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 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.
The culmination of the project was the 2005 World Golf Championships-American Express Championship, in which Tiger Woods outlasted John Daly to win 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 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, twice, with John Cook winning in 2010 and Jay Don Blake claiming the title in 2011.
The event moved to the Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., last year, but will be back at Harding Park this year, from Oct. 31-Nov. 3.
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 he 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. It's 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 worldwide 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 it 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, Le 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.tpc.com/tpc-harding-park
THE LAST RESORT: Club de Golf Le Maitre de Mont-Tremblant in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Canada.
THE LAYOUT: Le Maitre, which in French means "The Master," is owned and operated by ClubLink (the largest developer of golf clubs in Canada) and is part of the Fairmont-Quebec Golf Trail, which also includes the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello and Fairmont Le Manoir Richeleau.
Golfers who stay at the Fairmont Tremblant and other hotels in Mont-Tremblant, one of Canada's leading resort areas, receive playing privileges at the course, rated as one of the best in Canada.
Given the name of the course, it should come as no surprise that Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters champion, teamed with architect Gene Bates for design of the layout -- which meanders along the banks of the Riviere du Diable (the Devil's River).
The views on the course of the Laurentian Mountains are spectacular, especially on the nine elevated tees, and water comes into play on 11 holes.
You might hear an occasional moose call, if you don't actually see Bullwinkle himself, in addition to elk, bear, foxes, whitetail deer and other wildlife.
Le Maitre, which plays to a par of 72 over 7,069 yards, was created on 260 pristine acres and rolls through picturesque meadows, swampy marshland and dense woodlands.
The season annually opens in early May and runs through October.
DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS: Erik Laframboise.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: The designers utilized three types of terrain to create an incredible golf course. Nos. 6 through 9 play through wide meadows and have a links feel. In creating the holes in the swampy areas and the woods, the designers respected the natural lay of the land. They did not move a lot of earth, but they didn't have to because the terrain is in almost a perfect spot for a golf course.
The fifth hole is a spectacular par 5, the No. 1 handicap hole, which stretches to 605 yards through a low area in the woodlands before the course climbs to the meadows for the first time. There are two forced carries on the hole, including 224 yards from the back tee, and the approach plays to a severely sloped and elevated green.
The course opens into a meadow but doesn't get much easier on the sixth hole, a 425-yard par 4 that is the No. 3 handicap hole, before the golfer gets a bit of a breather on the last three holes of the front nine. Best of the three is No. 8, a 170-yard par 3, on which the tee shot must carry a large lake and a yawning bunker to a wide, shallow green.
The start of the back nine takes the golfer into a low, swampy area where small creeks traverse the fairway and native fescue grass outlines the course.
The 450-yard par-4 11th hole, the most difficult on the back side, is a dogleg left on which the drive and the approach shot must be precise to a narrow fairway and a green guarded by a bunker on the right side.
The two best views of the mountains play from elevated tees on the 15th and 16th holes.
As with all spectacular golf courses, there is a memorable finish at Le Maitre. The 18th hole is a 455-yard par 4 with a wide fairway, but you can't simply grip it and rip it because the hole is pockmarked by four sand traps and two large grass bunkers that can come into play on the tee shot. A waterfall empties into a boulder-filled lake to the left of the final green, which sits below the rustic, 13,000-square-foot clubhouse.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Ski magazine has rated Mont-Tremblant, located in the heart of French-speaking Quebec province, as the best ski resort in Eastern North America for the last decade.
Now, however, Mont-Tremblant has become a year-round world-class destination resort area, with five championship golf courses not more than 10 minutes apart.
There is Le Diable (The Devil), which is billed as a par-71 Arizona-style course designed by Michael Hurdzan and Dana Frey, and its neighbor, Le Geant (The Giant), a Thomas McBroom design that was selected as the Best Public Course in Quebec by ScoreGolf magazine in 2002.
Down the road a few minutes in Gray Rocks Resort are Le Belle and La Bete, aka The Beauty and The Beast. La Bete was designed by Graham Cooke, while La Belle is a classic mountain course that dates to the 1920s.
WHERE TO STAY: The magnificent Fairmont Tremblant, nestled on the slopes of the ski area, gives its guests ski-in-and-out access during the winter and shuttle service to the golf courses the rest of the year.
Stroll the streets and alleyways of the quaint village of Mont-Tremblant, approximately 75 miles north of Montreal, and if you didn't know better, you might think you were in Val d'Isere or Chamonix in the French Alps.
Fairmont Resort Hotels, with its magnificent flagship in San Francisco, has spectacular properties around the world and is a major player in Canada -- most notably in Quebec.
Le Manoir Richelieu, overlooking the St. Lawrence River in La Malbaie, and Le Chateau Montebello are golf resorts, while the majestic Queen Elizabeth in Montreal, the elegant Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City and the rustic Fairmont Kenauk in Montebello can arrange for tee times at championship courses nearby.
In Western Canada is the stately Fairmont Chateau Whistler, with its highly regarded golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.
Also in Mont-Tremblant are Le Westin Resort and Spa, Club Tremblant L'Hotel du Lac, Chateau Beauvallon, Hotel Quintessence, Ermitage du Lac Tremblant and Le Sommet des Neiges, among dozens of others.
ON THE WEB: http://www.fairmont.com/tremblant/Recreation/Golf; http://en.lemaitre.clublink.ca