San Francisco Bay-area golf has championship pedigree

By Ted Johnson, Contributor

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.

TPC Stonebrae golf course- hole 8
TPC Stonebrae, a new course in the Bay area, hosts the TPC Stonebrae Championship on the Nationwide Tour.
TPC Stonebrae golf course- hole 8The Olympic Club - Lake Course - hole 18Harding Park golf course
If you go

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

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

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

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

CordeValle, San Martin

History: Host of the Open on the PGA Tour.

Of note: CordeValle has hosted the 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.

Ted JohnsonTed Johnson, Contributor

Ted Johnson has been writing about golf for more than 25 years. Having traveled the world with his clubs, he counts himself lucky to have played Cypress Point, but Turnberry’s Ailsa, Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath in Australia and Ireland’s Royal County Down tend to rotate as favorites. And then there was the trip to Vietnam, where he found himself in Vung Tao and his luggage in Ho Chi Minh City. That’s why to this day he carries a toothbrush in his golf bag.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Ted Johnson Article

    Donna wrote on: Mar 21, 2012

    Lake Merced Golf Club is celebrating it's 90th Anniversary and will be hosting this year's U.S. Girls' Jr. Championship. One of USGA's 13 major championships. LM will also host this years' US Open Sectional Qualifier. LM has a rich history and is a golf club that gives back to the game of golf through it's relationships with the First Tee of SF and the NCGA Foundation as well as it's own Jr. Merit Program that opens it's doors to young adults who do not have the opportunity or means to expose themselves to the game of golf. LM is one of 5 courses that hosts he California State Amateur Championship. In 2010 it also hosted the NCAA Regional Championship. I encourage you to reach out to the General Manager of LM.


  • Lake Merced GC

    Mitch L wrote on: Mar 20, 2012

    Dont forget Lake Merced Golf Club that hosts this years US Open sectional qualifying as well as this years US Junior Girls Championship in July.
    Great history at this club as well.