One of the most exclusive clubs in America, the San Francisco Golf Club was formed toward the end of the 19th century but did not begin golfing on its present A.W. Tillinghast layout until 1915. Located a few miles south of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Tillinghast course was a landmark in this country, as not only was it the legendary architect’s first great piece of work, but it was also the first course of real quality anywhere on the West Coast.
Built across rolling pine-covered ground close to Lake Merced, the course is best recommended for its wonderfully creative design style and a property that features ravines and an array of interesting internal golf undulations. One particular ravine was the scene of the last legal duel in American history, when a Supreme Court Justice shot and killed a United States Senator. Within this valley lies the club’s renowned drop-shot par three 7th, appropriately labeled the ‘Duel Hole’ and apparently Tillie’s favorite among the many hundreds of holes he created.
Although the front nine features the most dramatic landforms, green contours across the entire layout are brilliantly conceived, while the fairways tend to head through boldly bunkered valleys, swing around sprawling traps or be routed along the edge of the ravines. Picking out highlights here is a hard task, because even the flattest fairways are superbly bunkered to present clear and intriguing strategic options and angles. The most obvious highlight is the 7th, a great par three dropping toward a small kidney-shaped green that falls on the right and is protected by sand on the left. Continuing down the valley and rising into a steeply leaning green, the 8th is also outstanding, as is the recently restored par three 13th and the gorgeous three-shotters that conclude each of the nines.
Although Tillinghast is renowned for the variety of his design work, there is something refreshingly unique about this club that sets it apart from the gems he created on the East Coast. Hidden to all but the fortunate few, San Francisco Golf Club is not only the clear golfing standout in the Bay Area, but among the top dozen or so classic layouts anywhere in the country.
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