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San Francisco Bay area golf has championship pedigree

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When it comes to championship venues, the San Francisco Bay area has it over southern California: More tournaments on more courses, more history, more memories and even more opportunities for avid golfers to sample.

This overview doesn't include the Monterey Peninsula and courses like Pebble Beach and Cypress Point. These are courses in the San Francisco Bay area proper and includes its newest member, TPC Stonebrae, a private course atop the Hayward hills overlooking the entire bay. It is the site of the TPC Stonebrae Championship held in April on the Nationwide Tour.

From the start Stonebrae promised to be unique. Just coming to life included an appeals process that took more than 20 years. But the result is a stunning, memorable, trying course by David McLay Kidd, who also designed the first course at Bandon Dunes.

Kidd's rolling, swooping, climbing and descending routing features devilish greens, deep bunkers and, on about 14 holes, amazing views of the bay. There are five bridges in the San Francisco Bay and Stonebrae is one of the few places in the region you can see all five.

When the Nationwide pros play it, the tour flips the nines so the tournament ends at the temporary clubhouse overlooking what is the members' ninth green. It measures 7,133 yards from the tips, but even the Nationwide pros don't usually play it that long.

Capable of bedeviling even the most talented young pro, Stonebrae requires long carries on some tee shots but also on two second-shot forced carries on par 5s. The sloping terrain enabled Kidd to expand his greens to include shallows and ridges like few courses in the world. Stonebrae challenges better golfers every day and is one on which higher handicappers have to approach with diligence.

Stonebrae ranks as one of the toughest courses on the Nationwide Tour, but challenging championship venues are part of the Bay area tradition. Consider:

The Olympic Club, San Francisco

History: The Olympic Club held the 1955, '66, '87 and '98 U.S. Opens and will hold its fifth this June; it also hosted the 1981 U.S. Amateur and '93 PGA Tour Championship.

Of note: Mike Davis, the head of setting up courses for the U.S. Golf Association, has said that Olympic in 2012 will be the most difficult Open course in years.

Need To know: The Olympic Club is a private athletic club dating back to the 1860s and its first course opened in 1919. It has three, the Ocean, a par 3 and the Lakeside, which hosts the championships. Playing down slopes to Lake Merced (hence the name), the doglegs force golfers to shape tee shots to stay in the fairway (which the USGA just loves). Add in small greens protected by flaring bunkers, you get a demanding test.

Harding Park, San Francisco

History: Held 2005 American Express Championship, the 2010 President's Cup, several Charles Schwab Cups and will also be the site for a WGC event in the next two or three years. Harding Park also held the PGA Tour's Lucky Open in the 1960s.

Of note: From the 17th tee you can look across Lake Merced and see the 15th tee at Olympic Lakeside. Harding Park is the home course for the City Championship, an amateur tournament that attracts the region's best. The 1956 final had Ken Venturi and E. Harvie Ward in front of a gallery of 10,000.

Need to know: Harding Park opened in 1925 and always has been a public entity. After a remodeling headed by former USGA President Sandy Tatum, it now ranks as the best urban public course in the country.

Silverado Resort, Napa

History: Silverado served as the site of the Kaiser Open on the PGA Tour in the 1970s and the Transamerica Open on the Champions Tour.

Of note: This resort features two courses, the North Course, originally designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and recently upgraded by Johnny Miller, and the South Course, which Jones did most of the work.

Need to know: After golf, this resort serves as a fantastic jumping-off point into the famous Napa Valley wine region.

CordeValle, San Martin

History: Host of the Frys.com Open on the PGA Tour.

Of note: CordeValle has hosted the Frys.com Open on the PGA Tour for two years. This resort course opened in 1999 as a sort of 'country club for a day' for Silicon Valley executives. Since then it has evolved into one of the country's best, if relatively unknown, high-end resorts.

Need to know: Tiger Woods brought lots of attention to this Robert Trent Jones Jr. resort course south of San Jose when he returned to PGA Tour play in the fall of 2011.