It’s early morning at the Las Ramblas golf club. The early birds, the ones with the early tee times, are beginning to arrive. At first, the arriving cars trickle in but their pace increases as the clock nears 8 am. At this time of day, right before the sun rises over the hills, the light has a silver glow. It mutes the colors like a color photo on matte paper.
Early Morning Las Ramblas
There is a chill in the air. It’s November and the early morning temperatures can dip into single digits. You can tell the vacationers from the people who live here in Alicante. The vacationers are in shorts, short sleeve shirts and no jackets. They are on holiday from the Northern climes and a slight chill won’t stop them from getting their holiday sunburns. The locals are wearing jackets, hats and long pants. They know its better to take clothes off when it warms than not having anything to wear when the sea breezes come cold.
Standing on the first tee you see strands of sunlight begin to light the fairway. Walking to your tee shot, the Spanish sun makes its climb over the barrancas and ramblas of this part of Costa Blanca beginning its job of providing warmth and light to the people underneath it.
Today’s special treat is the way the rising ground fog turns the sunlight into streaks of silvery rays. Adding to the mystical ambiance the trees give off an additional vapor from the warming bark. The illusion is that the tree bark is smoking from an internal fire in the trees themselves.
November also brings humidity to the coast and a heavy dew covers the golf course. The greens at Las Ramblas this day are dew covered but in sterling condition. Unless you’re the first group, an advantage to early morning golf are the trails in the dew left by previous putts. They will give you an excellent read of the break in the green. Remember, your stroke must be firm as dew slows the ball down. There will also be less break than the dry greens later in the day.
Early morning golf gives a sense of serenity at Las Ramblas. There’s a special light and long shadows from the rising sun. It is also so quiet. A silence only disturbed by the birds waking in the trees and the hum of distant grass cutters. You move through the golf course in a different frame of mind. At this time of day you get the feeling that Los Ramblas is your own private golf course. Only seeing the groups on the holes you’ve already played lets you know you’re not alone. The loss of privacy is replaced with knowing that your round is coming to an end. Perhaps there will be a twinge of regret soon replaced with the realization that it is still morning and you have most of the day to enjoy the other delights that Costa Blanca has to offer.
While you can play early morning golf anywhere, playing at Las Ramblas is an indulgence every golfer deserves.
Valleromanes Is One Sweet Barcelona Treat
One of the vibrant cities in Europe is Barcelona. While the city offers many reasons to visit, one reason to enjoy the Barcelona area is a day playing Club de Golf Valleromanes.
Vallromanes is a municipality of the region of Vallés Oriental located 25 km north of the municipality of Barcelona , in Catalonia. It contains several upscale neighborhoods located around the Golf Club of Vallromanes and nearby areas.Vallromanes (the town), with green areas, shady oaks and lovely houses, is a peaceful spot. The area is so quiet and tranquil that it attracts campers and visitors to a growing spa industry. A square is the center of the village offering what retail there is, a couple of small grocery shops and restaurants. The dominant feature is the parish church dedicated to St. Vincent.
We stayed at one of the spas, the Hotel Can Galvany. The hotel name comes from the old Can Galvany Country House. The modern addition houses the hotel and restaurant. In there you find stately suites, bedrooms, restauarant and lounge and the communal services. The original rustic Country House now contains an intimate Spa & Wellness Center.
Club De Golf Vallromanes is about five minutes away from the hotel. A large sign announces your arrival as you drive up the driveway that separates the golf course. From the driveway you see an impressive stone manor overlooking the golf course. But it will not prepare you for the site that greets you after rounding the corner to the reception desk. An old tower, the remains of the original castle, introduces you to Tavernera. The ancestral castle, is first mentioned in 1108. The first owners were the Montornès. From the 17th Century, the Counts of Darnius occupied the house named Tavenera. The tower was rebuilt in 1718 as the center of the manor. Ceramic pictures of the Counts of Darnius decorate the face of this remarkable fortified farmhouse. Inside this proud edifice contains everything a modern golf club should offer.
Club De Golf Vallromanes is, for most local players, one of the best golf clubs in the area. After originating for members only, the club, while still private, now welcomes visitors. This 18-hole par 72 hosted, among other tournaments, the Spanish Open in 1985. That tournament was won by the Spanish golf titan, Seve Ballesteros.
Designed by the prestigious British architect, Mr. F.W Hawtree, Valleromanes opened in 1972. The course is a wonderful example of a Hawtree parkland design. At around 6200 meters, the course is perfect for all kinds of players, ages and handicaps. It can be from comfortable to demanding depending on the flag positions. Wide fairways and demanding greens force players to use their imagination and skill. Still, to paraphrase an old adage, it never will spoil your walk.
I have some favorite holes that I’d like to mention. The two finishing holes on each nine are savory. The ninth hole is a downhill par 5 is that has OB on the right and a grove of trees that are no fun on the left. Your approach shot will present a green guarded by two forward bunkers, left and right. The hole demands a strategy depending on your ability. Do you go for a low score or not? Is the risk worth the reward? The green is welcoming but tiered. It will accept a fairway shot, but being above or below the flag can turn an eagle or birdie into bigger numbers. There is a lake on the right, but only THE most wayward of shots will find it. A fun hole as well as scenic.
The 18th hole is a wonderful par 4 to finish your round. Big hitters will play a fairway wood to not drive the ball through the fairway on the right. Trees and, closer to the green, water protect the left side. The fairway slopes left to right. Pulled left tee shots into the open woods could end up in the fairway…maybe. The green, as we said has water on the left front and large bunkers to the rear. Approach shots call for some strategy, but once on the surface, this green rewards good putts to score well.
Another favorite is the 15th. Here you can grip it and rip it. From an elevated tee the fairway takes a massive dive deep and to the left. Yes, there is OB on the left and a deep forest on the right. Yes, there are a couple of stray trees that stick out to guard the left side at the dogleg. And, yes, the small, remodeled green is well protected with bunkering. It’s can be tough to score on, but seeing your tee shot clear the hill and ramble on to the bottom of the fairway is a thrill for golfers of all shapes. Want the feeling of being John Daly? This is the hole. Remember: No guts-no glory!
Remember, Club De Golf Vallromanes is a private club offering first class facilities. Proper dress and decorum need to be observed. The staff is professional and courteous. you won’t get the feeling you’re an “outsider.” The lounge is a great place to start and finish your round. Enjoy its delicious “menu de dia” along with a refreshing drink. In season, you can relax on the summer garden terrace.
Barcelona has many private and resort courses to choose from. Club De Golf Vallromanes is a private club with class, grace and a classic golf course design. After spending a weekend there, you’re so relaxed, you’ll feel like one of the members.
Club De Golf Vallromanes is another reason to visit Barcelona.
Champagne Golf At Beer Prices
New Jersey is one of the smallest states in the USA. It is also one of the country’s wealthiest and most populous. First claimed by the Dutch and then commandeered by the English, New Jersey, or The Garden State, lives up to its “Liberty and Prosperity” motto these days.
Golf has held a long time relationship with the state. The Essex County Country Club was inaugurated way back in 1887 but it took almost thirty years before a golf course was built for the members’ enjoyment. Golf in the Garden State dates back to the late 19th century and the New Jersey State Golf Association was founded in 1900 only nine years after Ireland formed the world’s oldest golf union.
Golden Age of golf design is found across the state. Courses fashioned by the likes of Donald Ross, Seth Raynor and the prolific “Tilly”, A.W. Tillinghast. But the jewel in New Jersey’s crown is the course that rates not only as the state’s number one, but also one of the best in the world. Let’s hear it for Pine Valley Golf Club.
I caddied at the Spring Lake Country Club, a course founded in 1892 in Monmouth County on New Jersey’s Atlantic shore. The Jersey Shore has been a summer vacation residence for almost 150 years. The beaches of the Shore attracted sunbathers, swimmers and fishermen from the areas around New York City, upstate NJ and Philadelphia. Monmouth County is home to many excellent private golf course for member play only. Monmouth County developed the finest golf portfolio for a county governmental entity in all of New Jersey.
I had the opportunity to play two of the best recently. Here’s my thoughts on the first.
The story of how Hominy Hill came into existence is a fascinating one.
Henry Mercer was a shipping magnate who founded the States Marine Corporation. His early life working for railroads made him and his company develop the shipping containers that we are all so familiar with.
Mercer enjoyed mixing golf and business. Mercer’s home summer club, Rumson Country Club, is located near to the Atlantic Ocean. Rumson had and still has a long established reputation for being rather close-minded when people of dissimilar backgrounds came there. Mercer, in his business, came in touch with Japanese and Greeks who like him were active in the shipping area.
Mercer would entertain his guests frequently at Rumson for golf and entertainment. The leadership of the Club made it a point to tell Mercer such invitations would need to be curtailed. Sensing an ultimatum was brewing, Mercer took a preemptive approach. His response was rather straightforward. He would entertain who he wished, when he wished and where he wished. If that meant leaving Rumson, so be it.
His love of golf was deeply embedded. Mercer was also a member of the Augusta National Golf Club. He owned land located in the nearby community of Colts Neck in which he raised prized Guernseys and Charolais cattle. Mercer engaged the services of architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr. who had offices not far from the site in Montclair, NJ.
Jones was at the height of his design career and he created for Mercer an 18-hole layout far beyond what Rumson offered. The course became the ultra-private haven for Mercer, his family and guests. For a number of years the closest the public had ever come to the property was seeing it from adjoining roads. It would not be a stretch of truth to say that more non-members played Pine Valley then played Hominy Hill during its private club status time frame.
Near the end of Mercer’s life a decision was made to sell Hominy Hill to the Monmouth County Parks Department with the caveat that the property would forever to be used as a golf facility open to the general public.
The Hominy Hill course encompasses the motif of a Jones design. Long tees with even larger bunkers with sprawling greens with a number of internal contours. The land is only slightly better than dead flat so mounding was created to give the course some added definition.
One of the dividends in Hominy Hill becoming public was the top tier nature of the turf. The course was far from your normal “muni” course because the pedigree of the layout meant on many days when Mercer owned the property staff outnumbered the total number of people playing.
The course has a few holes of note. The downhill slight dog-leg right 4th is a fine par-5. A pond awaits those going for the green in two if that bold play is pulled to the left. The dog-leg left par-4 8th is a fine hole. The green hugs the nearby out-of-bounds for the approach. Jones added two other risk/reward par-5’s at the 9th and 14th holes respectively.
The par-3, #11 is similar to what Jones created with the 12th hole at Spyglass Hill. The finish is a balancing act of a par-3, par-5 and par-4 closing.The architecture has its moments but it would be a stretch to define it as compelling.
Hominy Hill hosted big time events. It is one of only a few sites in America to have hosted both the men’s and women’s public links national championship for the USGA.
Ironically, what started as a piece of land, reserved for only the select few, has now become a wonderful haven for all types of golfers to enjoy.
Swedish Royalty – Royal Drottningholm Golf Club
Royal Drottningholm Golf Club is just a few kilometers from the home of the Swedish Royal Family. Royal Drottningholms Golf Club’s 18 holes situate on Crown property. Drottningholm is a well known and highly respected golf course in Sweden.
The noted Swedish golf course architect, Rafael Sundblom, designed Drottningholm. There were many drafts developed before the plan was finally decided. There were lots of suggestions, not the least from contradictory leaseholders. Unfortunately, Sundblom never saw the finished product. He died in 1958 and, Nils Sköld, a protégé of Sundblom, continued the project.
The new club had great support from King Gustaf VI Adolf. He opened the course at a banquet on September 26, 1959. There’s a story that the King became psyched for a game at the opening ceremony. So much so that he held up a waiting dinner and disappeared on the golf course with friends.
In October 2010, a major renovation of the course began. The architect, Johan Benestam, captured the essence of Drottningholm. While insuring the course will meet future demands. Players enjoy a golf course with great variety and unique character.
The course has park like character, where the first nine holes play in open landscape. The back nine weaves through a woodland setting. Benestam’s upgrade includes a total redesign of fairways, greens and bunkering. He kept Sundblom’s original layout. Fairways undulate and are well defined. All hazards are visible from the tees, as the classic designs from Mackenzie and Ross. Water is hardly in play save the wonderful finishing hole, #18. Greens are all about the same size and just wavy enough to demand putting control.
Drottningholm hosted The Scandinavian Masters in 1991 and 1994. This tournament continues to be a European Tour stop. To Scandinavians, Drottningholm will always have a place in golf’s history. Jack Nicklaus participated in the first Volvo Open competition here in 1970. The Volvo Open is the first big international golf competition in Sweden.
Royal Drottningholm has many qualities, including a good spirit and atmosphere. It is a club where golf always takes first place and titles and status have always been of little importance. Royal Drottningholm remains a family club with an excellent golf course and a clubhouse.
The club offers one of the best practice facilities in the country. It is not a rarity to see local professionals using this practice center. Royal Drottningholm offers a full service restaurant with seating that overlooks the 18th green. Royal Drottningholm Golf Club is a private club. But green fee play and corporate events are welcome.
There are 64 “Royal” golf courses throughout the former British Commonwealth. There is only one in Sweden. The British Royalty designated all the Royal Commonwealth courses with pomp and ceremony. I asked how Drottningholm GK received its Royal designation? “We asked them,” was the response. How quintessential Swedish for this anything but typical golf course.
From Iceland to Bedminster
We are quickly moving through the summer season. In a few weeks, the third Major (The Open) will happen. Later in July, I’ll be heading to the Jersey Shore to play a few rounds there. Why does summer seem to pass so quickly?
In the meantime, a few items have come across the screen. They caught me eye and I thought they might interest you. From our cousins in Iceland comes an interesting idea.
In a pioneering move to inspire responsible resource use and in a response to changing lifestyles, The Golf Union of Iceland discontinued all reference to hole counts from its championship criteria. Now, 18 holes are no longer a requirement for a golf championships in Iceland. Iceland is a country where around 10% of the population of 330,000 play golf on almost seventy courses, most of which have nine holes.
The original plan was to hold next year’s event on an existing 12-hole course. But the Golf Union decided to implement the idea this year. A few greens on the Westman Islands GC lagged behind in quality due to a seemingly excessive combination of winter salt spray and wind chill. These “bad” holes were simply omitted from the routing. The remaining holes were re-numbered to form a loop of 13 holes starting and finishing at the clubhouse.
The Iceland National Match Play Championships, the KPMG Cup, took place in the Westman Islands 23-25 June. There Gudrún Brá Björgvinsdóttir celebrated victory in the women’s class, defeating Helgi Kristín Einarsdóttir 3/2. Egill Ragnar Gunnarsson defeated Alfreð Brynjari Kristinsson in the final, 5-3. “There were more holes than usual in the final, 26 holes in total. Certainly, this was more stressful, but I found this tournament to be fun,” said Egill Ragnar after the win. “This tournament was different from other tournaments, strange in many ways, but it was a fun tournament,” said Guðrún Brá.
It could be the first time that an established golf nation staged a national championship on a course with fewer than 18 holes in the modern era.
Explaining this novel move, GUI president Haukur Birgisson said, “People’s needs have changed and will continue to do so. This includes people who already play golf and those interested in taking up a healthy form of outdoor life.”
Recent media coverage and industry discussion have revealed growing concerns that an 18-hole rounds of golf are at risk of becoming irrelevant to growing numbers of existing and potential golfers.
“People need more options. We should not stand in the way of innovation among our member golf clubs. Therefore we are introducing more flexibility. For us, this is appropriate on many levels, because the focused concept of golf’s return to flexible hole counts comes from Iceland,” Haukur added, referring to the Why-18-holes concept developed and advocated by Edwin Roald, an Icelandic golf architect.
I have talked about my friend Edwin Roald on these pages before.
Edwin is a golf course architect from Iceland. Edwin is also the founder of the “Why 18?” concept. In “Why 18?” the question of why does a golf course need 18 holes to be considered “real” or championship is considered. “Why 18?” also says that there should be no set number of holes. Read about the concept here.
In other news, they say that if you want to know the true nature of a man, play a round of golf with him. Last week we got a glimpse of the nature of one golfer.
Sure, we can say that because he owns the course, he can do what he wants. I think that if he has so little respect for the course, how much can he have for the game itself?
(This is updated from an earlier edition.)
Villaitana Resort-Levante and Poniente Golf Courses
I’ve kept my golfing to the local golf courses since arriving in Alicante. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Melia Villaitana Resort in Benidorm. Benidorm is about 30 minutes north of the Alicante Airport.
Once a sleepy fishing village, Benidorm is now Europe’s biggest holiday resort destination. Some 5 million visitors arrive each year. Benidorm exploded with high rise housing to accommodate the surge of tourists. In fact, Benidorm has the most high rise buildings, per capita, than any city in Europe. Its skyline, dominated by the huge “M” of The Tempo building. From six kilometers away you see it rising on the horizon.
I’m lucky I was not heading for the hustle and bustle of Benidorm’s downtown. A haven from the city’s hoopla, Villaitana is an easy access by car from all points in Spain.
As I drove through the gates, I had an overwhelming feeling that I had been here before. This dèjá vu stayed with me until I played my first round of golf. On the third hole of the Lavante Course, it hit me. I was at Villaitana before.
Remember when the volcano erupted in Iceland? It happened in 2010 and it disrupted air travel for a week in Europe. I was at Villaitana for a conference of club managers (CMAEurope) when it blew. It left dozens of attendees stranded at the resort, scrambling for anyway to get back to their homes. The Swedish contingent hitched a ride on a bus of Swedish golfers returning home from a golf holiday.
Which leads us into the golf courses of Villaitana. Villaitana contains two 18 hole golf courses. While they share a Nicklaus Design, they couldn’t be more different.
Starting with the Levante Course, a 18 hole par 72. I enjoyed a continuous vista of the city’s skyline, the sea and the coastal mountains. While the waters of the Mediterranean are in view, water on the course is hardly in play. Before you sigh in relief, Levante does have 106 bunkers to traverse. While the fairways are wide, almost generous, the bunkers are definitely in play. By the way, if you haven’t played Levante in a while, the bunkers have improved a lot. In fact, the maintenance of the entire course is a priority with the new management. Fairways are Bermuda grass and greens are tricky and in great condition.
Except for the 14th hole, the other par threes are a challenge for all handicaps. Remember, I mentioned the par 3 third hole earlier? It is a real treat hitting the shot from an elevated, and I mean elevated, tee. Watching your ball descend from high on a ridge and hitting the green results in a sigh of relief. Along with some high fives from your playing partners.
The second Nicklaus Design at Villitana is the Poniente Course. Poniente takes you on a trip through the adjoining pine valley’s hillside. There are no par fives on the Poniente course for a par of 62.
Don’t dismiss Poniente on account of its length and stroke count, take a closer look. Poniente, for most of your round will have you hitting tee shots on the par 3s over ravines and small canyons. While the views are spectacular, Poniente lives up to its Executive title. You will have to make the right “executive decisions” to score well. One round at Poniente you will understand the popularity of this captivating golf experience. It’s little wonder that Poniente is almost always booked solid.
The golf courses’ professional shop has everything that you would expect at a top resort. But it does carry something unexpected. After my round I tasted and chose a wine to take home with me. The Prado Rey wine shop, located on the hotel property, sells its own local wines at the golf course. What a concept! Enjoying a bottle of fine local wine will will have you looking forward to the next round at Villaitana.
Between rounds you can stay at the luxurious hotel and spa at Villaitana. Modeled after a traditional Mediterranean village, it has a large plaza with a church on one side. At Vilaitana the hotel and spa surround the plaza. The conference center replicates the focal point of any Spanish town, the church. The “church” bells mark the time.
While the facade will transport you to Old Spain, inside the walls you will re-enter the modern world. The hotel rooms are elegant with views of the Gran Bahia of the Costa Brava. The resort boasts a huge lagoon swimming pool as well as a variety dining options. Please, take it from me, the breakfast buffet is sensational.
Something to experience is downtown Benidorm and its beaches. Villitana is only about ten minutes from the city center. A different adventure is a visit to the impressive waterfall of Algar. The water falls near the town of Callosa d’en Sarrià, a 15 km drive from Benidorm.
The Fuentes del Algar should be on the top of your list for places to visit. The Algar waterfalls offer a sharp contrast to the normal days at the beach. They show you a different, quiet and cooler Spain. This is not your typical country swimming hole. The Fuentes del Algar are enchanting and unforgetable.
All in all, my weekend stay at the Melia Villaitana offered a lot more than your usual golf holiday. You can enjoy this destination just as I have. Villaitana offers excellent golf and stay packages to meet your specific needs. Contact them at: www.meliavillaitanagolf.com/en/contact-us
or +34 96 681 3013.
Campo de Golf Villamartin
Mother Nature welcomed me back to Stockholm with cold and snow. Looking out the window, it made me think of better days and playing golf in Spain. Lucky for me, I’ll be back swinging at the end of the month.
On our first visit to the Villamartin golf course, it was a breezy and cool day in March . Of course, cool is a relative term. Some vacationing Swedish golfers were wearing shorts and polo shirts. By our tee time, the bright sunshine had warmed the course up to provide us with a gorgeous day for golf.
Villamartin is one of the classic golf courses in the Alicante region. It remains the standard that other local golf courses measure themselves. The golf course, the clubhouse and its location make Villamartin as popular now as it was opening day.
Villamartin Golf Course has a large international family of residents. The residents enjoy a relaxing new way to live. The heart of this new life style is golf at the Villamartin Golf Course.
The club house at Villamartin offers a contemporary restaurant. The menu offers a selection that will please any palate. Enjoy your meal or after-round drink on the spacious terrace overlooking the golf course.
Villamartin remains one of the best golf courses of the Valencian Community. Over forty years of hospitality is the reason for Villamartin’s continued popularity. The excellent golf is just a bonus.
Eugene Country Club
Every spring, around Easter time, the start of the golf season begins for the USA in Augusta, Georgia. The Masters is when we golfers watch our annual trip through Augusta National. With fairways and putting surfaces so green they put St. Patrick’s Day to shame.
A scarce few of us get to play the course. A few more of us visit and watch the tradition like no other in person. The majority of us, though, are happy to watch the event over four days in April on HiDef TV. Brothers and sisters there is hope. Because in Eugene, Oregon, the home of the University of Oregon Ducks, has its own emerald jewel.
A classic Pacific Northwest layout framed by towering firs sits the Eugene Country Club. The course offers attractive water features, impressive par 3s, and immaculate conditioning. As for putting, the greens are just a few Stimps short of USGA fast. But dead accurate if you can prejudge the speed and line.
The Eugene Country Club began in 1899. It is the second oldest country club in Oregon.. The Club’s first golf course was a nine hole layout with sand greens.
Robert Trent Jones redesigned the original 1925 H. Chandler Egan layout in 1967. Jones widened the playing corridors, expanded the greens, and added bunkers. Jones reversed the original Egan routing by placing the first tee near Egan’s 18th green, and so on. He routed just two holes from the Egan design (#7 and #12). Jones built up the green complexes and teeing areas, doing little to the original 16 fairways. The reversal of the routing allowed him to add lakes and waterways to the course of play. There are soft undulations in the property help make the course a comfortable walk. Carts are also available.
The signature hole for me is the par three #5. Although the hole plays downhill from all but one tee box, a breeze can often knock down shots. A pond guards the front and right side of the green. Going after hole positions in the front part of the green can be risky. Hitting over the green will leave you with a difficult downhill chip or bunker shot. Bunkers dot the entire rear hillside. Also, note that the markings on the water hazard. Both yellow and red stakes, depending on the location, are along the waterway.
The club has hosted many USGA and NCAA championships. A few weeks before my game they played the 2016 NCAA Championship there. The ECC will again be on stage for the 2018 U.S. Senior Amateur. If you enjoy magnificent tree lined courses the Eugene Country Club is to be one of your favorites.
“I have always been rather better treated in San Francisco than I actually deserved.”~Mark Twain
Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge being enwrapped with a cape of fog, riding up to the top of the Coit Tower, the Sutra Baths at Ocean Beach or Golden Gate Park on a Sunday when cars are prohibited are at the top of every vacationer’s list. San Francisco is one of the great destinations to enjoy. For some, it could be recalling one’s youth on the corner of Haight and Ashbury, where the clock is always at 4:20. Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39 for the sea lions and Ghirardelli’s for chocolate and ice cream, City Lights, well, the City offers more to do than you’ll have days to see it all.
Another thing that San Francisco offers is some wonderful golf. Like St. Andrew’s in Scotland, prices for the local player are reasonable due to city’s reduced resident’s fees. Prices to the visitor are not inexpensive but well within reason for the quality of play. In the city, Presidio was the choice. About 40 minutes north in Marin County, Peacock Gap gets a nod. 10 minutes south of downtown, in Pacifica, lies a great public golf course designed by Alister MacKenzie, the designer of Augusta National.
The attraction to Peacock Gap was the thought that it would be walkable. Let’s face it, they don’t talk about the hills of San Francisco for nothing. Peacock Gap is not only walkable, it had to be the most laid back golf club I’ve ever played. The staff is friendly, helpful and has none of that stuck up ‘I work at a golf club’ attitude anywhere.
Established in 1960, Peacock Gap was originally designed by William F. Bell—the same designer behind Torrey Pines. Bell took over the business from his father, William P. and their handiwork is prevalent throughout California and the West Coast, especially after WWII to the 60s. Updated with a host of state-of-the-art features and practice facilities in 2011—including Marin County’s only all-grass driving range, a brand-new Clubhouse, and renovated greens and fairways.
There’s a drought going on in California so there are plenty of brown grass spots. The playability of the course was excellent. Fairways and greens were well maintained and the clubhouse provided large cups of ice water for all players. The course architecture invites, challenges, and intrigues—in the spirit of vintage courses. Inviting because of the wide fairways, challenges from bunkering and water guarding greens and I guess the intrigue comes from the directions from Hwy. 101. Check out the views from Point San Pedro Road.
Remember Pelican Gap if the Bay and city are foggy. Once through the Waldothe Rainbow the Robin Williams tunnel the mist and fog are behind you. Enjoy yourself.
Peacock Gap Golf Club
333 Biscayne Drive
Inside a former military garrison lies one of the oldest golf courses on the West coast. The Presidio Golf Course has a storied history. It was built in 1895 when Colonel William M. Graham, the Presidio’s commander at the time, allowed a group of businessmen known as the San Francisco Golf and Country Club to create a nine-hole course within the post. The course was ultimately expanded to a full 18 holes in 1910. Sometimes the course was called into service for non-recreational purposes. President Theodore Roosevelt reviewed the troops on the links in May 1903. Three years later, the course was used as a refugee camp for survivors of the 1906 earthquake. When the Presidio became a national park site, the course was opened to the public, and a new clubhouse, open to the public, was built in 1999.
As we said, San Francisco’s Presidio Golf Course is located within a national park, and is as renowned for its spectacular forest setting as it is for challenging play. John Lawson, designer of the first course at Presidio said, “God shaped this land to be a golf course. I simply followed nature.”
The early Presidio Golf Course was short, but challenging. Players are surprised by the course’s level of difficulty and its natural obstacles. Thirteen holes are uphill, some go uphill and the next hole goes up higher. Presidio, is designed with tight fairways and strategically placed bunkers. This 18-hole big time hilly golf course offers a unique challenge for golfers of all abilities. Presidio, sitting on a large hill, has great vistas of the city of San Francisco. Though it sits at the foot of the Golden Gate, it has no view of the bridge. The elements definitely come into play at Presidio. It can offer powerful winds, rain, fog, sudden gusts, and sometimes all four on any given round. Fortunately for me it was sunny and mild but later in the round it got kite flying breezy.
Unless you are in Triathlon shape or named Edmond Hillary, this is not a walking course, though I saw many golfers doing so. One golfer I was paired with started walking but retired after nine. Part of the difficulty is just the physical work needed to walk the course. What did I do? I chose discretion over valor, enjoyment over struggle, and used a cart. Nonetheless, Presidio checks all the boxes and it would be a shame if you passed on the opportunity to play on this special and historic golf course.
Presidio Golf Course
300 Finley Road @ Arguello Gate
Fresh off the design and building of Cypress Point and in the early stages of building Augusta National, Alister Mackenzie, at the time, a Bay Area resident, was hired to design Sharp Park. Sharp Park achieved Mackenzie’s dream of using cheap municipal golf to “help enormously in increasing the health, the virility and the prosperity of nations.” While today’s design features 12 of the original green complexes in deteriorated form, Mackenzie would surely embrace Sharp Park’s continued affordability, accessibility and friendly atmosphere.
The course, which opened for play in 1932, displays many of MacKenzie’s design tenants — multiple tees, dual fairways, cloud shaped bunkers, heaving greens and MacKenize’s favorite tool: camouflage. Sharp Park is special for another reason: it is MacKenzie’s only seaside public links. When he introduced his original routing to San Francisco golfers in 1930, MacKenzie proclaimed: “The proposed municipal seaside golf course at Sharp’s Park will be as sporty as the old course at St. Andrews, and as picturesque a golf course as any in the world.”
Modern architectural scholars have come to regard MacKenzie’s design at Sharp Park as one of America’s greatest public courses. Daniel Wexler, America’s leading exponent of lost courses, has lauded Sharp Park as a marvelous golf course, featuring seaside holes, two double fairways, a large lake, and a cypress-dotted setting fairly reminiscent of Monterey. It was, in short, a municipal masterpiece. In a call for restoration, Wexler observed, after surveying hundreds of public and private courses from coast to coast, “…that the original Sharp Park would have to stand well out in front as America’s finest municipal golf links.” Tom Doak, perhaps the country’s most noted authority on golf course renovation, has cited Sharp Park as a milestone, showing an evolution in Dr. MacKenzie’s style even as the country’s most sought-after golf architect. Geoff Shackelford, a designer in his own right, echoes these themes, saying: “Certainly no municipal-course design has ever come close to matching the overall package of beauty and affordable links-style golf.”
MacKenzie himself, in his comprehensive manuscript, “The Spirit of St. Andrews,” praised Sharp Park and San Francisco’s public golf facilities in general: “The municipal courses in San Francisco are far superior to most municipal courses. The newest, which we constructed at Sharp Park, was made on land reclaimed from the sea. The course now has a great resemblance to real links land.”
Stark Park, while located in Pacifica, is operated by the San Francisco Parks Department. The course is located 10 miles south of San Francisco at the intersection of Sharp Park Road and the Coast Highway. Often called “The Poor Man’s Pebble Beach,” the par 72 course is 6,300 yards long and offers fabulous views of the surrounding headlands and mountains. Built as a seaside course, the golf course has been denied its position on the beach of the Pacific Ocean. Terrific storms have caused sea water flooding, so a massive dike was built to prevent storm water from coming in. Unfortunately it has also cut off any views of the ocean. You can walk off the #16 green, climb up a huge driftwood log and stretch over the chain link fence to see the Pacifica pier and a fabulous Pacific Ocean vista.
In 2014, Golfweek Magazine named Sharp Park among America’s 50 Greatest Municipal Courses. Sharp Park is a walkable seaside and inland course, with several holes that wrap around Laguna Salada, a natural lake. Generously wide fairways ( a MacKenzie trait) are watered by the Laguna Salada, a marshy lake inhabited by gangs of birds and waterfowl. Greens are in pretty darned good shape for a muni. Despite the drought, plenty of moisture in the sea air translates into a greener than usual look on the course compared to the area’s other golf courses.
There is one caveat. For nearly a decade, Sharp Park was embroiled in a legal contest between the park and environmentalists. Finally the courts ruled in favor of the golf course and San Francisco is investing money to give the park a needed face lift. Holes 4, 5, 6 and 7 greens are being restored with new drainage installed to prevent the annual flooding of the low lying ground.
The Works Progress Administration provided jobs and income to the unemployed during the Great Depression in the United States. The Spanish hacienda clubhouse at Sharp Park was a WPA construction project. Adding to the vintage feel are vivid Depression-era paintings, beamed ceilings and an old-fashioned starter’s booth and tiny pro shop. Stark Park has the look of a run down facility but don’t let the looks deter your playing this exceptional golf course. Like a dignified elderly woman whose tasteful and elegant clothing is a bit frayed from age and use, Stark Park is also tattered and worn. However, the old girl still has a twinkle in her eye that will leave an impression like no other.
Stark Park Golf Club
2600 Francisco Blvd.