GOLF AND THE GOLDEN GATE CITY

Consider the view from the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Start from left and move the eye toward the right: Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts, Sausalito, Russian Hill, Belvedere, Angel Island, Alcatraz, Coy Tower, Treasure Island and the Transamerica Tower all in view from your stately hotel room. An entire day, or two, could be spent gawking out the window. It’s a good thing there are enough golf options in the Bay Area to pull you outside.

On the private side, San Francisco Golf Club, similar to Montecito’s Valley Club, is a great test of golf designed by the famed A.W. Tillinghast, who also did Winged Foot. The San Francisco club is by design exclusive and therefore doesn’t get a lot of attention. While getting to play on it is one thing, actually playing it is a difficult exercise in itself. The course presents golfers with all the expected obstacles: massive mature trees, large bunkers and undulating putting surfaces. The second stage of the U.S. Open qualifying circuit runs through these parts almost every year. (I had one of my greatest golf feats here in a practice round when I made consecutive eagles, a 2 on the sixth hole and a 1 on 7.)

The Olympic Club, which straddles the edge of San Francisco, gets most of the attention from travelers as it is part of the U.S. Open rotation. Recognized by the USGA as one of the first 100 golf clubs in the United States, Olympic Club has three courses – the Cliffs, Lake, and Ocean, the latter of which are both 18-hole, par-71 spreads. The Lake Course is the one used in The US Open, but the Ocean is a great test also. Cliffs is a nine-hole, par-3 layout that runs along the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Just across Lake Merced is the recently remodeled Harding Park Course where Tiger Woods beat John Daly last fall in an epic battle. Harding Park is open to the public. Lake Merced Country Club is also a great track. Closer to town is Lincoln Park, which is also open to the public and is scheduled for a remodeling. Presidio Golf Club is the closest golf to the Nob Hill area, where the Fairmont sits. Presidio used to be a private military golf club, but is now open to the public and under management by the Arnold Palmer Company. It’s an impressive layout carved out of tall cypress pines and rolling terrain. Many holes offer great views of the Bay. There are many sharp doglegs and tricky greens. (For more on this course visit www.presidiogolf.com.)

A couple of suggestions about golf in San Francisco. Dress warmly, especially early morning and late afternoon; always have a sweater available. The best weather is in the fall, especially late September and October. The only real bad month for golf is probably February, when it is cold and rainy. Most of the courses are walkable and framed by the cypress pines. The unique thing about these trees is that balls hit into them and often don’t come down, so my advice is not to waste a lot of time looking for errant shots hit into these monsters of nature.

Staying There

The Fairmont Hotel is on the northeast portion of the city, blocks from the Bay Bridge entrance that connects commuters to Oakland. Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square and the Financial District are all just a cable car ride away and cars can be boarded adjacent to the hotel. Chinatown is just a couple of blocks away but wear comfortable shoes as the hills are steep. I actually like to get my workout by just walking around in San Francisco.

The Fairmont features the Tonga Room and the Laurel Court restaurants. The Tonga Room is where we ate and it offers a Pacific Rim Asian Cuisine. The atmosphere is tropical and it even rains every 20 minutes or so; long ago the restaurant was the hotel’s indoor pool. The Laurel Court is just in from the Lobby area, which is famous in itself as a set for several movies and the popular “Hotel” television show. The lobby area is the work of Julia Morgan, who was hired to redo the hotel after the great San Francisco Fire of 1906 that resulted from an earthquake. After her success at the Fairmont she went on to design Hearst Castle. The history of this property adorns the walls of many of the halls and if that’s not enough, the front desk can provide mountains of detailed information.

The Fairmont’s President’s Club is well worth joining. Members receive complimentary Internet access and health club privileges. Sets of Taylor Made Golf Clubs are available, a clever alternative for clients who don’t want to lug their own bag to what increasingly pesky airports.

For more information visit www.fairmont.com or call the hotel directly at 1-415-772-5000.

(Mr. Navis is a freelance writer. He has been involved in golf for the past 35 years as a tournament player, tournament organizer, is the owner of a golf headwear company, and part of Golf Week’s Course Rating Committee. He currently sports a 2-handicap. Ray can be reached at: rnavis@mac.com.)