With all the restrictions for group gatherings and outdoor activities during the Covid-19 pandemic, the sport of golf has been a silver lining, having experienced a strong resurgence in participation due to sprawling, socially distanced playing fields. Whether newcomers or seasoned veterans of the game, San Francisco Bay Area golfers are gifted with a treasure chest of nearby “safe” spaces, canvassing a variety of landscapes where they can tee it up to enjoy an outing with family and buddies. Where views are par for the course, here’s a glimpse at some of the region’s best public golf courses.
Surrounded by Monterey Cypress trees and Lake Merced, TPC Harding Park (1925) is where San Francisco-born golf legends Johnny Miller, Ken Venturi, and George Archer honed their game. Following a $16 million restoration project in 2002-03, the 6,845-yard gem has hosted multiple pro tournaments, including the Presidents Cup (2005) and the 2020 PGA Championship. The Fleming 9 course (2,165 yards) was added in 1961 in the interior of the 18-hole layout.
Overlooking the gateway to San Francisco Bay, Presidio GC (1895) is the second oldest course west of the Mississippi. Before transitioning to a public course in 1995, play was restricted to military officers and the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth and Dwight Eisenhower. The deceivingly long 6,481-yard hilly layout within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area meanders around Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine trees and is a mission worth undertaking.
HALF MOON BAY
Along the Pacific Coast 30 minutes from San Francisco or Silicon Valley, two 18-hole courses create bookends to The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay. The Arnold Palmer/Francis Duane-designed 7,001-yard Old Course (1973) has a parkland feel with a premium on strategy over distance and a postcard 18th hole finish along the coastal bluff. The 6,854-yard links-style Ocean Course (1997) is an Arthur Hills’ crafted layout with wide-open fairways and Big Blue views from nearly every hole. A sunset finish on either is complimented by Scottish bagpipes.
Golf down under on the island city of Alameda at the Bay Area’s only Australian sand-belt style course. After a dramatic restoration (2018) to the South Course by famed architect Rees Jones, the minimalist 6,874-yard layout plays fast and firm with the option to strike the ball to the hole by air or ground. The property, located five minutes from Oakland International Airport, is also home to the North Course (under renovation; 9 holes due to open June 2021) and one of America’s top nine-hole, par-3 courses.
Greg “The Shark” carved an 18-hole masterpiece through acres of century-old grapevines and rolling hills in the scenic Livermore Valley Wine Country. The Course at Wente Vineyards (1998), 50 minutes east of San Francisco, provides eye-candy panoramas to compliment a 7,181-yard layout that once challenged (2006-08) the PGA Tour’s Nationwide Tour (now Korn Ferry Tour). The cart ride from hole No. 9 to No. 10 treats golfers to a taste San Francisco’s world-famous Lombard St.
Less than an hour’s drive north from the Monterey Peninsula, Pasatiempo GC (1929) was designed by Alister MacKenzie (Augusta National, Cypress Point). It was considered the renowned Scottish architect’s favorite 18-hole creation and where his American home still borders the sixth fairway. Consistently ranked among America’s top public golf courses, this historic 6,495-yard championship venue is a must-play on the Bay Area’s golf bucket list.
Yielding captivating views of Monterey Bay, former military post Fort Ord is headquarters for two championship 18-hole courses, each designed by the Commanding General during their respective reign. Bayonet GC (1954) tests golfers with 7,104 yards of tree-lined narrow fairways, including a series of sharp doglegs (holes #11-15), known as “Combat Corner.” The 7,024-yard Black Horse GC (1964), with a more open flow, is highlighted by fescue-framed fairways, bunkers with distinctive, serrated edges and contoured greens.
Along the storied Monterey Peninsula, there are few golf thrills like teeing up for the first on Pebble Beach Golf Links, ranked No. 1 on Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses.” With nine holes edging the Pacific surf (#4-10, 17, 18), the Jack Neville/Douglas Grant design (1919), is often called the greatest meeting of land and sea in American golf and where golfers can feel the presence of the game’s legends to have competed in the annual AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and six U.S Open Championships.
View this post on Instagram
Napa Valley’s renowned wine country and 36 golf holes at the iconic Silverado Resort & Spa exemplify the consummate pairing. With two championship courses redesigned by World Golf Hall of Fame member and co-owner, Johnny Miller. Both offer an abundance of water and large greens, however, the 7,166-yard North Course, which hosts the annual PGA Tour Safeway Open, is longer and more straightforward than the hillier 6,612-yard South Course with less room for error. Don’t miss the famous “burger dog” available at the snack shack.
Hugging Sonoma County’s coastline with spectacular Pacific Ocean views, The Links at Bodega Harbour (back nine, 1978/front nine, 1987) guarantees a happier birdie experience than Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds filmed nearby. With rolling hills and undulating greens dominating this Scottish-style links designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., the front nine is demanding with strategically-placed pot bunkers, while the back nine presents wider fairways and a dramatic three-hole finish.
For more on Better:
- Kids Find Hope on the Water Through Rowing — Donate to Help and Double Your Impact Now
- Champions On the Field and Off: 10 Most Inspiring Athletes
- Water Therapy: Fitness For Mind and Body
Robert Kaufman is an international golf and travel writer/photographer based in Marin County. His work has appeared in magazines such as PGA, NCGA, Western Art & Architecture, GOLF (China), Great Golf (UK), and The Cut (New Zealand). PictureParfect.com