Designed before the Model T, Presidio Golf Course in San Francisco is still a fun ride
- Ted Johnson
- Oct 24, 2011 12:00 AM ET
SAN FRANCISCO -- You have to wonder if anyone on staff at the Presidio Golf Course sneaks Kryptonite into the golf bags.
Approach shots tend to land short. There's no boom in booming drives. And for a golf course where nine of its 10 par 4s play less than 400 yards and three of its par 5s play barely more than 500 yards, that's saying something.
Yet it takes a few rounds to figure out that it's the golf course, located a few miles south of the Golden Gate Bridge, and not some secret substance that drains distance out of your driver and irons.
Presidio plays only 6,400 yards from the back tees, "but it plays at least 500 yards longer than that," said Rob Dugan, head professional at Presidio.
The course opened in 1895, and it maintains that pastoral elegance that resonates as you follow its routing up, around and down. There are no homes, but plenty of central San Francisco neighborhoods can be glimpsed through the majestic Monterey pines. It's easy to walk, though the elevation changes can take a little zest out of your legs. And the views across the course give the feeling of being in a wooded oasis.
It is soon learned that distance isn't the key here. The sloping fairways require good placement to stay in the short stuff. The century-old Monterey pines can turn errant shots into take-your-medicine punch-outs back to the fairway. Add in fast greens, where slopes can confound even the club regular, and the Presidio is one of those northern California middleweights that's not big but potentially lethal.
The Presidio is a block of land that served as an old army base dating back to the Spanish settlement; the land is still owned by the U.S. government. The military maintains a private club on the course, and the military used to have special playing privileges for its veterans and current personnel. Some time ago it was not uncommon to see Joe DiMaggio in the old clubhouse.
Arnold Palmer's golf course management group took over the course's management in 1995, availing it to full public play. It now can be considered as one of the best urban daily-fee courses in the country. What makes that claim rather unfair is the fact that less than five miles away is Harding Park, the best urban public course in the country.
But together, they may rank as the best tandem of public access golf courses within the confines of a major U.S. city.
Instruction at Presidio Golf Course
There is a full grass driving range available and a large putting green. Corporate and junior clinics are available as well as group and individual lessons.
Presidio Golf Course: The verdict
In simple terms, Presidio is a lush old-fashioned golf course. Its defenses are doglegs, sloping fairways, elevation changes and tricky greens.
Uphill shots result in very little roll. Side-hill shots require good balance and timing. Downhill shots are all about judgment. The greens are deceptive. And in those sentences you see the charms of 18 holes designed before the Model T.
About four years ago, Dugan said, management started to accelerate its campaign to improve the course's condition, which had been one of very soft turf and bumpy greens. More than 400 trees have been cut down since 2007, and you wouldn't know it because so many remain. The result is better circulation and more sun to grow grass, especially on greens. Drainage projects continue, as is a project headed in part by former PGA Tour pro Richard Zokol to redo the course's bunkers.
But these are secondary memories to a course that glows vernal in the sun, its tree-lined fairways serving as constant reminders of golf's enduring efficacy. It was designed for hickory shafts, but even now in the age of titanium and graphite it still holds up.
Stay and play in San Francisco
As one of the great cities in the world, San Francisco has myriad hotel options. For the boutique hotel person, consider the Monaco on Mason Street downtown. For food and libation, the Marina District can't be beat. From the Presidio, take 19th Avenue north and exit toward the Marina, where restaurants and gathering places abound, including Tipsy Pig, Balboa Cafe and Perry's.
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