When you think of San Francisco and the Bay Area, Haight-Ashbury, Big Tech, expensive real estate, and Left Coast culture are just a few of the things that come to mind.
What you might not realize is that City by the Bay is also home to some iconic golf. Sure, the Bay Area is rich with a tradition of big tournaments at exclusive venues like San Francisco Golf Club, the Olympic Club, Meadow Club, and Lake Merced. Unfortunately, those are tracks that most folks won’t ever get to play unless they’re invited by a member.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of great golf for the everyman though. I’ve been fortunate enough to play a few of the city’s great public tracks and one of our writers has played a few as well.
Together, we agreed on the following as a list of the best courses in the Bay Area.
TPC Harding Park
It was sure cool to watch the 2020 PGA Championship on this public track having played it just last year. Ok, I’ll admit, I didn’t tip it out like the best in the world but, I was constantly reminded of how neat it was to walk the ghostly fairways framed by trees that made the experience seem like something out of a Harry Potter book.
Named after President Warren G. Harding, this track opened for play in 1925. After falling on hard times, the course and facilities were renovated in the early 2000’s and the results proved to be even better than before.
If you’re in search of a classic coastal design that’s played host to major championships and the President’s Cup, Harding Park is a must play.
Sharp Park Golf Course
One of the best municipal golf courses I’ve ever played is Sharp Park. This is true muni golf. Here, you’re not going to find a club house full of fancy trappings or too many pleated pants stepping out of sports cars in the parking lot.
Instead, this 1932 Alister MacKenzie design is a place for the everyman. There’s no judgement and everyone is welcome.
In 2014, Golfweek Magazine named Sharp Park as one of the 50 best municipal golf courses in the nation and it’s easy to see why. Even though it only measures 6,300 yards, this par 72 is full of character and will keep you on your toes. A mixture of long and short holes force you think your way around and execute full shots with precision.
For a golf course that’s one of the busiest in the San Francisco area, I was taken aback with how well-maintained Sharp Park is.
Presidio Golf Course
Formerly a private club, Presidio Golf Course opened to the public in 1995. Since then, it’s been met with rave reviews.
Located just a few short minutes from downtown San Francisco, Presidio is a narrow, hilly layout where strategy and execution are far more important than bombing drivers.
You’ll also want to pay attention on the greens when you play Presidio. Even though they’re small, they’re undulating and staying below the hole is of the utmost importance.
Eucalyptus trees and Monterey pines line each fairway and make for a challenging round of golf in a beautiful setting.
If you’re close to downtown and have time for a round of golf, Presidio just might be your best bet.
Peacock Gap Golf Club
Located 25 miles north of downtown in San Rafael, Peacock Gap Golf Club was voted “Best in the County” by Marin Magazine.
Even though this course is close to the hustle and bustle of the big city, it’s just far enough away that playing a round gives you the sense that you’re out for a quiet, leisurely stroll in the hill country.
Peacock Gap is generous off the tee and the approaches are open in the front which is great for beginning players that prefer to run shots onto the green.
For better players, the course still offers plenty of challenges without playing too long.
If sharpening your skills is what you’re after, the practice facilities at Peacock Gap are second to none. The putting and chipping green measures over 6,000 square feet. The driving range has multiple grass tees and enough targets for every club in your bag.
If you’re looking to get out of the city, Peacock Gap Golf Club is a great choice for an affordable price.
Baylands Golf Links
In 2018, Baylands Golf Links reopened after being closed for a seven-year renovation.
One of the things I like most about this golf course is that it’s friendly for people that like to walk.
Plenty of room off the tee allows you to let the big dog eat.
Five par fives and five par threes make for some interesting risk-reward opportunities on both the front and back nines.
It wasn’t that long ago that this track was the black sheep of courses in Palo Alto. Today, that’s anything but the case and it’s certainly worth playing.
The Course at Wente Vineyards
If you know anything about Greg Norman, you know that he loves wine. That’s why it should come as little surprise that he was chosen to design this wonderful track in wine country.
Opened in 1998, this course features dramatic elevation changes, natural woodlands, rolling hills, and vineyards that shape the routing.
I’ve played this course a couple of times and have never been disappointed. It takes a time or two to get your sight lines figured out, but the condition is impeccable.
Be sure to stick around and have a glass of wine in the grill when you’re done. There’s plenty to choose from and the food is superb as well.
Lincoln Park Golf Course
I’ll be the first to admit, Lincoln Park isn’t the course I’d choose to play for the best greens and manicured fairways in the Bay Area.
However, this muni has a charm about it that keeps both locals and visitors coming back. Much like Sharp Park, you’d best check any pretention in the parking lot. The cast of characters that play here are blue collar and diverse. That’s what makes it fun.
What’s most memorable about this track are the sprawling views of the Golden Gate Bridge that can be taken in from most holes.
When you come to Lincoln Park with an attitude of appreciation and gratitude, it’s impossible not to have an enjoyable day.
Pasatiempo Golf Course
If you can afford to splurge on just one round of golf while you’re in the Bay Area, it should be at Pasatiempo Golf Course.
Designed by Alister MacKenzie, this golf course is all about where you leave your second shot. The greens are some of the most undulating in the state and being on the wrong side of the hole is the kiss of death.
While the course is demanding from tee-to-green, it isn’t overly long and gives you a chance to score… If you can putt that is.
Every time I play Pasatiempo, I leave feeling thankful and frustrated in the same breath. Thankful to have played such an iconic gem and, frustrated because I have more putts here than I normally do anywhere else.
Hiddenbrooke Golf Club
If you want to get away from the crowds and fog in the big city, make the trek to Hiddenbrooke Golf Club.
This Arnold Palmer design has received more accolades than I have room to list and it’s always in spectacular condition.
You’ll want to bring your rangefinder even though the course is well-marked. Elevation changes make picking the right club difficult but good shots will be rewarded.
The course also has one of the premier practice facilities in the area. If you just want to work on your game, Hiddenbrooke is the spot.
The Bridges Golf Club
Located just 35 minutes from downtown San Francisco, The Bridges is nestled in the foothills surrounding San Ramon.
A round of golf at this beautiful property will have you feeling like you’re in a different country compared to the hustle and bustle of the big city.
Sloping fairways and undulating greens provide a solid test yet plenty of tee boxes make the course enjoyable for just about anyone.
Make sure you leave some time after your round to enjoy all the amenities in what is one of the most beautiful clubhouses in all of California.
Make the drive to play here, it’s worth it.
I relish every opportunity I get to visit San Francisco and the greater Bay Area. I don’t always get to play as much golf as I’d like when I’m there but when I do, it’s always memorable.
Even though this great city is known for many other great things besides golf, it’s truly home to some great golf opportunities at a reasonable price. Whether you want to play a seaside, windswept links course, or a quaint, tree-lined challenge like Presidio, there are plenty of choices to choose from. With a little planning ahead of time, any golf trip to the Bay Area surely won’t disappoint.