* Long overshadowed in the Bay Area is San Jose. Not only is its airport more convenient in many ways, with far fewer weather delays, but the city is chock full of great golf values, including Cinnabar Hills (cinnabarhills.com, 408-323-5200, $64-$105), perhaps the region's ultimate hidden gem.
The late John Harbottle's 27-holer dates to 1998 and debate rages as to which nine is best. The aptly named Lake nine dishes out liquid trouble on three holes, while the wide-open Mountain is most susceptible to breezes. Still, it's the narrow, even quirky Canyon nine that serves up the most drama.
* If you're craving a taste of the Olympic Club's legendary halfway house hamburger in a hot dog bun, aka the "burger dog," but don't have connections to play there, head to Silverado Resort (silveradoresort.com, 707-257-0200) in the wine country of Napa instead.
Not only is Johnny Miller's redesigned North course very easy to digest, but the family that handles Olympic's burgers has a second branch here that serves up identical fare from a truck parked on the course.
* Only time for nine holes? You have three options of varying levels in San Francisco. Just want to stretch the legs? Try Golden Gate Park's par-3 course (goldengateparkgolf.com, 415-751-8987, $15-$19) on the city's west side. Want to use more than your wedge? Head to the Fleming Course at TPC Harding Park (tpc.com/tpc-harding-park-fleming-course, 415-864-4690, $27-$32). Looking for a true challenge? Gleneagles GC at McLaren Park (gleneaglesgolfsf.com, 415-587-2425, $17-$20.50) on the city's south side is your best bet and closest to the airport.
* Alister MacKenzie devotees with no private club connections can check out Sharpe Park in Pacifica, just south of San Francisco, and Northwood in Monte Rio, 90 minutes north of the Bay Area. The former (sfrecpark.org/destination/sharp-park/sharp-park-golf-course/, 650-359-3380, $30-$49) dates back to 1931 and the MacKenzie layout has been the subject of an ongoing battle between environmentalists and golfers. Built adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, conditions are usually spotty but you still get glimpses of the famed designer's efforts.
The quiet fairways at Northwood (northwoodgolf.com, 707-865-1116, $33-$51) are lined by towering redwoods. The laid-back layout opened in 1928, the same year as MacKenzie's slightly more famous design at Cypress Point.
* Why sign up for associate membership in the Northern California Golf Association (ncga.org) if you already belong to another golf association at home? Because for $60 a year, you get discounts on green fees and/or merchandise at numerous NCGA courses in the region, including Old Greenwood, Coyote Moon, Gray's Crossing, Dark Horse, Callippe Preserve and Half Moon Bay.
Travelin' Joe Says
"Forget flowers in your hair -- if you're going to San Francisco, show up with a golf bag in your car. True, you could spend your entire vacation exploring San Francisco's attractions and never lift a club, but what kind of holiday would that be? Instead, budget some time to experience the dizzying array of golf options within the city limits. Start with TPC Harding Park (tpc.com/tpc-harding-park, 415-664-4690, $155-$175), host to the 2005 American Express Championship, when Tiger Woods edged John Daly in a playoff and the 2009 Presidents Cup, when the U.S. defeated the International team 19.5-14.5.
"With cypress and eucalyptus trees lining every hole and Lake Merced in play on the par-4 18th, Harding Park is an attractive, pricey, yet worthy diversion. Equally compelling -- and even closer to downtown -- is the Presidio Golf Club (presidiogolf.com, 415-561-4653, $110-$145), which dates to 1895. Clinging to steep hillsides within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, this rugged layout is usually chilly, windy and foggy, stern stuff, as befits its former life as a military spread.
"Finally, iconic images pepper the hilly San Francisco landscape, but let's not kid ourselves -- the Golden Gate Bridge tops them all. Lincoln Park (sfrecpark.org, 415-221-9911, $21-$34) is a scruffy, 5,146-yard, par-68 muni with no practice range and a glacial pace of play, but patient souls are rewarded (on a clear day) at the 240-yard, par-3 17th, which dishes out a how-quickly-can-I-post-this-on-Facebook view of the city's iconic bridge as well as the Pacific Ocean, Marin Headlands and San Francisco Bay."
From The Expert
"Though golf is a year-round game around the Bay Area, not all seasons were created equal for it. Summers can be cool (San Francisco's famous fog often calls for a sweater), and winters can be wet, so if you're traveling anytime between November and April, bring rain gear and a windbreaker, just in case.
"For clear skies and pure conditions, late spring is sweet, but early autumn is even better: warm, dry, postcard California. It also happens to be crush season in nearby Napa and Sonoma, a great time to pair your golf with a wine country tasting trip.
"From San Francisco, it's a two-hour drive to the Sierra foothills, and three-and-a-half hours to Tahoe, home to some of the country's most arresting mountain golf. At that altitude, the exact length of the golf season depends on snowfall, but most courses open by early May and close shortly before Thanksgiving.
"Summer is peak season, so expect to pay prime rates. For discount tee times -- and less crowded tee sheets -- consider hitting Tahoe during the shoulder seasons, just before Memorial Day or after Labor Day." -- Josh Sens, Bay Area resident and Golf Magazine Contributing Writer
Top 100 Teacher Bay Area Tip
"Golf in Northern California is different due to our cool climate. In the San Francisco Bay Area, we experience the marine layer and many foggy mornings. The fairways are softer and there is not much roll. To drive it long in these conditions, you need to launch it higher with less spin.
"The key is to play the ball forward in your stance and make sure your feet are slightly wider than your shoulders. As you widen your stance, you should feel 60 percent of your weight on your back foot.
"Make sure your sternum is behind the ball and square your shoulders. Golfers tend to get their shoulders open as they reach for that ball that is forward in their stance. Don't fall into that trap!
"Now you are prepared to launch the ball high as your attack angle will be ascending when you hit the ball. If you are an advanced golfer, try to hit the ball slightly above the sweet spot. This will launch the ball even higher and minimize backspin. The lower spin rate will lead to more carry as well. Now go rip it!" -- Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Josh Zander is based at Stanford University Golf Club in Palo Alto and The Presidio Golf Course in San Franciso. He can be reached at zandergolf.com
Top 100 Teacher - Lake Tahoe Tip
"When you play golf in the mountains, you'll enjoy spectacular vistas and cool summer temperatures. You'll also experience two things that will surely affect your play: altitude and unlevel lies.
"Plan on a 10 percent increase in distance at an elevation of 5,000 to 6,000 feet. Yes, your math skills will be tested -- but extra distance is a fun problem to have. You'll also need to adjust your stance, swing and alignment to hit the ball solidly and compensate for the altered ball flight you'll get from these awkward situations.
"The downhill lie is the most difficult. In this case, play the ball toward your back foot, place more weight on your front foot and set your torso perpendicular to the hill. You'll find it helpful to turn your front foot out (down the hill) to give you a wider base of support and better balance. Expect a low fading shot from this lie.
"Adjust your aim and club selection, allowing for that ball flight -- don't fight it. You need loft on this shot, so avoid hitting long irons and fairway woods even if the distance to the green requires it." -- Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Keith Lyford is based at Old Greenwood Golf Course in North Lake Tahoe. He can be reached at 530-550-2670 or firstname.lastname@example.org
TOP 100 TEACHERS: Need a lesson from one of the country's best teachers while in Northern California? Then contact a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher:
Josh Zander, Stanford University G.C., Palo Alto, and the Presidio Golf Course, San Francisco; zandergolf.com, email@example.com
Keith Lyford, Golf Academy at Old Greenwood, North Lake Tahoe; 530-550-2670, firstname.lastname@example.org
GolfTEC: If you have downloaded the My Pro To Go app (myprotogo.com) and want an in-person swing consultation, or just need a tune-up before starting your first round here, head to one of GolfTec's locations throughout Northern California:
Pleasant Hill (925-264-5047)
San Carlos (650-595-4653)
San Jose (408-243-4653)