My favorite holes at San Francisco Golf Club

I’ve been chronicling my favorite golf holes in San Francisco on social media.  The venerable San Francisco Golf Club does not permit picture taking, which I think is a wonderful thing, but it obviously prevents me from posting actual pictures.  The next best thing is using google earth to describe some of my favorite holes.

Second hole, 456 yards (No. 4 on my list of favorite holes)

San Francisco Golf Club is a throwback…no phones, no yardage guides, no range finders, no pictures. But the old-school vibe isn’t apparent at first, as the first tee sits just steps away from SFGC’s parking lot and the club’s surprisingly modern pro shop. That all changes when you get to the par-4 second hole. The tee shot plays down into a mini valley that nature perfectly sculpted for a golf hole. The hole then doglegs slightly to the left and plays back up a hill to one of SFGC’s many great green complexes. As golfers walk up the hill to the green, they are greeted with an amazing landscape view of SFGC’s classic looking clubhouse and several of the holes that follow in the round. It’s a scene that feels like it hasn’t changed in close to a century.

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The second green (in the foreground) is one of the coolest spots on any golf course. Here’s a good look from google maps. Beyond the green is the ninth fairway and green (running right to left), the 10th fairway (running left to right), the 18th fairway and green, and, of course, the beautiful clubhouse.

Third hole, 406 yards (No. 8 on my list of favorite holes)

SFGC is famous for its sprawling AW Tillighast bunkers.  In my opinion, the coolest looking ones are on the par-4 third hole.  A long bunker that looks like a scary comic book animal guards the right side of the fairway, but you’ll want your drive to be as close to that bunker as possible because it gives you the best angle into the green, which is guarded by an even more incredible looking bunker on the left.  This hole personifies golden age strategy and beauty.

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SFGC’s third hole, with bunkers as beautiful as they are strategic. As you can see, the best angle is from the right side, but that means you have to take on a dangerous bunker with your drive.
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Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (Bandon, OR)

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Bandon Dunes was as good as everyone said it would be.  It’s truly a golf wonderland. 

There is a universal sentiment that Bandon Dunes is one of the best golf experiences in the world.  What makes it so great?

Think of Bandon as Las Vegas with golf instead of gambling.  It feels like a different reality where the only rules are to play golf and have a good time.  All of the golf courses are amazing, easily some of the best I have ever played.  On top of that, almost everything non-golf is fantastic.  The rooms are nice, the food is decent, you can drink anywhere, and there are shuttles to take you any place on the property.  Like Vegas, its perfectly set up to go hard for a few days, then head back to reality.

I made my first journey to Bandon in October, and it was one of the best trips I have ever taken, golf or otherwise.  I’ve already booked a return trip for this coming July.  Here’s my explainer on why the Bandon experience is so fantastic.

Course breakdown

As my readers know, I love writing in-depth reviews of golf courses.  But I’m going to tone it down for the Bandon courses.  It would take way too long to write.  Plus, there is already so much good writing about the Bandon courses on the golf blog-o-sphere, and I’d only be reinventing the wheel if I wrote my own reviews  So I’ll be brief.  Here’s my short take on the courses I played.

Bandon Trails:  This Coore/Crenshaw design was definitely the most sophisticated and nuanced of the Bandon Courses.  The course weaves through dunes, then forestland, then meadowland, then back to the dunes.  The terrain was varied.  And the green complexes were some of the most interesting (wild?) I have ever played.  I loved the course.  But to truly appreciate it, I’d probably need to play it 50 times.  It’s the kind of place where you’ll discover several new features each round.  Golf Blogit grade: A+

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Like many of the greens at Trails, the one at the par-3 17th has a lot going on…a false front, ridges, and some gnarly bunkers that are best avoided.

Bandon Dunes:  Although it sits right on the Oregon coastline, the original Bandon Dunes is the most understated of the Bandon courses.  The David McLay Kidd design has natural looking land movement and avoids the use of gaudy bunkers or anything artificial.  The turf plays firm and fast, as well.  It’s the truest form of links golf I’ve played outside of Ireland and the UK.  Golf Blogit grade: A.

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Bandon Dunes is so pure. A great example is the par-5 13th. Natural mounding and native areas make it one of the coolest holes on the course, even though it lacks a single bunker.

Pacific Dunes:  Tom Doak’s Pacific Dunes undoubtedly had the biggest WOW factor of any of the courses.  Like Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes sits right along the coastline and gives golfers amazing views.  But while Bandon Dunes is great because of its restraint, Pacific smacks you in the face with dramatic dunes, huge blowout bunkers, and breathtaking ocean holes.  It’s understandable why it’s ranked the highest of the Bandon courses.  Golf Blogit grade: A+

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The famous par-3 10th at Pacific Dunes, one of several stunning holes. Notice how the caddie is dwarfed by the massive dunes.

Old MacDonald:  I didn’t play Old Mac!  At the time we were there, Old Mac was closed for some agronomy work.  Quite a bummer obviously.  We ended up playing Trails twice to make up for the lost Old Mac round.  Not a bad consolation.  I’ll be back at Bandon in July, and Old Mac is already on the agenda.  Golf Blogit grade: TBD.

Bandon Preserve:  It would be a sin to miss out on the Preserve, the wonderful Coore/Crenshaw par-3 course.  It’s fun hole after fun hole, and a perfect place for a skins game to start a Bandon trip.  Golf Blogit grade: A.

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A view from behind the green at the Preserve’s seventh hole. I mean c’mon, how sweet does this look?!?! Where else can you find a green like this?

Bests and worsts

Instead of giving a blow-by-blow of my time at Bandon, I will instead break down my experience by going over some of the best and worst things that happened.

Worst round – Bandon Trails:  Bad news first.  We played two rounds at Bandon Trails, and our first was a horror show of golf skills.  I had barely slept the night before we played, partly because I’m weird about sleeping in new places, and partly because I was just so dang excited to play at Bandon.  But it felt like I could rally, and at first I did by starting off with two easy pars.  Then I just couldn’t keep things on the rails.  A mix of bad shots, a shaky short game, and a few bad breaks had me grinding out bogeys.  I finished with a birdie-less 84.  Not good for a 2 handicap!  The (un)fortunate thing was that my buddies played poorly, as well.  The best score was an 83.  In hindsight, I think we were all just way too amped, and our lackluster play rubbed off on each other.

Best round – Bandon Dunes:  It’s funny how golf works.  We finished the aforementioned round at Trails and were scheduled to play Bandon Dunes right afterward in the afternoon.  I had just played like crap, barely slept, and now would be dealing with a stiff off-shore wind at Bandon Dunes.  All signs pointed toward another disaster round.  The result?  A very impressive two-over par 74.  How did I do it?  No clue.  Maybe it was a combo of settling down and crushing a few beers.  I just hit great shots and putted well.  It’s one of the best rounds I’ve ever played.  Even my caddie, who’s been around the block, was pumped about how well I played.

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The approach to Bandon’s famous fourth hole. Great setting for a great round.

Best shot – Bandon Trails, 14th hole:  This is a tough category because I hit a lot of sweet shots.  I think I take the most pride in some of the big putts I made, particularly during my 74 at Bandon Dunes.  But for pure awesomeness, I’ll have to pick my second shot on the short par-4 14th at Trails during our second loop around the course.  The 14th at Trails might be the most infamous hole on the property.  It’s a short par-4 with a green so shallow it’s almost impossible to hold.  I drove the ball short and right of the green, in the fairway but with a tight lie and poor angle.  The only way to hold the green was to pick the ball perfectly off the turf with a wedge.  A little heavy and I’m in a bunker.  A little thin and I’m over the green and down a hill.  The result?  Perhaps the purest pitch shot I have ever hit.  It took two hops and stopped about five feet behind the hole.  I sunk the birdie putt to cap it off.

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The infamous 14th at Trails. The right side of the fairway is not ideal, but with a little shortgame magic, I stole a birdie.

Worst shot – Bandon Dunes, 12th hole:  The par-3 12th hole at Bandon Dunes is a stunning one-shotter that plays toward the ocean.  I judged the wind perfectly and wound up just four feet from the pin.  The setting was perfect for me to snag a birdie on this epic hole.  Everyone was waiting for me to drain it.  I pulled the putt so bad it didn’t even touch the cup.  Agonizing.  I moved on and finished the round strong, but man, it would have been so sweet to sink that putt.

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I’d love to have this putt back.  

Best shot someone else hit – Pacific Dunes, sixth hole:  The sixth at Pacific Dunes is a befuddling hole.  It’s bout 320 yards with an elevated and slender green.  It feels like there’s no ideal place to put a tee shot.  Unless your my buddy Dan.  Dan can mash, he’s one of these guys who’s just a good athlete and knows how to generate clubhead speed.  While the rest of us were playing it safe and hitting three woods or less, Dan takes out the driver and proceeds to crush a soaring high fade that stayed in the air for most of the afternoon.  When it finally came down, it landed just short of the green, then hopped on the front.  Amazing.  I honestly don’t know if anyone has ever played a shot like it.

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I split the fairway with a three wood on Pacific’s sixth hole, leaving about 70 yards to the pin. But Dan just slaughtered a drive to the front of the green.  Zoom in and you’ll see where they are going to build the Wal-Mart between our tee shots.  

Worst lie – Bandon Trails, second hole:  Downhill bunker shots are tough.  So are fried-egg bunker shots.  My buddy AP got to experience both at the same time after missing the green right on the second hole at Trails.  Pro tip: don’t miss right on this hole.

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I have no tips for how to play this shot.

Best hole – Bandon Trails, third hole:  The first two holes at Trails play through some coastal dunes.  They are both great holes.  But when you walk through a few trees to the third tee, it feels like another world.  It’s like entering Narnia, with a mystical golf hole surrounded by some beautiful Oregon pines.  The fairway on this par-5 probably measures 60 yards wide, but is built around a small center-line bunker that adds intrigue to the tee shot.  A couple of more bunkers also guard the layup area as you approach the green.  And, as is the case with most holes at Trails, the green and area around it make things really interesting.  From start to finish, the third at Trails is spectacular.

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Arriving at the third tee at Trails is like like walking into another dimension of golf. Unreal.

Best course – ?????:  There is no bigger debate in the world of golf than the debate about which course at Bandon is the best.  There is no consistent opinion.  I went to Bandon with a completely open mind.  I didn’t care about rankings or other people’s views.  I was going to judge the courses on a clean slate.  My first impression was that Pacific Dunes was the best.  It certainly was the most eye-popping and dramatic course I’ve played outside of Royal County Down.  But after letting it all settle in, I find myself unable to pick a favorite.  Each course was awesome in its own way.  I’m going back this summer, so maybe by then I’ll be able to pick a favorite.

Best Jack Nicklaus impersonation – Pacific Dunes, 14th hole:  My buddy Beau almost dunked his tee shot for an ace on the par-3 14th hole at Pacific Dunes.  It ended up about 20 feet beyond the flagstick.  Beau composed himself and stroked a beautiful putt.  Knowing it was good, he walked that bad boy in like the Golden Bear on 17 at Augusta, putter to the sky and everything.  Thankfully I captured this magical moment.  (Yes it went in).

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YESSIR!

The “Dos” and “Don’ts” of Bandon

How can you get the most out of your next trip to Bandon?  Follow these Dos and Don’ts.

DO play Bandon Preserve first:  We arrived at Bandon in the middle of the afternoon, which only left time for a round at Bandon Preserve, the resort’s 13-hole par-3 course.  Though we played there out of convenience, it turned out to be the perfect intro to all of the Bandon Courses.  For one thing, it felt great to get in some swings before our big rounds.  But on top of that, the turf, greens, and wind at the Preserve are similar to the rest of the courses at Bandon, so we were able to start figuring out the type of shots we’d need to hit for the rest of our trip.  And, most importantly, the Preserve is an awesome course.  There’s some funky holes, but it’s a blast to play and perfect for a skins game.

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Skip the Preserve and you’ll miss some of the greatest short holes in existence, like the 142-yard fifth hole.

DON’T wait to book your trip:  We booked our Bandon Trip about two months prior to our arrival.  We had to do some serious maneuvering just to get in five rounds of golf, and we still missed out on Old Mac.  If you know you want to go, book now!

DO account for handicaps when you bet:  Me and my bros all have handicaps in the same neighborhood, ranging from around 2 to around 4.  Since our indexes are similar, we usually don’t account for strokes when we play a normal weekend round.  It tends to work out fine.  At Bandon, our main bet was based on Stableford scoring aggregated over four rounds.  Toward the end, it became apparent that the lower handicap player would win.  Which makes sense — the more golf you play, the more likely it is the lower handicap golfer will score better.  Thankfully, that player was me :-).  But things would have been a lot more interesting if I had given a shot or two per round.

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From left to right: AP, Beau, big hitter Dan, and the guy they lost money to, yours truly. 

DON’T order the hamburger at The Gallery:  The Gallery is the fanciest of the restaurants on property at Bandon, at least judged by price.  One of the menu items is a 30 dollar burger.  That’s expensive, even by the standards I’m used to in San Francisco.  Why so expensive?  It was Wagyu beef mixed with short rib and topped with lobster.  Yeah, that’s right…lobster on a burger!  Now, I generally eat vegetarian, and I don’t eat meat unless there’s a really good reason.  Having just had one of the greatest golf experiences imaginable, I decided to spoil myself and go carnivore.  I order the burger.  I’m ready to destroy it.  And it was…meh.  The meat was on the dry side.  And the lobster, while tasty, had no business being on a hamburger.  After I took one bite, I just took the lobster off and ate it separately.

DO order the Hop Valley lager:  All of the Bandon courses have a decent on-course beer selection.  I quickly settled on the Hop Valley lager.  Hop Valley is an Oregon-based brewery that, as the name suggests, makes lots of IPAs.  I’m sick of IPAs.  But thankfully, the Hop Valley lager was excellent.  A real lager, clean but not watered down.  It was the perfect beer to nurse on the links.

DON’T order a Transfusion:  Dan and AP kept ordering transfusions anytime we had a chance to refresh.  I didn’t know what that was, and I never bothered to ask.  But before our last round at Pacific Dunes, I decided to try one, still not knowing what it consisted of.  It was nasty.  Like drinking bad Hi-C.  So I tell Dan, “this is nasty!”  He tells me “you need to ask for a transfusion with cranberry juice,” as if that’s common knowledge.  What’s going here??  Cranberry juice instead of what?  Why not just order a vodka-cranberry?  Whatever.  I still don’t know what a transfusion is.  I do know I’m not ordering one again.

DON’T forget your camera:  Or you’ll miss out on countless postcard worthy pictures.

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Somewhere on the back nine at Pacific Dunes…one of the many stunning moments I was able to capture. 

Final thoughts

I wish I could think of some clever parting words.  But my only advice is this…round up your friends and family and get your ass to Bandon Dunes.  It will be epic.

-AB

 

Royal County Down (Newcastle, Northern Ireland, UK)

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A great course on great land…Royal County Down is perfection.

My expectations were sky high when I visited Royal County Down last year.  The famous Northern Ireland links is rated the top course in the world by Golf Digest and fourth by Golf Magazine.  Everyone I had talked to told me how magical the place is.  Every picture I had seen looked awesome.  I had to make the trek.

Amazingly, Royal County Down exceeded my expectations.  It’s out of this world and, without question, the best golf course I have ever played.  The setting is amazing, the club is welcoming, and there are almost too many good golf holes to keep track of.  All golfers  should have this place at the top of their list of must-play courses

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My golf goals

I’ve been off the golf blog-o-sphere for a while.  My initial thought was to post about what my goals are for the golf season.  And I’ll get to that soon.  But I wondered to myself as I was writing, why do I enjoy golf so much?  I play as often as I can and think about the game all the time when when I’m not playing.  What’s the deal?

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Poppy Hills (Pebble Beach, CA)

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Poppy Hills is one of the best public tracks in California, but gets overlooked in favor of the other high profile courses in Pebble Beach.

I truly believe that if Poppy Hills was located anywhere else in the US, it would rank as one of the top public courses in the country.  It’s a beautiful course with a great layout…the kind of place where you remember every hole after one round.

But Poppy Hills’ *problem* is that its located in Pebble Beach, the greatest golf region in the world.  As a result, it gets overshadowed by top shelf courses like Pebble Beach and Spyglass.  Poppy Hills is one of the best public courses I’ve ever played, but it’s probably the sixth or seventh best course in its area code.

Even though the other courses in the area are the big stars, I highly recommend squeezing in a visit to Poppy Hills during any trip to Pebble Beach.  Here’s why…

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Prestwick Golf Club (Ayrshire, Scotland, UK)

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Prestwick is full of iconic holes, like the par-4 17th, the “Alps.”

As a total golf experience, Prestwick is as good as it gets.  It’s a wonderful layout with a collection of some of the best golf holes in the world.  It’s rich in history, having hosted the first 12 British Opens.  And it’s the most welcoming golf course I’ve ever visited.  I wish I could have spent a week there instead of playing the course only once.  But I’ll be back one day, and I encourage any serious golfer to journey there, as well.

Continue reading Prestwick Golf Club (Ayrshire, Scotland, UK)

Silverado Resort – North Course (Napa, CA)

 

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Silverado hosts the PGA Tour’s Safeway Open, and is one of the best golf getaways in California.

Any road to my heart is paved with golf and wine, and perhaps the easiest road to take is the one leading to the Silverado Resort in Napa.  Silverado’s North Course is a great course in the heart of California’s wine country and, for my money, is one of the best golf getaways in California outside of Monterey.

Silverado is also hosting the Safeway Open this week, the PGA Tour’s opening event of the wraparound calendar.  Even more exciting is that the Safeway Open marks the re-return of TIGER WOODS!  If you’re watching the tourney on TV, or if you ever plan to visit Silverado, here’s everything you need to know.

Continue reading Silverado Resort – North Course (Napa, CA)