This post is part of our Golf in the U.S.A. blog series. Golf in the U.S.A. rounds up the best public-access golf courses in music's biggest cities, so you can play some licks and swing the sticks on your next golf trip. Be sure to check out our previous installments: Austin, TX.
Golf in San Francisco, CA : The Golden Gate City
Only one U.S. city costs more than San Francisco, and it’s Manhattan. But you know what’s wrong with Manhattan? No golf courses! No such problem in San Francisco. True, you’re going to need to pay some Silicon Valley unicorn prices to join the Bay Area’s most esteemed private clubs, but there’s still quality and history available to more modest municipal golfers, as well as those in town for a trip.
One thing that San Francisco has always had in spades, aside from golf, is music. The city played a seminal role in establishing everything from psychedelic rock to thrash metal, and played an essential role in establishing West Coast jazz. We needed to leave out quite a few influential acts (it just seemed weird to associate the Dead Kennedys with anything golf).
There are still plenty of acts to include on your playlist as you roll into Fogtown for some golf, however, and plenty of publics ready to host you.
Best Public Golf Courses in San Francisco
TPC Harding Park
The PGA Championship was suspended until August, which allows you to taste a major-ready course in the meantime. Playing at 7,169 yards from the tips, TPC Harding Park might not be the beefiest venue the pros see, but its narrow fairways—lined by Monterey Cypress trees—will punish anyone who gets over-excited when airing out the driver. Nos. 7, 13, and 16 are exciting Par 4s, encouraging players to flirt with fairway bunkers to get the best approach angle. Although a “TPC” entry, prices are kept on the level thanks to a deal with the city. It may be an expensive muni at $150, but that’s about as good as it gets for major hosts. If you can’t get into Willie Watson’s acclaimed Olympic Course, right across Lake Merced, you can at least take a swing at his work here.
You know what else plays tight (riffs) and long (songs)? San Francisco’s thrash metal icons, Metallica. The ‘90s were rough for both TPC Harding Park and the Masters of Puppets, but both bounced back to near the top of their games in this past decade.
Half Moon Bay Golf Links (Ocean Course)
Many courses claim to be “Poor Man’s Pebble Beach,” and all have different definitions of “poor.” At around $150 for a tee time, you won’t exactly be bumming it at Half Moon Bay’s Ocean Course, and you’ll get your money’s worth in Pacific Ocean views. Arthur Hills has traditionally worked in the Midwest, and he didn’t fumble his opportunity when given this land along the bay. The final three holes are the showstoppers, elevated along the cliffs. No. 16 is a Par 4 that brings a barranca (a landform perhaps more popular in SoCal) into play ahead of the green. No. 17 is an 184-yard Par 3 that hugs the side of a cliff (no further explanation necessary). No. 18 closes it out with a Par 5 that doglegs left around the coast (sound like any other recent U.S. Open host you know?) to a well-bunkered green.
Many blues rockers came out of the Bay Area, but the raw energy of Half Moon Bay’s natural location calls for one guitarist in particular: Carlos Santana. He’s dabbled across Latin and jazz, but his playing remains constant and evocative. He’s got tones for every coastal mood: from the fog rolling in (“Black Magic Woman”) to howling winds (the solo from “She’s Not There”).
Presidio Golf Course
Presidio Golf Course’s history speaks for itself; the oldest course west of the Mississippi, designed for the Presidio military reservation (by a colonel). The club was eventually redesigned by Brits Herbert Fowler and Tom Simpson and attracted offers for the founding of a private club. It’s fortunately a public offering now, so we can all see exactly what they were excited for: The bunkering at Presidio is so distinct and sharp, we have suspicions that Kyle Phillips secretly renovated here while he was working nearby at the California Golf Club. No. 4 is a “Short” template Par 3 with a big green...and big hazards surrounding. No. 16’s centerline bunker offers risk and reward from the tee...but this is a buddy trip: Just try to carry the thing.
Gil Hanse will be the first to tell you about San Francisco music history, namely regarding his favorite band The Grateful Dead. This group led the huge collective of blues and psychedelic rockers—including Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and The Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service—during one of the most productive musical scenes in American history. Their historic status matches well with Presidio’s.
Sharp Park Golf Course
San Francisco’s private golf scene is littered with big names from the “Golden Age of Golf Course Architecture,” and those names aren’t readily available at public tracks. Pasatiempo is a bit long a drive for a truly San Francisco feature, but there’s a public Alister Mackenzie just south in Pacifica. Sharp Park may not be the grandest of Mackenzie’s layouts but it’s a rare opportunity to play a course by the same wizard who conjured up Augusta National. Although several holes play along the water, many highlights come during the four-hole stretch in the forested hills, such as No. 5, a scenic Par 3 lined with old growth. Enjoy it while you can...legal battles are ever-present.
And hey, if an Alister Mackenze course can cut loose and play at a muni rate, why can’t our San Francisco playlist? You can spend years discussing the intricacies of different live bootlegs with Deadheads, but the appeal of San Fran’s pop-rock alums like Huey Lewis and The News or Third Eye Blind is a simple Summer pleasure.
Gleneagles Golf Course at McLaren Park
This is that indie gem you tell your friends about with a knowing nod, a nine-hole wonder cited by many as the San Francisco golf melting pot. Gleneagles Golf Course was thrown together during the ‘60s by Jack Fleming, who had worked under Mackenzie in the construction of Cypress Point. That wasn’t enough to kickstart a legendary design career, but Fleming did bless San Francisco with this Outer Mission standby. And what would any melting pot be without a good 19th Hole? Gleneagles has, in its own words, “The Finest 19th Hole in All The Golf Kingdom.” Surely needs a few beers worth of investigation?
Gleneagles isn’t exactly a conventional approach...you might even suggest it’s a little funky. It’s not for the uptight, and you don’t need to be a big spender to enjoy. It’s nine for “Common People.” If it seems like we’re going hard on a Sly & The Family Stone reference, you’re absolutely correct. “Sing A Simple Song,” play a simple course, and keep on being different, Fury Golfers.
Played any of these clubs? Did we miss an obvious one? Either way, let us know your opinion in the comments below, and also let us know what music city you want to see featured next in Golf in the U.S.A.