By Paul Knowles
San Jose’s Cinnabar Hills may be the golf fan’s version of Hotel California: you can show up any time you like, but you can never leave. At least, there’s no way you will be out of there quickly.
It’s not that the course takes a long time to play – Cinnabar Hills Golf Club is 27-hole facility, offering three Par 72 options – 18-hole combinations of the Mountain, Canyon and Lake courses that measure between 6617 and 6854 yards from the tips, so the usual four hour schedule for a round should work here.
Because Cinnabar Hills is home to one of the finest collections of golf memorabilia outside the World Golf Hall of Fame. From Bobby Jones’ original letters, promoting the creation of The Masters, to memorabilia from golfers ranging from Arnold Palmer to Sam Snead and Byron Nelson, from Seve Ballesteros to Tiger Woods; to captain’s jackets from the earliest Ryder Cups; to replica copies of the great trophies of the game – it’s all here.
And it’s here because of one man – Lee Brandenburg, described on Cinnabar’s website as “an avid golf collector” – which is a little like describing Jordan Spieth as “a nice young golfer” – certainly true, but not nearly all the story.
Brandenburg is a very dedicated – perhaps a bit obsessive – collector, and it’s clear he has seldom taken “no” for an answer when it came to a piece he coveted for his museum – officially the Brandenburg Historical Golf Museum. He’s asked, he’s cajoled, and he’s spent a lot of cash.
You are surrounded by the collection the moment you walk into the Cinnabar Hills club house. In fact, the museum occupies most of the club house – it may have started in the spacious central room, but the cabinets filled with collectables now extend through the foyer to the front door; into the hallway leading to a great view of the first hole; and into the dining area, where two walls have been seconded to the collection.
It’s a challenge to choose only a few highlights of the collection, because there are so many unique and wonderful items on display in the dozens of cases.
You’ll want to see the six replica trophies – The Open (British Open) Claret Jug, just claimed by Spieth; the Masters trophy (won this year in an emotional victory by Sergio Garcia); the hotly-contested Ryder Cup; the Wanamaker Trophy, awarded to the winner of the PGA championship (won by Jimmy Walker in 2016); a newly-acquired U.S. Amateur Championship trophy; and the U.S. Open Trophy (won in 2017 by Brooks Koepka).
I leave the U.S. Open trophy to the last because therein lies a tale. After Lee Brandenburg commissioned the full-sized replica trophy from a silversmith, he received a letter from the USGA, demanding that he surrender it, because it was not created by their officially-designated trophy-maker. He did nothing of the sort – in fact, the display case contains the replica trophy, the letter from the USGA, and Brandenburg’s written reply, telling them that if they wanted the trophy, they could have to come and get it.
Which may tell you everything you need to know about Lee Brandenburg and his passion and determination when it comes to collecting golf memorabilia.
Some of the items in the museum have been donated, many have been purchased by Brandenburg.
Other highlights that caught my eye as I toured the collection with Cinnabar’s Director of Marketing, Cecilia Ashley: President Dwight Eisenhower’s Master’s Jacket; Arnold Palmer’s putter; the first American Ryder Cup captain’s jacket, worn by Walter Hagen in 1927, 1929, 1931, and 1933 (a period when the US had a 2-2 record against Great Britain). There’s a terrific collection of golf balls, clubs and accouterments through the history of the game.
The collection is not all US-focused. Along with the trophies from The Open and the Ryder Cup, there is memorabilia from golf and golfers around the world, including a scarlet member’s jacket from Royal Blackheath, one of the oldest golf clubs in the world; a Ryder Cup captain’s jacket from the British side; and items from South Africa’s Gary Player.
A video is constantly playing in one corner of the largest room – an interview with Brandenburg, which gives a lot of insight into his love for the game. He talks of how, as a second lieutenant in uniform, he snuck onto the closed-and-guarded grounds at Augusta to see President Eisenhower play the first hole – and ended up in conversation with the President. He points to a photo of himself playing the Bob Hope pro-am with Arnold Palmer.
Another surprise: admission to the museum is free. Just show up, and soak in the traditions and the history of the great game of golf.
If you do want to play 18 (or 27), Cinnabar Hills is an excellent course, designed by John Harbottle III, and opened in 1998 (the first public course to open in 30 years).
The course was laid out with respect and care for the natural lay of the land, for the hundreds of old oaks on the property, and for the wildlife that shares the environment with the golfers.
The scenery is spectacular, with mountains providing the backdrop to the course layout.
The history of the area gives the club its name – cinnabar ore was mined here in the 1800s. And the logo – a stylized bird of prey – comes from the red-tailed hawks that live on, and soar over, the course.
Green fees are reasonable – weekdays, $84US for 18 and a cart, about $20 more on Fridays and weekends.
And a final note of great importance – it seems that people who love golf often also enjoy a beverage or two at the end of a round. San Jose has a thriving craft beer culture, so if you’re looking for a local brew, here are a couple of suggestions: the Santa Clara Valley Brewing Company, and the new, Uproar Brewing Company. Both rate highly as 19th holes. At Uproar, ask owner Steve Vandewater about his love for beer – and then, hold onto your hat.
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