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
Waldo the 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.