San Francisco Golf Club, 1915
Architect: AW Tillinghast
San Francisco, CA
Compared to some of the great Tillinghast courses near my home on the east coast, San Francisco Golf Club clearly has the best property. Winged Foot is flat, Quaker Ridge has some nice movement, but the property is small, Fenway is has a lot of elevation change, and even Bethpage which has a good property with a number of different landscapes, doesn't quite measure up to the grand size and movement of SFGC located just near Lake Merced. What really makes SFGC special is the way Tillinghast (and a few others through some small revisions) has built all the features and routed the course through some groves of Cypress and Pine trees to make the course feel enormous in scale. There are some great views that span from one side of the property to the other from all different angles, and you can really see how everything works together. When bunker shapes from one hole can be seen in the distance tying-in and relating to back to the hole you are on, you know you are at some place special, and that the designer clearly took his time working through the details.
Here are 2 photos of #14. The first is from the tee, where you can see the high bunkers on the left look like they are built up around the green. The second photo is from just short of the green where you can see how far off in the distance they are, and even though they are no longer playing visual tricks with your eyes, the shapes still clearly relate.
Aside from the scale, what really makes SFGC interesting is the bunkering and greens. The property is littered with big sprawling bunkers that will play all sorts of visual tricks on your eyes, dare you to hit near then, and make you want to take out your camera. These big ameba shaped hazards can get very deep in places, even though they may not look it with the thin edge lip. In shape and style, they resemble more of Winged Foot than any other Tillinghast course I can think of at the moment, but I am under the impression that the bunkers we know today are not just his, but Billy Bell is owed some credit as well.
The greens, which were resurfaced not all that long ago, by Tom Doak and Renaissance Golf, are not nearly as pushed up as you will find on some of Tillinghast's other courses back east, probably due to the nature of the property and its soil base. While the greens can get very steep and have a lot of contour, you will not find big pronounced ridges, but rather more sweeping and broad contours that will still produce massive breaks and lots of fun. There are also a few greens that will run away from you, sloped front to back, which makes for lots of interesting options on approach.
#7 green, the best hole on the course, and the only green with a
very pronounced ridge running through it.
Before I highlight some of the best holes, it should be pointed out how well maintained SFGC is, and in particular, how good the mow lines are. There appear to be only 3 mow heights: Fairway, which can get up to 60 yards in places and go all the way to the edges of bunkers and around greens for short game variety, Rough, all rough is maintained a one height, and greens/tees. The lack of intermediate cuts works tremendously because it limits the amount of hard linear edges that break up the landscape and allow the broad views and big scale to really pop, uninterrupted... It also is significantly cheaper.
#7, The Duel Hole, a world class drop-shot par 3
#12 Approach, this part of the property was restored by Renaissance Golf Design
#13, Little Tilly