When I landed in San Francisco, I went straight to Harding Park (literally--it was exhausting). I really wish there was a course of this caliber in the confines of New York City and priced this reasonably--residents can play a course that hosts the pros (including the PGA Championship in 2020) for under 50 bucks at twilight. I am happy that I was able to play the course before it hosts a major in a few years and the President's Cup (again--it also hosted it in 2009) in 2025. Always fun to watch a tournament on TV and remember how you played a particular hole. Though, after playing the course, I was a bit surprised that the PGA hosts an event here--I can't imagine thousands of spectators fitting in the confines of the course, but I guess it works.
When others asked me on the trip what I thought of Harding Park, I basically told them that it is a fantastic municipal course with some real beauty, but it is not terribly memorable. And I feared that it sounded like I did not enjoy the course. That is not true at all--I enjoyed it very much and, like I said above, wish that I could jump in an Uber and be at Harding Park in ten minutes once a week for 43 bucks. I simply meant that the course had a few real knockout, beautiful holes, while the others were fine, but nothing amazing. If you are going out to Northern California to play Pebble Beach, Spyglass, Pasatiempo, Corde Valley, Spanish Bay, or any of the private ones (Cal Club, SFGC, Olympic Club), Harding Park will pale in comparison. But, it is not really a destination golf course. For what it is--a course meant to the home course of locals--it serves its role admirably. I would highly suggest playing it if you have an extra four hours on your trip. Make like me and play it right before heading to the airport.
There are two defining aspects that make the course beautiful. First, most (every?) hole is lined by cypress trees. Perhaps people from Northern California do not find them that special given they are so prevalent in the area, but to someone from the Northeast, they never cease to amaze. Second, there are some great views of Lake Merced on the back, which was particularly beautiful at sunset when I was playing it.
Now, onto some individual holes.
The first is a 375 yard par four with a slight dogleg left. As one of the easier holes on the course, it is a tame start.
The fairly easy first hole is followed up by one of the hardest--a 400 yard par four with fairway bunkers on the left.
The third is a bit tricky, especially for a first time player. It is an uphill 155 yard par three where I found it difficult to gauge the distance, and doing so is important given the big bunkers protecting the front.
I really enjoyed the fourth hole--a 540 yard dogleg left par five. The undulation and the trees that closely line the fairway made it a challenging and memorable hole.
The fifth is an easy 365 yard par four. The fairway is a bit tight, but I do not believe there is a bunker on the entire hole.
The sixth is a real good hole--390 yard par four that is a fairly strong dogleg left with some nice bunkers protecting the green.
The seventh is a 325 yard par four. I think this is an ideal hole not to hit driver. It is a slight dogleg right, so if you hit drive and do not shape it left to right, you will find yourself through the fairway and likely obscured by a tree.
The eight is a standard par three that did not treat me well at 190 yards.
The ninth is a scoring opportunity--a 475 yard par five. Trees protect the left side of the hole and bunkers protect the right, and, from what I remember, it is quite the undulated green.
I found the tenth to be the hardest hole on the course. It is a 530 yard par five, but it is nearly impossible to get a flat lie in the fairway. I hit my second shot wildly fat, which left me a long third into a well protected green.
The eleventh is a 155 yard par three. Best shot of the day alert! Hit my iron to five feet and made birdie.
The twelfth is another short par five at 450 yards. I actually played it thinking it was a par four and was happy to learn that the five I made was actually a par!
Some good bunkering protecting the twelfth green.
Thirteen--a 375 yard par four--is where the beauty of the course really begins and Lake Merced begins to come into view. The thirteenth green at sunset was priceless, as the sun is going down over the lake. The lake sits behind the green (though well behind such that it never comes into play--only serving as some good eye candy).
View of thirteenth green. I love the sparse trees behind the green with the sun casting long shadows.
The fourteenth is one of my favorite holes--a slightly uphill 410 yard par four.
The fifteenth might be my favorite hole--a 375 yard dogleg left par four. The lake runs up the left, a bunker protects the right side of the fairway, and the front left of the green is guarded by a tree. My playing partners told me that 13, 14, 15 are the gauntlet and it is always an accomplishment to par all of them. I made par on two of the three, but missed a four footer for par on thirteen!
Sun going down over the fifteenth green.
The sixteenth is a cool little hole--a 310 yard par four. The difficult part is the cypress grove sitting just off the right side of the fairway. Hit it over there and it will cost you a stroke--as it did me.
The seventeenth is supposed to be the easiest hole--a 165 yard par three. Not sure I agree with that--it wasn't hard, but not sure it was the easiest hole. There is not much to it--a few bunkers protecting the green but that is about it.
The eighteenth is a truly great closing hole, not to mention real darn hard--a 420 yard uphill par four, dogleg left, with a forced carry, and hazard all up the left. I think this is the only hole on the course with a forced carry, and the more you try to cut off the better position you will be in, but of course the riskier the shot becomes.
Overall, I think the course starts to shine at 13--with 13, 14, 15, 16, and 18 being great holes. While I did not have a strong memory of some of the other holes on the course, I vividly remember the stretch of 13 to 18. Though the PGA Tour rerouted the course when it came for the match play tournaments (mainly to ensure the great eighteenth would always be played), I think how it is currently set up would be a great way to finish a stroke play tournament. 14 and 15 are tough holes. 16 is a good risk reward hole. 17 is a good birdie opportunity to make up a shot down the stretch. Then 18 is another tough hole where a par is far from guaranteed and a birdie would likely pick up more than a stroke on the field. This was a solid course that I would happily play again when I get back to San Francisco. It is so convenient, fun, a good value, and it has some really great holes.