Book” (Northend Press, $19.95). The latter’s back cover unfolds into a comprehensive Northern California course map.

Courtesy of Bradshaw and other sources, the courses listed here have greens fees $25 and under for 18 holes after discounts, not including cart or club rentals. Unless otherwise specified, all courses have 18 holes. Yards include the range for men and women, while ratings, par and slope noted are standard from the men’s white tee.

Solano County

Paradise Valley Golf Course, 3950 Paradise Valley Drive, Fairfield; 707-426-1600

  • Fees: $10-$52* (*includes weekend cart rental). Discounts: Twilight. Rentals: Cart, $14 per person; clubs, $15.
  • Yards: 6,993-5,413 Rating: 73 Par: 72 Slope: 133

Rancho Solano Golf Course, 3250 Rancho Solano Parkway, Fairfield; 707-429-4653

  • Fees: $12-$52* (*includes weekend cart rental). Discounts: Twilight. Rentals: Cart, $14; clubs, $20.
  • Yards: 6,705-5,206 Rating: 69.9 Par: 72 Slope: 122

9 Blue Rock Springs Golf Course, Columbus Parkway, Vallejo; 707-643-8476

  • Fees: $13-$26. Discounts: Twilight. Rentals: Cart, $22; clubs, $10-$20.
  • East Yards: 6,064-4,851 Rating: 67.5 Par: 70 Slope: 118
  • West 5,923-5,071 Rating: 67.1 Par: 71 Slope: 116

Joe Mortara Vallejo Municipal Golf Course, 900 Fairgrounds Drive, Vallejo; 707-642-5146

  • Nine-hole course. Fees: $4-$8. Discounts: Weekdays.
  • Yards: 1,590 Par: 28

Mare Island Golf Club, 1800 Club Drive, Vallejo, 707-644-3888

  • Nine-hole course, regulation 18. Fees: $9-$18. Discounts: Twilight. Rentals: Cart, $10-$18; clubs, $5.
  • Yards: 3,130-2680 (double for 18-holes) Rating: 71 Par: 71 Slope: 118
Contra Costa County

Franklin Canyon Golf Course, Highway 4, Rodeo, 925-799-6191

  • Fees: $22-$35. Discounts: Twilight. Rentals: Cart, $6-$12 per rider (included in weekend fees); clubs, $12-$25.
  • Yards: 6,776-5,516 Rating: 71.8 Par: 72 Slope: 127
Central Contra Costa County

Pine Meadow Public Golf Course, 451 Vine Hill Way, Martinez, 925-228-2881

  • Nine-hole course. Fees: $8-$11. Discounts: Monday-Thursday. Rentals: Cart, $9; clubs, $4.
  • Yards: 1,563 Rating: 57.6 Par: 28 Slope: 86

Diablo Creek Golf Course, 4050 Port Chicago Highway, Concord, 925-686-6262

  • Fees: $13-$23. Discounts: Twilight. Rentals: Cart, $22; clubs, $16.
  • Yards: 6,848-5,875 Rating: 70 Par: 71 Slope: 118

Buchanan Field Golf Course, 1091 Concord Ave., Concord, 925-682-1846

  • Nine-hole course. Fees: $10-$11.50, $15.50-$18. Discounts: Weekdays. Rentals: Cart, $9-$18; pull cart, $3; clubs: $6.
  • Yards: 1,932-1,545 Rating: 58.3 Par: 31 Slope: 81

Diablo Hills Golf Course, 1551 Marchbanks Drive, Walnut Creek, 925-939-7372

  • Nine-hole course, regulation 18. Fees: $10-$15, $18-$27. Discounts: Weekdays. Rentals: Cart, $12-$24; clubs, $10.
  • Yards: 2,302-2,173 Rating: 61.8 Par: 34 Slope: 105

11 Boundary Oak Golf Course, 3800 Valley Vista Road, Walnut Creek, 925-934-6211

  • Fees: $12-$25. Discounts: Twilight. Rentals: Cart, $12-$23; clubs, $18.
  • Yards: 7,032-5,699 Rating: 70.7 Par: 72 Slope: 121
Contra Costa County

12 Pittsburg’s Delta View Golf Course, 2242 Golf Club Road, Pittsburg, 925-439-4040

  • Fees: $10-$24. Discounts: Twilight. Rentals: Cart, $20; clubs, $10.
  • Yards: 6,455-5,396 Rating: 69.2 Par: 71 Slope: 124

13 Lone Tree Golf Course, 4800 Golf Course Road, Antioch, 925-706-4220

  • Fees: $18-$22. Discounts: Monday-Thursday. Rentals: Cart, $20; clubs, $10.
  • Yards: 6,481-5,786 Rating: 68.9 Par: 73 Slope: 119 Shoes: Soft spike or spikeless only

14 Bethel Island Golf Course, 3303 Gateway Road, Bethel Island, 925-684-2654

  • Fees: $8-$22. Discounts: Twilight. Rentals: Cart, $14-$22; clubs, $15.
  • Yards: 6,592-5,814 Rating: 69.7 Par: 72 Slope: 115
Alameda County

15 Tilden Park Golf Course, Grizzly Peak and Shasta Road, Berkeley, 510-848-7373

  • Fees: $14-$38. Discounts: Twilight. Rentals: Cart, $15 per rider; clubs, $12-$30.
  • Yards: 6,295-5,399 Rating: 67.8 Par: 70 Slope: 116

16 Chuck Corica Golf Complex, 1 Clubhouse Memorial Drive, Alameda, 510-522-4321

  • Fees: $16-$25. Discounts: Twilight. Rentals: Cart, $22; clubs, $15.
  • Jack Clark Course Yards: 6,559-5,473 Rating: 68.5 Par: 71 Slope: 114
  • Earl Fry Course Yards: 6,141-5,560 Rating: 67.2 Par: 71 Slope: 116

17 Montclair Golf Course, 2477 Monterey Blvd., Oakland, 510-482-0422

  • Nine-hole course. Fees: $3-$4. Discounts: Weekdays.
  • Yards: 600 Par: 2718

Lake Chabot Golf Course, end of Golf Links Road, Oakland, 510-351-5812

  • Fees: $9-$23. Discounts: Weekdays. Rentals: Cart, $9-$22; clubs, $10.
  • Yards: 6,100-5,268 Rating: 67.3 Par: 72 Slope: 113

19 San Leandro Golf Complex, 13800 Neptune Drive, San Leandro, 510-895-2162

  • Tony Lema Course: Fees: $13-$25. Discounts: Twilight. Rentals: Cart, $12-$14; clubs, $7.50-$15.
  • Yards: 6,636-5,718 Rating: 69.7 Par: 72 Slope: 113
  • Marina Course: Nine-hole course. Fees: $10-$13 Rentals: Cart, $3.50 per rider; clubs, $7.50-$15
  • Yards: 1,630-1,598 Rating: 56.5 Par: 29 Slope: 105

20 Willow Park Golf Course, 17007 Redwood Road, Castro Valley, 510-537-8989

  • Fees: $19-$26 Rentals: Cart, $20
  • Yards: 6,227-5,193 Rating: 67.4 Par: 71 Slope: 110 Shoes: Spikeless or soft spike only

21 Skywest Golf Course, 1401 Golf Course Road, Hayward, 510-278-6188

  • Fees: $11-$30. Discounts: Twilight. Rentals: Cart, $23; clubs, $12.
  • Yards: 6,930-6,171 Rating: 70.9 Par: 72 Slope: 117

22 San Ramon Royal Vista Golf Course, 9430 Fircrest Lane, San Ramon, 925-828-6100

  • Fees: $9-$36. Discounts: Twilight. Rentals: Cart, $24; clubs, $15.
  • Yards: 6,419-5,409 Rating: 70.5 Par: 72 Slope: 115 Shoes: Spikeless only

23 Pleasanton Fairways Golf Course, 4501 Pleasanton Ave., Pleasanton, 925-462-4653

  • Nine-hole course. Fees: $9-$14. Discounts: Twilight. Rentals: Clubs, $10.
  • Yards: 1,714-1,586 Rating: 58 Par: 30 Slope: 84

24 Sunol Valley Golf Course, 6900 Mission Road, Sunol, 925-862-2404

  • Fees: $17-$55* (*includes weekend cart rental). Discounts: Monday-Thursday mornings, twilight. Rentals: Cart, $18-$24 (*included in weekend fees); clubs, $19.95.
  • Palm Yards: 6,843-5,997 Rating: 70.4 Par: 72 Slope: 120
  • Cypress Yards: 6,195-5,458 Rating: 68.1 Par: 72 Slope: 117

25 Las Positas Golf Course, Clubhouse Drive, Livermore, 925-443-3122

  • Fees: $8-$32. Discounts: Twilight. Rentals: Cart, $11 per rider; clubs, $10-$15.
  • Yards: 6,725-5,270 Rating: 70.5 Par: 72 Slope: 122

26 Springtown Golf Course, 939 Larkspur Road, Livermore, 925-455-5695

  • Nine-hole course, regulation 18. Fees: $10-$24. Discounts: Membership. Rentals: Cart, $11-$22; clubs, $10.
  • Yards: 2,962-2,769 Rating: 67.1 Par: 35 Slope: 114

This article originally appeared in the Contra Costa Times Sunday Features