At GOLF.com, our hobby is also our job. That means, just like you, we spend much of the year teeing it up high, swinging hard and trying to avoid double bogeys as much as possible. But some courses we stumble upon are simply more memorable than others. Here, in a breakdown of our favorite public courses our staff played over the last 12 months, are those spots.
TPC Harding Park, San Francisco, Calif.
Northern California’s Bay Area is chock full of quality golf. Private courses like Olympic Club, San Francisco Golf Club and Cal Club highlight the menu, but there are plenty of high-caliber public tracks as well.
Presidio Golf Couse, Sharp Park and (if you venture a little further south) Pasatiempo are all solid public-access tracks that should be on your radar if you’re in the area. But after receiving a facelift and hosting several big-time events over the last 20 years, TPC Harding Park might be the most well-known.
That’s why, during my trip out to San Francisco last summer to cover the U.S. Women’s Open at Olympic Club, I decided to venture across Lake Merced to see what Harding Park was all about.
First impressions: While the other courses on Lake Merced are private and gated, Harding Park has much more welcoming vibe. When I arrived, the parking lot was packed with cars as joggers and bikers traversed the paths that surround the property.
The clubhouse is expansive — and quite nice for a municipal course — and it offers a great view of the 18th hole. Get there early enough and you can grab a bite to eat while players try to navigate the difficult closing hole.
Difficulty: If you get crooked off the tee, Harding Park will get some good punches in. Keep it in the fairway, however, and birdie opportunities are out there. That task is easier said than done, though.
After having hosted a major championship in 2020, the fairways were still quite narrow. But luckily, the course is not exceedingly long at just 6,400 yards from the white tees. The rough is penal at Harding Park, so avoid it best you can. The greens are not too difficult in terms of slope, but if you get out of position, there are three-putts lurking.
Fun facts: While the main course gets most of the press, there is a nine-hole short course located on property as well. Tucked in the middle of the main 18, the Fleming 9 features six par-3s and three par-4s, with the longest hole topping out at 400 yards. If you can’t snag a tee time on the main course, head to the Fleming 9 and enjoy the walk.
What I loved: The last six holes are awesome. That closing third of the course hugs Lake Merced and gives gorgeous views of Olympic Club in the distance. Not to mention, this stretch now has a place in golf history. Collin Morikawa chipped in for birdie at the 14th to insert himself into contention at the 2020 PGA, and he hit the shot of the tournament at the 16th to set up the deciding eagle. And while the 18th is a ho-hum finisher for Tour stars, it’s quite beefy for your average joe. A forced carry over a hazard makes for a daunting tee shot, and the approach isn’t easy either. Not to mention the added pressure of onlookers from the clubhouse grill. Don’t let the pros fool you — 18 is no joke!
What I didn’t love: The first 12 holes are a bit bland. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy those holes, but the architecture leaves quite a bit to the imagination. The entire front nine feels like a down-and-back exercise, and none of those holes will stick in your mind very long when you look back on your round.
Favorite hole: No. 16 is a sweet hole. The short, dog-leg right par-4 came to notoriety during Collin Morikawa’s back-nine charge, and it’s always fun trying to recreate historic shots. Plus, at just over 300 yards, it’s a great birdie chance at the tail end of your round. Just remember to fade the ball enough; if you don’t, you’ll see your ball trickle down an embankment into Lake Merced.
Final verdict: Harding Park is definitely a fun course, and worth a tee time if you’re in the Bay Area. The price can get a little steep depending on the time you play it, but if you like playing courses the pros do, it’s worth it. Don’t expect to be knocked off your feet by every hole, but there are certainly some stretches that are noteworthy.