The people with flowers in their hair who were once drawn to San Francisco by Scott McKenzie’s hippie ballad now arrive with golf clubs in their trunks. Welcome to the intersection of great golf and culinary treats. But be warned: Winter weather in Northern California can range from sunny to soupy to soaking wet — all in one afternoon. So leave the tie-dyes at home and pray for sun. If you get it, you’ll have a golf weekend you’ll never forget.
San Francisco is only seven square miles, so drop anchor in the heart of the action atop Nob Hill at the landmark Fairmont Hotel, where Tony Bennett first sang about leaving his heart behind.
Scoot 15 minutes west to Lincoln Park Golf Course. Johnny Miller’s old stomping ground is a real paradox: scruffy with slow greens, short at 5,416 yards, and a pushover on paper (par 68, slope 109), but it has plenty of bite. Half a dozen holes play uphill, and there is just one par 5 on the course, rendering driver a gutsy but mostly foolhardy play. Also, San Francisco’s infamous fog can muddle club selection and hamper the flight of — and search for — your ball. But when the fog lifts, the only good reason for bringing a camera phone becomes clear: Fire a taunting photo to your buddies back home of the 240-yard 17th hole framed by the Golden Gate Bridge.
In the lower level of the Fairmont, The Tonga Room has the city’s best happy hour, with exotic cocktails (beware the Bora Bora Horror!); a monster buffet chock-full of spare ribs, Shanghai noodles and pork buns for a mere seven bucks; plus the crowd-pleasing indoor “thunderstorm” on the half-hour.
Ride the cable car to the Buena Vista Cafe at Fisherman’s Wharf, or head to Union Square and Sears Fine Foods, a city institution where the waitresses still call you “Honey” and the Swedish pancakes are to die for.
To get your daily dose of golf, drive 20 minutes southwest to Harding Park Golf Course. (Got connections? You’re right near the exclusive Olympic Club and the even more exclusive San Francisco Golf Club.) Long one of America’s great munis, Harding Park (6,845 yards, par 72) wallowed in disrepair for decades until the PGA Tour and First Tee spearheaded a $16 million overhaul in 2002. Now the USGA is considering staging a national championship here.
A pair of par 4s — the 440-yard 14th and 405-yard 15th — playing between Monterey Pines and Lake Merced define Harding’s traditional character. But the clincher is the 18th, a 440-yard romp over a barranca and lake to a green fronted by a slope as steep as some of the city’s streets.
|Lincoln Park Golf Course |
greens fees $31-$35
|Harding Park Golf Course |
greens fees $76-$88
|Presidio Golf Course |
greens fees $42-$77
Hit the Crab & Wine Marketplace February 28-29, part of the citywide, month-long San Francisco Crab Festival. After dinner, head to North Beach for the 10 p.m. show of Beach Blanket Babylon, a zany, ever-evolving parody of pop culture best known for hats as elaborate and ungainly as parade floats.
If not for the hills, Presidio Golf Course (6,477 yards, par 72) would nearly be walking distance from the Fairmont. The cafe at the course serves up a spicy bloody mary and chorizo scramble.
As at Harding, the Presidio’s best holes come back-to-back: the 12th, a killer par 4 of 453 yards that rates toughest on the course, and the 13th, a 175-yard bully shielded by a nasty old coast live oak in the middle of the fairway. It’s a one-two punch worthy of San Fran’s cinematic cop Dirty Harry. Couch potatoes had best think twice about walking this hilly course.
Back at the airport, stop at the Crab Pot restaurant for fresh Dungeness. Its fine flavor will linger, like memories of this shining city.