IN THE PUBLIC EYE: TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.
THE LAYOUT: After years of neglect, a $16 million renovation that was completed in August of 2003 restored the grandeur of Harding Park, which was designed by Willie Watson and opened in 1925.
The remodeling of the aging clubhouse, which dated to the opening of the course, and other facilities was made possible by an agreement between the PGA Tour and a group of local citizens, spearheaded by Sandy Tatum, former president of the United States Golf Association.
Culmination of the project was the 2005 World Golf Championships-American Express Championship, in which Tiger Woods outlasted John Daly on the second hole of a playoff.
The agreement with the PGA Tour secured Harding Park five PGA tournaments over a 15-year span, with each of those events is expected to infuse $50 million into the local economy.
Harding Park hosted the Presidents Cup matches in 2009, with Fred Couples captaining the United States team past Greg Norman's Internationals by a score of 19 1/2-14 1/2, to take a 6-1-1 lead in the series.
The course hosted the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, essentially the Champions Tour's tour championship, the last two years, with John Cook winning in 2010 and Jay Don Blake claiming the title last year.
The event has moved to the Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., but San Francisco has a contract to host several other as yet unspecified PGA Tour and Champions Tour events in the coming years.
The reworking of the course was so successful that in 2004 Golf Magazine selected Harding Park as No. 50 on its "Top 100 Golf Courses You Can Play." It was rated as the third-best municipal course in a major metropolitan city in the United States, behind Bethpage Black in New York and Torrey Pines in San Diego.
The course, which is almost surrounded by picturesque Lake Merced on a peninsula in the southwest corner of San Francisco less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean, plays to a par of 70 and measures 7,137 yards from the back tees. It has a USGA rating of 72.8 and a slope of 126.
Harding Park had hosted the PGA Tour before, when the Lucky International was held there between 1961-66 and in 1968. All you need to know about the quality of the course is that the winners were Gary Player, Gene Littler, Jack Burke Jr., Chi Chi Rodriguez, George Archer, native San Franciscan Ken Venturi and Billy Casper.
The great Byron Nelson came to Harding Park in 1944 and captured the Victory Open, which was the name of the San Francisco Open during World War II, and returned to successfully defend his title before winning 11 consecutive tournaments on the PGA Tour in 1945.
HEAD PROFESSIONAL: Tom Smith.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Although Harding Park is quality all the way around, the back side was reworked by Jack Fleming in the late 1950s and is considered one of the finest nines in Northern California.
Fleming was Alister Mackenzie's construction supervisor at Cypress Point and in his later years worked for the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department as the supervisor of the city's public golf courses.
In addition, Fleming lengthened the fourth hole, which was a par 4 in the original Willie Watson design, into a sweeping 560-yard par 5 that was considered a monster in those days and still rates as No. 1 on the card. The hole doglegs dramatically to the left off the tee, but instead of trying to drive the ball over the trees, a controlled draw is the smart shot and might allow the longer hitter to reach the green in two. However, this is a three-shot hole for most players and the golfer should favor the right side all the way to green, which is tucked away in the cypress trees to the left behind two bunkers.
No. 8 is the longest par 3 on the course, measuring 200 yards, into the prevailing breeze off the ocean, so be sure to use enough club. When the pin is placed in the right or front of the green, hit to the left and the slope will take the ball right toward the hole.
The last five holes play along a ridge several hundred feet above Lake Merced, where you might see the local college rowing crews at work, and offer as good a stretch of golf as you can find anywhere. Even there, the course does not lose what the British would call its parkland feel.
The 14th hole is a demanding 440-yard par 4, downhill from the tee and uphill to the green, with a fairway that slopes dramatically from right-to-left toward the lake. Stay below hole on the long, narrow green because it slopes steeply from the back.
Try to take advantage of the short par 4 16th, which measures only 330 yards from the tips, but you must be accurate off the tee not to be blocked out on the approach behind trees on the right and left. The short-iron approach can be tricky because traps right and left help create some tight pin placements.
Even if you don't play from the back tees, take a look at the visually intimidating tee shot the pros face over a corner of Lake Merced and the trees on the 440-yard finishing hole. Try to avoid the two deep bunkers in the driving area and take at least an extra club when playing uphill to the green. And the putting surface can be deceiving, as Daly learned when he three-putted from 15 feet and lost to Woods, missing a three-footer for par on the second extra hole.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: TPC Harding Park is located near San Francisco's famed private courses, the Olympic Club, Lake Merced and San Francisco Country Club, but unless you know a member you will have to be content to play the very good public courses.
Presidio Golf Club, opened in 1895 and once part of the military base overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, has been open to the public since 1999 and is operated by the Arnold Palmer Golf Co. The second hole is a terrific 528-yard par 5 that features a blind shot to an elevated green.
Lincoln Park Golf Course, which opened in 1910, is a sporty par-68, 5,149-yard layout that winds around the hillsides on the grounds of the De Young Museum and the Legion of Honor. The 242-yard 17th is stunning and treacherous par 3, with views of the Golden Gate.
Also in San Francisco are three fun 9-hole courses -- Golden Gate Park Golf Course, Gleneagles International Golf Course and the Fleming Nine at Harding Park.
WHERE TO STAY: The venerable Fairmont San Francisco, flagship of the world-wide chain, has stood sentinel over the "City by the Bay" for more than 100 years from its perch on Nob Hill.
The Fairmont survived the Great Earthquake of 1906, when it was finished but not yet open, and housed many displaced San Franciscans over the next several years.
The landmark hotel has been fully refurbished to its original grandeur, from the 591 guest rooms and suites, to the magnificent grand main lobby with marble floors and Corinthian columns trimmed in gold.
Dine at the Fairmont in the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar, which offers exotic Asian cuisine and the best Mai Tai in San Francisco in a tropical rainforest setting, or the Laurel Court Restaurant & Bar, a typical Northern California dining experience.
The Fairmont is located at the only crossing of San Francisco's three cable car lines, with Chinatown, the Embarcadero, the Financial District, Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf nearby.
Also in the neighborhood on Nob Hill are the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental, the Renaissance Stanford Court, the Huntington Hotel and the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco.
Other fine hotels in San Francisco include the Mandarin Oriental, La Meridien San Francisco, the Westin St. Francis, the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, the Hilton San Francisco, the Marriott San Francisco, the Palace Hotel, the Hyatt at Fisherman's Wharf and the Sir Francis Drake Hotel.
ON THE WEB: www.harding-park.com.
THE LAST RESORT: La Quinta Resort and Club in La Quinta, Calif.
THE LAYOUT: Guests at the resort, which has been a hideaway for Hollywood stars since 1926, have the luxury of choosing from five magnificent and varied courses on which to play.
There are the Mountain and Dunes courses on the hotel property, and the TPC Stadium Course, the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course and the Greg Norman Course right down the road at PGA West. All of the properties are owned by KSL Resorts.
Both courses at the hotel and the famed Stadium Course were designed by the legendary Pete Dye.
The Mountain Course, which plays along the base of the San Jacinto Mountains and opened in 1960, has hosted the World Cup of Golf, the California State Open and the PGA National Club Professional Championship. It measures 6,756 yards from the back tees and plays to a par of 72.
Even though the Dunes Course (opened in 1981) runs alongside the Mountain, the 6,742-yard layout meanders through flatter desert terrain. It is a kinder, gentler Dye layout for the resort golfer, although it can provide plenty of challenge and has hosted PGA Tour Qualifying School six times.
The TPC Stadium Course, which opened in 1986, is most famous as host of the Skins Game from 1986 to 1991, with Fuzzy Zoeller, Lee Trevino, Curtis Strange (twice), Raymond Floyd and Payne Stewart hoisting the trophy. It stretches to 6,753 from the tips, plays to a par of 72 and was part of the Bob Hope Classic rotation in 1987.
The Nicklaus Tournament Course, which opened in 1987, is a tamer version of the Stadium Course and also has hosted PGA Tour Q-School. It measures 6,556 yards and plays to a par of 72.
The Norman Course is the youngest of the five, having opened in 1999. It lies in an ancient seabed 40 feet below sea level and is surrounded by dark, forbidding mountains that contrast the grass and the white crushed marble in the bunkers. The Norman Course can play the longest of the five at 7,156 yards and a par of 72, but there are five sets of tees.
The Jim McLean Golf School is located on both properties.
DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Bill Shaw.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: The most famous hole among this fabulous fivesome of courses is the 147-yard 17th hole on the Stadium Course, which is known as "Alcatraz" because of its island green. Lee Trevino made the hole part of golfing lore with the only hole in one in the history of the Skins Game in 1987.
Before you get to Alcatraz, try to stay out of the 19-foot deep waste bunker the on the par-5 16th hole. Short-game guru Dave Pelz once started an instructional show on the Golf Channel from the bottom of the bunker.
Even though the Dunes might be the most user-friendly course of the bunch, its 17th hole is annually selected by the PGA of America as one of the most difficult par 4s in the United States. The 433-yard monster wraps around a large lake that runs all the way down the left to a treacherous, two-tiered green.
And No. 18 on the Dunes is no picnic either, even though it is only 390 yards, because this time the water is on the right.
No. 16 is the signature hole on the Mountain Course, a gorgeous 167-yard par 3 from an elevated green. It runs alongside a huge talus slide and has been called one of the 500 Best Holes in the World by Golf Magazine.
Best of the Nicklaus Course probably is the par-5, 561-yard 15th, which features a well-bunkered island green. The finishing hole, a 432-yard par 4, requires an approach shot over water to a huge double green it shares with the ninth hole.
No. 8 on the Norman Course lists at 617 yards from the back tees, with water running all the way down the right side of the hole, one of nine ponds on the course covering 18 acres.
When you get on the greens, remember that putts in the Coachella Valley tend to break toward Indio to the East.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: If five courses are not enough, the city of La Quinta also boasts another world-class course at Trilogy Golf Club, which hosted the Skins Game from 2003-2006. There are more than 100 golf courses across the Coachella Valley and 300-plus sunny days a year on which to play them. What more could a golfer ask?
WHERE TO STAY: The La Quinta Resort and Club features 800 guest rooms tucked away in Spanish-style casitas throughout the 45-acre property. In addition to five championship golf courses, guests also have the use of 23 tennis courts, 42 swimming pools, 52 hot tubs, five restaurants and the world-famous Spa La Quinta.
Other golf resorts in the Coachella Valley include the Westin Mission Hills Resort, the Doral Desert Princess in Cathedral City, Rancho Las Palmas Marriott Resort in Rancho Mirage, Indian Canyon Golf Resort in Palm Springs, the Golf Resort at Indian Wells, Indian Palms Country Club and Resort in Indio, the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort and Spa in Indian Wells and Cimarron Golf Resort in Cathedral City.
ON THE WEB: http://www.laquintaresort.com.