December 10, 2021
At GOLF.com our hobby is also our job. That said, just like you, we spend much of the year hitting high, swinging hard, and trying to avoid double boweys as much as possible. But some courses we stumble upon are just more memorable than others. Here, in a breakdown of the best public courses our staff have played over the past 12 months, are these spots.
TPC Harding Park, San Francisco, California.
The Bay Area in Northern California is full of quality golf. Private courses like the Olympic Club, San Francisco Golf Club, and Cal Club highlight the menu, but there are plenty of high-profile public courses too.
Presidio Golf Couse, Sharp Park, and (if you venture a little further south) Pasatiempo are solid publicly accessible stretches that should be on your radar while in the area. But after a facelift and several major events over the past 20 years, TPC Harding Park is perhaps the most famous.
So during my trip to San Francisco last summer to cover the US Women’s Open at the Olympic Club, I decided to venture across Lake Merced to see what Harding Park is all about.
First impressions: While the other golf courses on Lake Merced are private and closed, Harding Park has a much more welcoming feel to it. When I arrived, the parking lot was full of cars as joggers and bikers crossed paths around the property.
The clubhouse is spacious – and quite nice for an urban course – and offers a great view of the 18th hole. If you get there early enough, you can have a bite to eat while the players try to navigate the difficult closing hole.
Difficulty: If you get crooked from the tee, Harding Park will put down some good shots. However, stay on the fairway and there are plenty of birdie opportunities. However, this task is easier said than done.
Analysis of the greens of TPC Harding Park using the latest technology
After a major championship in 2020, the fairways were still quite narrow. Fortunately, at just 6,400 yards from the white tees, the course isn’t all that long. The rough is a criminal offense in Harding Park, so avoid it as best you can. The greens aren’t too difficult for the slope, but if you get out of position there are three putts in wait.
Fun facts: While the main course gets the most press, there is also a 9-hole short course on the property. Tucked away in the middle of Main 18, the Fleming 9 has six par 3s and three par 4s, with the longest hole reaching 400 yards. If you can’t get a start time on the main course, head to Fleming 9 and enjoy the walk.
What i loved: The last six holes are awesome. The final third of the course wraps around Lake Merced and offers great views of the Olympic Club in the distance. Not to mention that this section has a place in golf history today. Collin Morikawa campaigned for birdie on the 14th to help compete at the PGA 2020 and hit the tournament’s shot on the 16th to pitch the deciding eagle. And while the 18th is a ho-hum finish for Tour stars, it’s pretty beefy for the average Joe. Forcing it over an obstacle creates a daunting tee shot, and approaching is not easy either. Not to mention the added pressure of onlookers from the clubhouse grill. Don’t let the pros fool you – 18 is no joke!
Drone video and photos: TPC Harding Park, 2020 PGA Championship venue
What I did not like: The first 12 holes are a bit boring. That’s not to say I didn’t like these holes, but the architecture leaves a lot to the imagination. The entire Front Nine feels like a back and forth exercise, and none of these holes will stay in your memory for long as you look back on your lap.
Favorite hole: Number 16 is a cute hole. The short, right par 4 with a dogleg became famous during Collin Morikawa’s back nine attack and it’s always fun to recreate historical recordings. Plus, at just over 300 yards, it’s a great birdie chance at the end of your round. Just remember to fade the ball enough; If you don’t, you will see your ball trickle down an embankment into Lake Merced.
Final verdict: Harding Park is definitely a fun place to be and worth a tee time off when in the Bay Area. The price can get a bit high depending on the season, but if you enjoy playing courses from the pros, it’s worth it. Don’t expect to be blown away by every hole, but there are certainly some sections that are noteworthy.
Zephyr Melton is Associate Editor at GOLF.com, where he spends his days blogging, producing, and editing. Before joining the GOLF.com team, he attended the University of Texas, followed by stints with Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He helps with all teaching questions and covers amateur and ladies golf.