109. California Golf Club of San Francisco
A. Vernon Macan (1926) / Kyle Phillips (2007)
For a course that featured Alister Mackenzie bunkers (added just two years after it first opened), Cal Club was never considered the equal of its near neighbors, No. 33 Olympic (Lake) or No. 35 San Francisco G.C. That’s partly because it was so claustrophobic, not just from dense trees, but from its truncated front nine reworked in the 60s by Trent Jones after road expansion took two holes. Architect Kyle Phillips resolved the problem by clearing trees and creating five new holes, including a new par-4 second in the old practice range and a new dogleg-right par-4 seventh atop a previously unused mesa in the middle of the course. Best of all, he re-introduced Mackenzie’s glamorous bunkers. Cal Club is now much closer to its top-ranked neighbors.
100 Greatest/Second 100 Greatest History: Ranked on America’s 200 Toughest: 1966. Ranked on Second 100 Greatest: 2013 through current. Highest ranking: No. 109, current. Previous ranking: No. 110
Panelist comments, California Golf Club of San Francisco:
Cal Club features some of the finest bunkering I’ve had the privilege of seeing in my entire life: such a variety of types and feature, but achieving a consistency and fairness of play. Miss your approach and short-side yourself in a greenside bunker, and you’re facing an almost certain, full one-shot mistake.
Amazingly good turf conditions. This is San Francisco, a damp city for many months of the year, and the fescue turf is consistently excellent. I don’t think I’ve played a course this firm and fast while still having actual green turf under the ball. The firm conditioning allows the land movement to shine and the ball bounded and went forever.
Full of different looks, different directions in the routing, and challenging yet very playable shots. Rewarded smart, well-executed shots and appropriately punished misses. The wide fairways leave a false sense of security if proper lines aren't followed. But the recovery shots are so fun to hit. The major challenge at Cal Club is coming into and around the greens, as the green complexes are large, undulating, and difficult to hold due to the firm and fast conditions. Additionally, the greens feature several false fronts and slopes that make approach shots not always as they appear to be from the fairway.
Being a mostly exposed, windy site on some rolling terrain, some holes play way shorter than they “should” and some play way longer. For example, the par-5 14th often plays into the wind, and the hole plays much longer than the yardage. Then on the par-5 17th, we were downwind and hit two drives 400 yards, leaving us with a pitching wedge second shot. This happened a few times. Same on the opener, a par 5, downwind, and I had a sand wedge into the green.
What Kyle Phillips and his team recreated at Cal Club is nothing short of a thing of a beauty—totally transforming what was already a gem into a truly iconic course giving it nationwide attention. The vibe of the Cal Club is second to none—such a cool place. It’s hard to have more fun on a golf course than here.