An introduction to San Francisco

San Francisco is one of the most populous cities within the United States and an immensely popular tourist spot on the west coast. It is also one of the financial hubs of California.

The city is sprawled across a hilly peninsula. To the east it overlooks the city of Oakland on the mainland across the San Francisco bay. To the west there are unabridged ocean views.

This is such a fun city filled with character. A number of different neighborhoods all offer something
unique in terms of their distinct culture and vibe. 

See also: What are the best golf courses in California?

There is a vibrant dining scene with a number of the world’s best chefs calling San Francisco home. Head over to the NoPa stretch of road where you’ll find some great dining options. It is also a very popular location for shopping.

Alternatively the Fisherman’s Wharf on the waterfront is rustic and fun.

Of course, you can’t talk about San Francisco without mentioning the Golden Gate Bridge. It is possibly one of the most photographed bridges worldwide. This feat of engineering opened in 1937 and is 1.7 miles long. 

Aside from the above, why not visit the ex-prison of Alcatraz. Alternatively spend the morning at the San Francisco zoo or visit the stunning beauty spot of Sutro Baths.

What a fantastic city and you’ll be pleased to know, there are some top class golf courses to enjoy.

See also: What are the best public golf courses in San Francisco?

The best golf courses in San Francisco

Stanford University Golf

Stanford University Golf, San Francisco, California

Without doubt one of the finest college courses worldwide, the Stanford golf course is superb. 

The location is serene, tucked away up in the hills overlooking the university campus. The course was designed by the architectural duo of George C. Thomas and Billy Bell Jr. and opened for play in 1930.

In 2008 John Harbottle was commissioned to renovate the course. A core objective of the project was to update it for the modern games.

In 2018, there was again significant investment. This time all the bunkers were rebuilt whilst a few of the holes were modified. This work ensures Stanford golf continues to rub shoulders with some of the best golf courses in San Francisco.

The course has a yardage of just under 6,800 yards but plays far longer. This is due in no small part to there not being much roll on tee shots.

The large greens are glorious but they will really test your putting skills. The key to being successful is finding the subtle grain to help you read the slopes. This will avoid you hitting slow putts uphill and fast putts downhill. 

Despite having a par of 70 and being well under 7,000 yards, don’t expect to shoot too low a score. On top of the lack of roll and tough greens, many of the holes are supremely tough. Nothing short of absolute precision will have you in bogey-ville…or worse.

California Golf Club of San Francisco

California Golf Club of San Francisco, California
Photo credit Steve Sorensen

This is one of the finest golf courses in the world. Affectionately know as the ‘Cal Club’, it is nestled in the middle of the peninsula in southern San Francisco. 

The original version of the course was positioned somewhere completely different, in Ingleside, southwest San Francisco. Yet since 1924 the club has found a home in its current location. 

The site here is beautiful, a charm and aurora created by the elegantly rolling hills and century old trees. Willie Locke and Arthur Vernon Macan were the duo entrusted with routing this great course. It was in 1926 that the course we largely have today opened for play.

Over the ensuing years, Alister MacKenzie and most recently Kyle Phillips were brought in to enhance the design. Be it rebuilding the bunkers or just generally modernising the layout.

This is a wonderful course but also strictly private. Befriending a member will be your only chance of getting on here.

See also: What are the best golf resorts in California?

Half Moon Bay Golf Links, San Francisco. California

The stretch of coastline where Half Moon Bay golf club is located is quite stunning. There is nothing separating the fairways from the wild expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

The resort is only a 40 minute drive from central San Francisco, but feels a million miles away from everything so isolated this location is. 

There are 36 holes of golf onsite. The Arnold Palmer designed Old Course as well as the more recent Ocean Course, designed by the legendary Arthur Hills. 

For the purpose of this article, we’re going to focus on the Ocean Course. Built in a traditional links style, with firm and expansive fairways flanked on either side by native grasses and wildflowers. 

The key here, like many other golf courses to be fair, is hitting it straight. Although strong prevailing breezes can make this relatively simple task all the more daunting and challenging. 

The finishing three holes are immense and are the perfect climax to a top class round. The 17th hole, a blufftop par-3 has awesome views. Whilst from the 18th tee box, you’ll be driving over the Canada Verde Creek canyon back up to the imposing Ritz Carlton hotel onsite. 

Olympic Club (Lake)

Olympic Club, San Francisco, California - Photo credit David Palefsky
Photo credit David Palefsky

The Olympic Club is not just a golf club but more of a private athletics club. It is geared towards some of the best amateur sportspeople in the area. Fortunately for us, golf plays a significant role here and that manifests itself with two splendid 18-hole golf courses. These are the Ocean and the Lake courses.

Way back in 1924, the Olympic Club purchased a very average golf course called Lakeside. It just so happened to be positioned on a wonderful plot overlooking the Pacific and close to downtown San Francisco. 

They very quickly set about replacing the original course with the two top-class golf courses. They also went ahead and built a grand clubhouse.

Since that day, the club and particularly the two courses have grown in stature and repute. Over the years multiple major tournaments have been hosted here including amongst others, the U.S. Open. 

What is even more impressive is that there is no water here and there are just a couple of bunkers. This is strategy golf at its most difficult and there is a reason the U.S. Open continues to revisit this club. 

See also: What are the best public golf courses in Los Angeles?

Peninsula Golf & Country Club

Down in the San Mateo district of San Francisco is the private members club of Peninsula Golf & Country Club. It is just up the hill from Foster City.

This is the consummate member-orientated golf club. It’s immensely family orientated and 100% focused on serving the needs of the membership from an amenities and facilities perspective.

The original course was designed by Tom Bendelow and opened for play back in 1911. But it wasn’t until 1922 that we start to recognise the course that is there today. This was when Donald Ross was commissioned to completely redesign the course. 

Donald Ross is arguably one of the greatest architects of his era. Some of his greatest works include the likes of Pinehurst No. 2 and Seminole. Here at Peninsula, he crafted another fantastic course. Granted nowhere near the same level as the aforementioned, but still a wonderful course. 

The site climbs gently from east to west up the Western Hills. Yet despite this elevation change the fairways are relatively flat. From the tee boxes, what you see is pretty much what you get with open fairways encouraging you to play the driver. You won’t lose a ball here but don’t expect to score well with stray shots. 

San Francisco Golf Club

san francisco golf club, California
Photo credit Ryan Winther

Just across Lake Merced Boulevard from the iconic Olympic Club, is San Francisco Golf Club. It is one of the oldest golf courses in San Francisco having opened for play in 1918. 

This sloping plot of land is characterised by numerous pine trees. It was this same plot of land where three of the original members routed the first course layout.

It wasn’t until 1923 when A.W.Tillinghast was brought in to remodel the layout that we recognise today’s course. Part of this work was upgrading the greens and bunkers for which San Francisco is so well known today.

There are some pretty impressive elevation changes, especially on the front nine where the course traverses a number of ravines. The 7th hole is a downhill par 3 nicknamed the ‘Duel Hole’. It was here where the last legal duel in America took place. 

One of the most recent projects was also one of the biggest investments in nearly a century. It involved restoring a number of the original features with some small modifications to existing holes.

For this project, the club brought in the highly respected Tom Doak. This is a man who has at least a handful of courses on his C.V. considered in the world’s Top 100 golf courses.

Today, San Francisco Golf Club is considered one of the best golf courses in the world.

See also: What are the best golf courses in Monterey?

Menlo Country Club

Menlo Country Club opened during the same period as many other golf courses on the San Francisco peninsula. This was in the golden age of the early twentieth century. What originally started as a nine hole golf course, quickly expanded to become 18 holes. The project was overseen and designed by the Scotsman Tom Nicoll. 

Shortly after, in the middle of the century, Robert Trent Jones Sr undertook quite a major renovation.

But the course we have today is fundamentally different to these previous iterations. It was the gifted Kyle Phillips who was responsible for bringing Menlo forward into the twenty-first century. 

Phillips is a man who has crafted a desirable reputation for as many outstanding renovations as new golf builds. Here at Menlo though, this was more ‘complete revamp’ than it was renovation. Fourteen holes were completely reconstructed and four more upgraded. 

Today we have a superb 6,800 yard layout which on the front-nine, runs clockwise around the perimeter of the grounds. Whilst on the back nine the holes weave and cut around the central part of the site. There is huge variety from one hole to another with the finishing stretch some of the finest holes. 

Don’t be surprised to see Menlo Golf Club slowly but surely work its way up the rankings of best golf courses in California.

TPC Harding Park

TPC Harding Park, San Francisco, California

Another golf course hugging Lake Merced on San Francisco’s west coast. TPC Harding is literally across the lake from two of America’s best golf courses, the Olympic Club and San Francisco Golf Club.

The course has built its reputation having over many years been the host venue to numerous PGA Tour events including the San Francisco Open. Most recent tournaments of note include the 2005 World Golf Championships and the President’s Cup back in 2009. 

The site is wonderful, with gorgeous lake views and rows of towering Monterey Cypress trees.

It was in 1925 that Willie Watson and Sam Whiting drew up plans for the Harding Park golf course. Amazingly, that original layout is largely the one the tour pros still play today. 

This fantastic course continues to rake in the accolades. Golf Digest rank it as one of the ‘best places to play’. This is one of the best public golf courses in the San Francisco area and well worth visiting.

See also: What are the best golf courses in Los Angeles?

Meadow Club

Meadow Club, San Francisco, California
Photo credit Martin Miller

The last golf course on this list is a little bit deceptive. Not technically in San Francisco, it’s a good hour’s drive north. Head over the Golden Gate Bridge and up into Bon Tempe Meadow on Mount Tamalpais. 

But I’ve included it because it is an absolute belter. It is also the first Alister MacKenzie designed golf course in the whole of North America.

In later years, MacKenzie went on to create some absolute masterpieces. Places such as Cypress Point, considered the greatest golf course in the world. Augusta National, the host venue to a little known golf competition called ‘The Masters’. 

But it was in 1927 MacKenzie and his partner in this project Robert Hunter, crafted a superb course. It is hidden amongst the meandering creeks and utilises the numerous elevation changes in the terrain to create some stunning views across the landscape.

This really is a fantastic course and a million miles away from the noise and stress of modern life. Since 2010, the club has been in the process of renovating the course. The aim of the project was to reestablish some of the original MacKenzie features and early signs are it’s been an absolute success. 

What is the best golf course in San Francisco?

The best golf course in San Francisco in the wonderful California Golf Club of San Francisco. It is located in the southern part of San Francisco and opened for play in 1924. Willie Locke and Arthur Vernon Macan were the golf course architects responsible for the routing.

How many golf courses are there in San Francisco?

Within 20 miles of San Francisco there are 41 golf courses. Within the city itself there are 10 golf courses.

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