San Francisco golf can’t touch the scenery all around what might be the world’s most glorious city. But fantastic Women-Welcome golf is just a short ride away.
For years I lived near the most beloved destination in the United States – the romantic, cultured, beautiful city of San Francisco. But I wouldn’t send you there to play golf.
Of course, the LPGA, the PGA Tour and Champions Tour have played there – at TPC Harding Park, an old but recently renovated gem that offers municipal golf just across the street from the famed Olympic Club, a favored site of U.S. Opens, and down the road from Lake Merced, a private club that has hosted LPGA and USGA events.
But at almost 5,400 yards from the forward tees and a tourist rate of $150 weekdays, Harding is not where I’d send gal pals from out of town.
Do book a room in the city for this golf getaway, however. Bring your sweetie, and maybe even the kids. Check into the newish, eco-minded Hotel Vitale, just across from the lively Ferry Building on the city’s downtown waterfront, a few blocks from the ballpark that showed so beautifully during three recent World Series. Or save money and opt for one of the chain hotels in the cheesier Fisherman’s Wharf district.
Indulge in the culinary delights of this West Coast foodie haven – the famed Slanted Door inside the Ferry Building for contemporary Vietnamese, or the Hog Island Oyster Bar for local seafood. Take the ferry over to Oakland’s Jack London Square or up to charming Sausalito. Savor the latest exhibition at the recently renovated San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, sip a cocktail atop the Mark Hopkins on Nob Hill, window shop at Union Square. Ride a cable car or two.
Then I’ll come and pick you up, load your clubs in my trunk, and take you away from The City for some unforgettable golf.
ON THE ROAD TO 18
We might head 25 miles south to Half Moon Bay if the weather’s not too bad along the coast. Here, two diverse golf courses make up the Half Moon Bay Golf Links surrounding the Ritz Carlton perched on the cliffs. Women love the Ocean Course for its forward tees of less than 4,800 yards and its views for miles and miles. The last three holes hug the cliffs heading north to the resort and provide a memorable conclusion to a day that may be sunny and breezy, or foggy and eerie, or sometimes even benign. If you forgot your layers, the shop will speak to you kindly – can you say “buy this”?
We might head 25 miles east to Vallejo for some guaranteed sunshine and warmth. In fact, it might be sweat-inducingly hot, something that almost never happens in San Francisco. Here we’ll play Hiddenbrooke, which like Half Moon Bay’s Ocean Course provided a worthy challenge to the LPGA Tour’s very best during a two-year run as host of the Tour Championship. The course meanders through a valley of residences interspersed with ponds, ravines and challenging golf holes that finish on fast, mysterious greens. With front tees at 4,647 yards and a second set at 5,199, Hiddenbrooke speaks to us.
Our third outing will take all day, because we’re heading 50 miles out of town and stopping for some wine tasting in the Livermore Valley on the way to Wente Vineyards. The estate has a tasting room, a destination restaurant and an underrated Greg Norman-designed golf course that has no houses on it and etches its holes into the player’s memory after only a single round. Front tees: 4,866 yards. Try them even if your game usually warrants a step back; the second set are more than 5,600 yards long, with some tricky carries. Be sure to taste the Wente wines when you’re done.
FOR SOME LOCAL SAN FRANCISCO GOLF FLAVOR
My three picks all have memorable holes, green fees to be found for less than
$100 (and at Hiddenbrooke, closer to half of that), woman-welcoming tee options, beautiful facilities and, especially, the kind of tender loving care that generally eludes San Francisco’s golf courses.
Where to golf: Half Moon Bay Golf Links, Hiddenbrooke, The Course at Wente Vineyards, Presidio
Flights: Easy access to San Francisco and Oakland airports.
Planning help: OnlyInSanFrancisco.com, VisitCalifornia.com
At famous Lincoln Park, a short, tight 18 circling the Palace of the Legion of Honor and tiptoeing along the coast, we will park along El Camino Del Mar and walk across the par-3 17th hole to enjoy the view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The course itself, beloved as it is among the locals, needs tee to green restoration, as does another city course, Sharp Park, bearing the signature of Augusta National designer Alister MacKenzie.
But of course we must play at least one round of golf in earshot of the foghorns as the late afternoon turns chilly and damp. And that would be at San Francisco’s Presidio, a marvelous test of accuracy with its cypress-and-pine-lined fairways, up and down lies, and tiny greens. The first nine holes opened at this former Army post in 1895, and nine more in 1910. Playing privileges were reserved for military personnel and their guests until 1994.
The 19th hole convenes in a Spanish style clubhouse with a wonderful restaurant and upscale golf shop. The course does offer significant rate breaks to locals, but discounts frequently are to be snagged even by visitors on the website. It is invariably in exquisite shape (even with stringent limits on pesticide and chemical use), and unlike our three destination courses, it is laid out for walkers, with many of the holes starting or ending near the quaint turn shack.
On many days, a bowl of chili or soup will find favor at the turn. But the visitor who wants to experience San Francisco golf will enjoy inhaling the scent of the trees, feeling the cool August air and eyeballing city views in what is now national parkland.
This is an update of an article that first appeared in the May 2011 edition of GottaGoGolf Magazine.