Bay Area Trip, Part 4: Rounding Out the List

Wednesday was my final day in the Bay Area. One of my big objectives for this trip was to play the handful of public courses I had left in and around San Francisco. There are some courses that are further south on the peninsula that I still need to play, but I considered my main goal was accomplished after three more rounds before heading home.

The first was a course I’ve been wanting to play for the longest time…

Sharp Park Golf Course • Pacifica, CA • 6/21/17

Given its history and pedigree as an Alister MacKenzie course, Sharp Park has always been an intriguing option. Unfortunately, the course has been mired in a lot of challenges in recent years. There have been constant threats of shutting it down or at least altering it significantly. Part of this was due to the economy and the drought. Heavy rains this winter also forced the temporary closure of a few holes/greens. The main issue, however, was environmental. Sharp Park has been in a major battle because the marsh area on the course is home to two different endangered species, the California red-legged frog and the San Francisco garter snake.

There have been legal battles between the environmentalists and city planners who wanted to keep the historic course in operation. After all, Sharp Park has been in operation since the early 1930s. Not long ago, a compromise was finally agreed upon. The entire course would remain open while the three holes along the marsh underwent some renovation to satisfy the environmental concerns.

Mackenzie designed Sharp Park to be a working man’s golf course, unlike most of his Northern California courses that are either private or quite expensive. I was glad to hear that the environmental issues have been resolved, at least for now, and there is no renovation work currently being done. I wanted to come and play it as-is, as long as all 18 holes and normal greens were open. If major changes are made down the road, then I have an excuse to go back in the future. From everything I’ve read, though, the renovations aren’t intended to encroach upon the course’s original architectural character. Let’s hope not.

Sharp Park is definitely a simple presentation. The clubhouse area is pretty run-down and feels old, but that’s part of the charm here. Given all the struggles they’ve gone through, I didn’t come here expecting pristine conditions or world-class service. This is meant to be a simple course that’s usually a little rough around the edges. It’s a local track with plenty of local character (and characters).

I had booked a 7:34 tee time online, but that was pointless. I arrived early and checked in soon after they opened the starter window around 6:45. The guy inside didn’t seem to care at all about any tee times and basically admitted it is a free-for-all most mornings. He said he’d get me out whenever I was ready. I ended up in the third group out with three walkers, and we finished in about four hours.

The price was a little steep at $53, but that was partly due to the fact I rented a cart. Normally, this would be the type of course I would love to walk. A majority of players out there in the morning were walking. I just didn’t have it in me after the days before.

It turns out that the carts were a fun part of the story. These things look tired and corroded after years of sitting out in the salty and misty sea air of Pacifica. They do not have roofs either. Rancho Maria in Orcutt is the only other course where I’ve seen that. They are also gas-powered and just have a go kart feel. I will say that not all the carts are built for husky gentlemen. Mine in particular had a very low steering wheel that made it very hard to get in and out of the driver’s seat. I noticed some others had a little more wiggle room, so I guess it’s just the luck of the draw.

The course itself is a pretty simplistic design. It is fairly flat in most places, other than a few front nine holes across the street that go up and back in a small canyon. The back nine plays through and along the aforementioned marsh areas, so I’ll be curious how some of these holes (most notably the par-3 12th) are affected by any environmental renovation plans.

My favorite part of the course was the 14th and 15th holes. The 14th is a nice par-4 with the marsh running all the way up the left side. Then, the 15th is a funky little par-3 that currently requires a blind tee shot. It plays over a corner of the marsh and the reeds are grown up to maybe 10-feet tall at the moment. All you can see is the tippy-top of the flag on the green, which sits atop about a really long flagstick. A very deep bunker guards the front right of the green, though you have no idea it’s there.

I assume they’ve been unable to cut those reeds for awhile due to the environmental concerns, so I wonder if that will change later. If the reeds were cut down, it may or may not be a better hole (depending on your point of view).

The conditions were indeed a bit sketchy, though actually better than I would have expected with all things considered. I know the wet winter helped things here. Still, the course has a long way to go. The tee boxes were fine. The fairways were a mix of green and brown, with some shaggy spots and some thin spots. The rough was very lush in some areas and bare/patchy in others, so it was what it was. I wasn’t in a bunker, but they appeared decent. The greens were soft and rolling medium/slow. They were very bumpy and some had a lot of damage.

It sounds like the environmental renovation plans will finally allow the city to put some much-needed money and TLC back into the course. It will probably never be lush and pristine, and it’s not intended to be a higher-end Harding Park like course. As long as they can fix up the greens, it will be a huge improvement. As it is, it’s plenty playable for the right price.

Sharp Park is not a destination kind of course. However, for someone like me who appreciates historic courses and enjoys getting a sampling of local flavor, it was a must-play and I’m glad I finally got to check it out. I’m really rooting for this place to keep moving in the right direction.

Some pictures from Sharp Park Golf Course (6/21/17):

I had one more course in town I needed to play in order to complete my San Francisco public checklist…

Gleneagles Golf Course at McLaren Park • San Francisco, CA • 6/21/17

I mentioned I was playing Gleneagles to my playing partners in the morning, and they told me that it would be wide open. I found that hard to believe in such a congested city, especially considering McLaren Park is in a very densely populated part of town.

However, they were right. I showed up around noon and it looked like a ghost town. I checked right in and the pro shop guy showed me the lay of the land. I was planning to walk here ($21 for nine holes), but I saw the course was wide open and decided to rent a cart for expediency.

I did play through a couple of twosomes out there, and otherwise finished quickly. Gleneagles also doubles as foot golf and disc golf courses (I saw one disc golfer out there). I get the sense they’ll gladly take any business they can get, and it’s probably never crowded enough for the multiple course setups to cause major problems. Overall, this place just feels like it is on its last legs, but I am not sure if it is in danger of closing.

The layout actually has potential. It is a 9-hole regulation design with different tee boxes for front and back nine play. A few of them are pretty differently oriented, so that makes it slightly more interesting for a replay nine. Otherwise, I got my taste with the front nine arrangement and that was more than enough.

Gleneagles is pretty hilly and has some narrow spots, big doglegs and plenty of trees. From a 9-hole perspective, it’s kind of a longer version of Lincoln Park. The setting is nice and secluded and you get at least a couple good views of the south Bay Area and the famous Cow Palace next door. In other words, it could be a pretty cool course.

Unfortunately, the conditions left a lot to be desired. It was very brown and dried out throughout the course, with a lot of bare patches and plain dirt sections in play. The bunkers looked terrible. The greens were the one saving grace, and they advertise them as always firm and fast on their website. They were firm and fast, and most of the surfaces were kept in pretty nice shape (a few had some significant damaged spots). It’s clear the greens are the one place they put their limited maintenance focus, though I still wouldn’t consider them that great by most standards.

There isn’t much more to highlight about Gleneagles. It is beat up course in one of the less-desirable parts of town. For my purposes, I was glad it was uncrowded, though I wonder about the future of this course.

Some pictures from Gleneagles Golf Course at McLaren Park (6/21/17):

Though I wanted to hit the road for the long drive home at a reasonable hour, I still hoped to squeeze in at least one more round while in the Bay Area. I looked online to find the best, nearest option…

Poplar Creek Golf Course • San Mateo, CA • 6/21/17

They had a 2:00 tee time available for $29 with cart, and I could tell that was the first available twilight time. I was paired with three other singles and we teed off a few minutes before 2:00. It was nice at first because there was a good gap in front of us. By the time we made the turn, we had caught up to a much slower foursome and the pace slowed down. However, the pace was still good overall at 3:20.

I had hopes that the very close proximity of Poplar Creek to the bay would provide a few decent views from the course. It did not. In fact, this a very plain course without much scenery to enjoy. It sits right next to the freeway and there is a big ugly power plant on the other side of the property. The SFO airport is also very close, so there is a lot of air traffic overhead.

The course itself is pretty basic. It is very flat and mostly wide open with just a smattering of trees lining the fairways. There are a handful of holes with water hazards in play and those are by far the most interesting. The 11th is probably the best hole here, and that’s not saying much. It is a short par-4, topping out at 321 yards. Most people will play conservatively to lay up in front of the water hazard that cuts across the fairway about 100 yards short of the green. Aggressive long hitters may be able to reach the green.

Like many of the courses I played on this trip not named Metropolitan or Cal Club, Poplar Creek is also relatively short. The black tees stretch out to only 6,035 yards (par-70). And like I said, there isn’t a ton of trouble to get into out here, so it’s a course that probably provides plenty of good scores. The greens do have some subtle character and noticeable undulation, but still nothing that crazy.

The course was in decent shape, with the greens being the highlight. The tee boxes were fine. The fairways were mostly pretty good. There are just a bunch of small scattered spots that are completely dead/bare hardpan. So there’s like 95% good coverage of fairway grass and then the 5% dead spots here and there that definitely detract. The rough was pretty good for the most part, especially around the greens. The bunkers were very nice.

The greens seemed almost all the way healed from whatever spring aeration they did, though there was a light topdressing of sand on all greens. The surfaces are very spongy, but more springy than soft on approaches. That meant there weren’t too many ball marks to be found. The guys I played with said the greens are normally much faster and don’t have the sand, so I would expect them to be very good again within the next few weeks.

I rarely write reviews this short for full regulation courses, but there really isn’t much to say about Poplar Creek. It is a pretty basic course. I can tell it gets a lot of local play and is a good course for the high-handicappers, kids, seniors and beginner golfers to experience the game without getting punished too much by poor shots.

Some pictures from Poplar Creek Golf Course (6/21/17):

I actually tried to play one more short course before heading out of town, but it didn’t work out. I headed over to nearby Mariners Point, which looks like a really fun little 9-hole par-3 course that may have given me some of the waterfront views I was hoping for at Poplar. Unfortunately, it was around 6:00. Everybody and their mothers were there after work taking advantage of beautiful weather. I just did not have it in me to play a 2-hour round on such a small course. This course is also the only night-lit course in the Bay Area, so that makes it a nice after-work stop throughout the year. Next time, I will definitely try to knock it out.

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