If you’re going to San Francisco, no need to stick a bunch of flowers in your hair. The city’s counter-culture lives on mostly as nostalgia. What you ought to pack instead are a few irons and a putter. You’ll want them for a foray into Golden Gate Park.
Roughly three-miles long and half-mile wide, San Francisco’s answer to New York’s Central Park stretches from the edge of the Haight-Ashbury district, erstwhile home to the Grateful Dead and epicenter of hippie-era hubbub, to the western fringes of the city. Here, little more than a stone’s throw from the ocean, stitched through stands of cypress and eucalyptus, sits a sweet and sleepy layout, a course so understated that even long-time residents are often surprised to learn that it exists.
Golden Gate Park Golf Course, a 9-hole, par-3 layout, is the work of Jack Fleming, a former protege of Alister MacKenzie who went on to become San Francisco’s first golf “caretaker” — a throwback title for a man who proved to be ahead of his time. Short courses, the darlings of golf developers today, were dear to Fleming. He built a bunch of them around the city, including Gleneagles, a beloved 9-holer in South San Francisco, and the Jack Fleming 9 at Harding Park, a top-notch executive track encircled by the course where Collin Morikawa won his first major.
Land has long come at a premium in Northern California, and Fleming packed a lot into small plots, maybe nowhere more than in Golden Gate Park. The course, which sits just down the road from the Olympic Club on similarly sandy soil, offers the best of San Francisco golf, in miniature. The ghostly trees. The coastal breezes. The fog and sunshine swapping in and out. At 1,302 yards (the 194-yard 9th is the longest shot you face) it’s the kind of place a newbie can get around without feeling deflated. But it’s not a cakewalk. The air is heavy. The winds can be perplexing. And gentle shifts in elevation give you all the more to ponder. For out-of-towners, a 9-hole loop costs $23 on weekdays and $27 on weekends. That’s a bargain price in a tech-inflated city, and about what you’d pay for a tie-dye shirt in any tourist trap outside the park.