Much love for the municipal golf courses of San Francisco

You'll leave your heart at any of these four friendly local favorites.
TPC Harding Park anchors a fun, friendly and diverse San Francisco municipal golf scene.

SAN FRANCISCO - PGA Championship Week is upon us and the best of San Francisco golf will be on display for all the world to see as the pros tee it up at TPC Harding Park. As a local, I am very proud of the muni golf culture we have here in the Bay. Its patrons are a curious mix of scraggly regulars, golf hippies (it’s a thing), families, hardcore golfers, beginners, Marina bros and tech giants.

Normally, this piece would have served as a recommendation guide for those of you venturing to our golf corner of the world while you experience the PGA Championship and our city. Alas, COVID-19 had other plans and no fans means no out-of-town golfers looking to take in the SF muni golf experience. But when the world does get back to normal and you decide to make the trip, make sure to put San Francisco muni golf on your list.

Lincoln Park is San Francisco's oldest municipal golf course.

As the early evening fog begins to envelop the city’s coastline, echoes of “Fore!” ring out through the mist. Lincoln Park is perched right along the dramatic coastline that offers sweeping vistas of the Pacific Ocean, the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the city itself. It is San Francisco’s oldest golf course owned and operated by the city with golf there dating back to 1902. It is not a particularly long course, so it’s great for golfers of all skill levels. Hikers and golfers alike walk through the recreational area that winds its way around the Legion of Honor, a beautiful museum and a recommended stop to anyone visiting San Francisco and in need of a golf break. Lincoln Park is definitely a little rough around the edges and the clubhouse has seen better days, but you can’t beat the breakfast sandwich or the view. Watch out for the bumpy greens!
Green fees: $38 (San Francisco residents)/$52 (non-residents).

The fourth at Presidio Golf Course is short at 130 yards, and it plays from an elevated tee.

Presidio offers an experience similar to TPC Harding Park or some of the clubs nearby. It has beautiful facilities and were it not on the shorter side, it would be a wonderful host for a tournament in its own right. However, for us non-pros, it offers quite the test. I find the bunkers to be especially challenging and I would even go so far as to call them beautiful. Nestled in one of San Francisco’s most prestigious neighborhoods, Presidio boasts gorgeous city views and plenty of Northern California cypress trees to bounce your ball off of. It’s a welcoming place for scratch golfers and beginners alike and is one of the properties San Franciscans are most proud of.
Green fees: $85. (Note: due to COVID-19, only Northern California residents may play Presidio currently.)

The par-3 17th at TPC Harding Park, a historic San Francisco municipal course that hosted the 2020 PGA Championship

I’ve shared my feelings about Harding before, but I really love this golf course. It’s a perfect representation of NorCal golf with cypress-lined Lake Merced as its backdrop. It’s no surprise that it has played host to many a tournament, including the 2009 Presidents Cup. Golfers lucky enough to play Harding in the past few months have experienced championship-like conditions, including rough so deep that if you miss the fairway, good luck ever finding your ball again. And if you do find it, good luck hacking it out of there! TPC Harding Park is a course that all golfers should have on their bucket lists, and under normal conditions it’s more friendly to play. If you find yourself there, try to sneak in nine holes on the Fleming Course as well. It’s a little less daunting for the new golfer but still offers enough of a challenge to keep low handicappers engaged.
Green fees: $78 (San Francisco residents)/$200 (non-residents).

Gleneagles Golf Course is the hidden gem of San Francisco public golf.

If you only have time for one stop in muni land, this is it, folks. Gleneagles is a sneaky-challenging track unlike any other in the city. It reminds you of a hidden gem in a land far, far away from San Francisco's McLaren Park. Much like other area courses, it winds its way through cypress trees and offers glimpses here and there of the Bay. The nine-hole course boasts 2 sets of tees, one for the “front nine” and one for the “back nine”. There are no forward tees or senior tees and they value fast play above all else. Beware the greens! For a course that is generally a bit rough around the edges, the greens are impeccably kept, difficult to read and will trick you more than a few times. At the end of the round as you approach the final green, you’re greeted with an amphitheater-like feel where golfers exiting the self-proclaimed “finest 19th hole in all the golf kingdom” cheer on those who manage to tame the two-tiered green and boo those that fall victim to it. Gleneagles is an acquired taste to be certain, but I can’t recommend enough giving it a try. If regular golf isn’t for you, they even have a full disk golf course set up.
Green Fees: $33 (9 holes).

Options outside city limits

If you have time to venture out of the city, to the east, Corica Park is a great stop, especially if you’re looking for a short course. Their Mif Albright Par-3 Course is extremely inviting to golfers of all skill levels and their Rees Jones-renovated South Course (green fees: $52-$84, depending on residency) boasts an Australian Sandbelt feel without having to go all the way Down Under.

To the south, Mariner’s Point in Foster City is a great little 9-hole track complete with Bay views and lighted night golf seven days a week ($18). It’s also outfitted with Top Tracer technology on the range so you can enjoy a tuneup session with all the bells and whistles and stats you could ever want.

My main recommendation for all of these courses would be to book as early as possible! I tried to play Golden Gate Park recently and couldn’t get a tee time for the life of me. They are booked out way in advance and with COVID-19, their rules are quite strict and golfers are more eager to play than ever. Make sure to make your bookings with enough notice if and when you make your trip to the Bay Area.

The signature San Francisco municipal golf course is no stranger to tournaments, but this is its first major.
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Kira K Dixon (formerly Kazantsev) is a reporter for Golf Channel's Golf Today and Golf Central shows and Special Contributor to GolfPass. Kira grew up playing golf and was Miss America in 2015. 
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Sorry. I lived in the Bay area until last year and give no kudos to any suggestion that Harding Park fits the spirit of what municipal golf course should be and always has been. I cringed every time the announcers blatherd on about Harding being a muni. Heck, they went on and on several
times about Harding being home to one of the oldest amateur tournaments in America each year. But they forget to tell you that to play the entire event strectched over the course of a couple months it was going to cost you over $700!. Having lived outside of NYC and in San Diego as well, I also saw what happened to both Torrey Pines and Bethpage Park, great courses all, but.....before the tours and the golf powers sunk their teeth into them they were affordable (VERY affordable) course for local and regional players alike. Now? All three are in the $200+ range with little in the way of price breaks for locals. In Torrey Pines case, it's even worse since the prime tee times now go to the local hotel packages for tourists. So to commentators and golf announcers out there - please begin honestly referring to them as "formerly affordable muni courses".

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Too bad you didn’t mention the Par 3 Course in Golden Gate Park

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Much love for the municipal golf courses of San Francisco