TPC Harding Park Course Review
by Pete Wlodkowski, for AmateurGolf.com
I remember fondly moving to San Francisco in 1993 and discovering one of the country’s true municipal golf course gems, Harding Park. Situated on a beautiful piece of property, the only thing separating the rag tag city-owned course from it’s famous neighbor The Olympic Club was Lake Merced. The clubhouse restaurant, with it’s vinyl diner-style seats, had a fresh roast turkey every day, and making the turn and grabbing one of their turkey sandwiches was a ritual.
Harding Park had a fantastic layout, a history of hosting the PGA Tour Lucky Strikes Open in the old days, and much more. For amateur golfers in Northern California, playing in the San Francisco City Championship at Harding Park was a must. The tournament is the oldest continually-held city championship in the country.
We used to joke about having everything the same as The Olympic Club while playing at Harding – – weather, trees, and even a great layout, designed by the same architect. But the conditions — especially in the winter — were not so good.
That all changed in 2003 with former USGA President Sandy Tatum playing a major roll in bringing the City of San Francisco and other parties together to make a complete renovation happen. (With the underlying design largely left alone.) Shortly after, the sparkling new course played host to the 2005 American Express Championship, and was universally praised by both the pros and the golfing media. Tiger Woods defeated John Daly in a playoff that ended on the short par-4 16th, where Daly missed a 3 foot par putt (and reportedly headed to Las Vegas where he gambled away his winnings).
In the ensuing years Harding Park continued to enjoy success, both in rounds played and tournaments hosted. There was the President’s Cup in 2009, and three Charles Schwab Cups on the Champions Tour (2010, 2011, 2013). Preceding the Schwab Cup run was a partnership with the PGA Tour and City of San Francisco that brought Harding Park into the TPC network. It is now officially called TPC Harding Park, but still commonly referred to as Harding Park, just as the San Francisco City Championship is called “The City.”
Enough with the history already, you might be thinking. What’s it like to play there?
To start off, Harding Park has always been very walkable, and if you’re not required to take a cart I certainly would advise enjoying your day on foot. Views of the lake can be found on many of the holes; they are especially dramatic as you round the corner on the back nine into holes 14-18. The 9th and 10th holes are back-to-back par 5s, and while the 9th is pretty straightforward the 10th is no pushover as it requires a straight drive and well-placed lay up. The lake on your left isn’t in play as in a “ball splashes” kind of way, but everything from the tree line left slopes off into a densely-wooded section marked as hazard.
You’ll drive over the lake from the back tee of the 18th hole, a dogleg-left where long pros simply blast over the corner, but were the average golfer will have to gingerly steer around.
You will remember the 18th from TV, but you if you’re a huge golf-watcher you might get confused about the hole numbers when playing TPC Harding Park for the first time. That’s because for the match play events they typically change the routing to get more matches going through that awesome final stretch of holes.
As you might expect, courses like TPC Harding Park, or Torrey Pines in San Diego, tend to get a lot pricier when they get a makeover and host major pro tournaments. And for good reason. Unfortunately, that can push them beyond affordable for some golfers visiting the area which is a shame. Because if you visit San Francisco with your clubs, you’ve got to make it over to Harding Park. Last we checked, non-resident greens fees were still under $200 on the weekend (less mid-week) and twilight rates bring those down even more. The Fleming nine, which is located inside the perimeter of the main course, is a lot of fun too, and can be played for about $35.
TPC Harding Park is slated to host the 2020 PGA Championship, and the 2025 President’s Cup. Sandy Tatum’s hard work and dedication has indeed ensured a bright future for an old favorite.