Presidio Golf Course in San Francisco, CA
Tee Time: October 18, 2015, 11:10, 68 F, sunny and windy
Designer: Robert Johnston, 1895
Playing Partners: Dave Jensen and Jordan Stankowski
Tees: White, Par 72 (70.7 rating/129 slope/6,101 yards)
Course Handicap: 7 (5.7 index)
Stats: 80 (40-40); 32 putts; 5/14 fairways; 9/18 greens; 3 penalty strokes
Set in the shadow of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco’s Presidio Golf Course is a beautiful gem in a city full of them. Just don’t look too closely at the city or you’ll see all the flaws too, like a porn star in HD. Anyways… I would’ve played anywhere today given the circumstances. I got to get a round in with two good college friends I hadn’t seen in a long time (and it would’ve been a third if not for some random conference). And just like the old days, I made a couple dollars and beat Jordan by a couple dozen (actually 80 to 96). Somehow it’s already been over ten years since I spent a year sharing an 11-foot by 13-foot room with another human being, and a shower with about 40 others.
So, after waking Dave up and meeting him on the third hole, it was time to forget to set my fantasy lineup and get to work enjoying another amazing October day in San Francisco. Also, I had to get away from the hundreds of earthquakes that had plagued San Ramon all week. If I’m gonna fall into a crack in the earth, I’ll do it on a golf course.
The course opens with a sharp dogleg-right par 4 of 354 yards. Just like many holes to follow, it plays up and downhill. This is actually one of the more extreme elevation changes, a good fifty foot drop or so to the fairway before an uphill approach shot. The tee box on the par-5 2nd brings one of the best views of the city at Presidio. You can see past the trees to a tall hill stacked with homes and some kind of gold mosque-type building. It’s not a gimme par 5, even at 450 yards. The second shot is blind uphill to a green protected by four bunkers in front. They’re pretty tough bunkers and the green is sloped back-to-front pretty hard, so it’s no easy birdie. The hardest hole on the front side is the 371-yard 3rd. From the fairway it plays a short to mid iron into a green guarded by a giant spiderweb sand trap in the front right. If you miss off the tee, however… To the left is a forest and OB stakes. The right side drops off the face of the earth next to the cart path. Missing right puts you about twenty feet below the fairway with nothing to aim at but treetops. Luckily I did fine and made par. My freshman year roommate Dave, on his first swing of the day after suffering a two-hole penalty ‘hangover delay’, got to have fun doing that. Just the hike alone would be exhausting.
The 5th is the kind of tiny par 4 you would expect a lot of on a course built in the 19th century. Yet just like every other course built before World War II (actually, this one was around before the Spanish-American War even), I always struggle with them. It’s like people back then didn’t need one-hundred-yard fairways for their drivers. Anyway, this hole isn’t hard in that respect. Only 295 yards, just play short of the sand trap about 200 yards away and then get as close as you can to the pin. Because this is the craziest green on the course. We all gathered at the bottom and putted to the back-left position atop the shelf like a mini golf hole. No one got in in less than three. Careful. You can stop at the General Store before playing again, at the 355-yard 6th. The blindest tee shot, it is not an easy hole from the right side. The 182-yard 7th is the longest par 3, but plays downhill. The left side falls off sharply, but the green is relatively flat. The 8th is a par 4 of 354 yards with your first view of the orange dome of the Emanu-El Jewish temple that is visible from about three other spots on the course. The 9th is a fun par 5 that winds left to right around some trees back down the parking lot. The view from this tee box has a deep horizon, but nothing iconic except a bunch of square buildings. On approach, you get another view of the temple as well as some rolling hills behind it with other buildings. It’s one of the more fun approaches, with a wide green that begs you to try for it in two. Just pick the right hemisphere of the surface, or it’s a circus putt left.
The 10th is an uphill climb of a par 5, making that 489 yards feel closer to 550. Back-to-back par 5’s are always fun, especially with two so different as 9 and 10. The 11th is a very downhill par 4 of 379 yards back to the General Store. I imagine back when the course opened, you could get important business telegrams here much like golfers these days seem so involved in their texts and phone calls. I wonder if their playing partners back then got annoyed when they held up play reading messages like they do today. Back then they probably just settled those disagreements with a Colt. The toughest hole on the course is the 439-yard 12th. Off the tee, anything on the right side of the left rough is okay, including missing way right. But, like the 2nd (which is designed the same, though a par 5 despite playing only 11 yards longer), the approach is the killer. Only this time you have to reach in two. That hole is followed by the 13th, the toughest par 3 on the course. Holes 12 and 13 are the potential round killers here. The 13th is 166 yards uphill with a punishing false front. And in the late afternoon sun of mid-October, the glare makes depth perception an issue. The 14th is another par 4 with a fairway that slopes to the right. It’s a cool hole, and with the shade creeping over the green, I bet this would be a nice place to relax and watch while some of those big names of the past played.
The dramatic 15th is only 154 yards, but much like the 4th, is downhill and tricky to gauge. The hole feels much smaller, with a backdrop looking out into one of the higher points in San Francisco and the giant radio tower poking through the fog. Don’t miss left, with a gnarly bunker beneath the green, bordered by thick rough.The 16th is an uphill par 4 of 354 yards that moves slightly right. The 17th is also an uphill par 4 that moves slightly right, playing 343 yards. Next to the 16th green, it might sounds like a freeway is running underneath you. That’s because there is. A vent shaft sits next to the green for the tunnel for California’s famed Highway 1 burrowed beneath. And my favorite part about that is when Jordan had a ten-foot putt to win a few skins, some asshat driver (probably native to Massachusetts), decided to lay on his horn the entire way through the tunnel, which happened to be the two minutes Jordan was working on his putt. He missed, he can blame Sully for that. I laughed. The 18th is a 482-yard par 5 with the narrowest chute to drive through on the course. The left side is lined with a tightly spaced row of eucalyptus trees that will swat down any errant tee shots. The right side features a line of cypresses that works as a border between the 18th and 10th fairways.
I loved playing this course. The Presidio area is my favorite spot in San Francisco. I have a few areas that definitely aren’t my favorite, like the Civic Center. But this spot is awesome. The history is worth the visit alone. This place was built in 1895 and still exists. When the first ball was hit here, San Francisco didn’t know what a major earthquake was. Soldiers trained here for the Spanish-American, Phillippine-American and Great Wars (World War I). Many of the trees were planted by the US Army over a hundred years ago, back when they wore khakis and looked like Teddy Roosevelt impersonators. Speaking of Teddy, he’s one of many American icons who have hoofed it here. Joe DiMaggio, Byron Nelson, Babe Ruth and Dwight Eisenhower. I’m sure Obama will also shut this place down to play one day. There’s enough history here to fill a book, so I’ll let you go and see for yourself.
#4, Par 3, 118 yards, 18-handicap, My Score: 3.
The par-3 4th is my favorite just because of how simple it seems. A downhill wedge to the largest green. Piece of cake. Except 2/3 of the green is surrounded by sand traps that must all result in an awkward stance. The green looks like a calm ocean, with its crests and dips. Like a rolling sea of grass. That doesn’t make it an easy two-putt. And with a pretty backdrop of those towering Monterey cypresses and pine needle bedding, it’s the prettiest hole at Presidio.
Layout: B+; even after 120 years it’s still a challenge. Obviously there have been some updates since then
Amenities: A, a driving range right next to the first tee, so you don’t have to worry about losing that rhythm. And what other course features a General Store instead of a snack shack?
Staff: A; they were all nice, cleaning clubs and providing receipts so I didn’t get towed
Difficulty: B-; very narrow and plays longer than you think. The greens are slow and bumpy
Scenery: A-; there are some great views on this course. It’d be nice to get just one glimpse of the big orange bridge, but that would involve probably chopping down a lane of these amazing cypress trees, so I’ll pass
Value: B; $130 for an outsider, which is what I am now with my Arizona license. Residents get a good rate, and on a nice, sunny day, there are few places better to be in The City by the Bay
Overall GPA: 3.45 (A-)