844 West Orange Ave.,
South San Francisco,
- + 1 650 589 0144
2 miles W of South San Francisco
Members and their guests only
The California Golf Club of San Francisco dates back to the Golden Age of design and, although the club can trace its roots back to 1918, California Golf Club did not truly come of age until it moved to its present site in the mid 1920s.
The club originally commissioned little known Scotsman Willie Lock to design the course on the new site in the fashionable Bay Area, but an Irishman, Arthur Vernon Macan, replaced him before construction started. It’s unclear as to why Locke was replaced by Macan but we do know that Locke routed California, so he should receive posthumous credit. Alister MacKenzie was drafted in to address shortfalls in California’s bunkering in 1927 and since then the club’s reputation soared.
Former Walker Cup player Gene Andrews won the US Senior Amateur Championship here at the California Golf Club of San Francisco, which was probably the club’s proudest moment.
In 2005, after years of struggling with putting surfaces infested with roundworms, the club decided to rebuild the greens and Kyle Phillips was the chosen architect following a dramatic proposal. Not only did Phillips rebuild the greens, he also built five new holes so that the club could boast a stronger outward nine to complement the existing excellent homeward nine.
According to his official website “Kyle Phillips Golf Course Design renovated and restored the course using 1927 as a benchmark when Dr Alister MacKenzie re-bunkered the course. The original course, designed by A. Vernon Macan, had been compromised in the 1960s when San Bruno Creek gave way to the existing Westborough Road, leaving only 13 of the original holes intact… The first event at the newly renovated course was highlighted with a 6-hole exhibition by PGA Tour player Arron Oberholser and former U.S. Open Champion Ken Venturi hitting the ceremonial first ball.”
The California Golf Club of San Francisco can now boast tournament measurements. From the new back tees, which are aptly called Venturi, the course can be stretched to more than 7,200 yards.
The following edited extract by George Waters is from Volume Six of Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective. Reproduced with kind permission. To obtain a copy of the book, email Paul Daley at [email protected].
“The California Club of San Francisco completed work a few years ago that nicely illustrates the value of component restoration. Before the project, the course was a scramble of different designs. The original routing had been substantially altered by land sales and highway projects. Some very interesting holes playing along a creek had been lost for ever.
Although Alister MacKenzie had performed a complete redesign of the course’s bunkering early in the club’s history, years of wear and tear, tinkering and redesign had stolen nearly all of the character from his work. Newly constructed ponds and other impromptu features further detracted from what is arguably the best golfing ground held by any of the courses in San Francisco.
Kyle Phillips, the entrusted architect, approached the two nines differently. The routing of the back nine was more or less intact, and there was a reasonable amount of photographic evidence regarding MacKenzie’s bunkering. Phillips worked very closely with the original holes on the back nine, deviating only slightly from a full restoration.
The front nine was a different story. This was where large parts of the original course had been lost and where photographic record was limited. Philips had to devise some creative solutions to these holes to get the most out of the property. By relocating the practice area away from the clubhouse he was able to make use of some exciting terrain that was previously unused.
He also engaged in large-scale earthwork to recreate the feel and playing characteristics of the lost creekside holes. At the same time, Phillips kept the bunkering style consistent and chose to restore selected elements. This kept the front nine consistent with the back nine; additionally, it connected the history of the course. The result is a design that uses the property to the best advantage, while making a strong connection with the past. The ‘Cal Club’ represents a highly successful component restoration.”
I've been angling to play Cal Club for quite some time. When I first moved to the Bay Area, I lived close to the golf course, drove by it every day, and hoped that I'd be able to play it one of these days. That day finally came this summer, and it definitely did not disappoint.
This is one of the few courses in the Bay Area that plays hard & fast year round (from what I've been told) and it was certainly that - which makes it very challenging. Most of the elite courses in SF that I've played (Olympic, Lake Merced, Harding Park) are a little damp, and you don't get much roll out on your drives and approach shots, but Cal Club is the exception. It's very green, but has a brown patina that championship golf is known for - so you know you're in for a test.
The bunkers and undulating greens are the primary defenses of the course for sure. The greens were hard and rolling out when I played, so even getting a wedge to stop quickly was a challenge that took some getting used to. And with greens running that fast, you never want to be above the hole. That being said, I love this kind of golf, and played pretty well, despite the challenges. The fairways are relatively forgiving, but there's definitely a fair amount of tee shots where you need to be strategic, so it's not just bombs away every hole. Luckily I played with members that had played the course many times, so that was very helpful. Great variety of holes, very memorable, very challenging but enjoyable. The perfect combination. Lots of standout holes, but The Par 5 1st, Par 4 7th, and Par 3 16th are probably my favorites - that may change the more I play it, who knows.
This course has quickly moved into my all-time favorites - right up there with Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, LACC, Pinehurst #2, etc. Golf Digest doesn't even have it in their top 100 courses (not even in the top 10 in CA (no way), which is insane to me. I'd put it in my top 10 for sure, no question. Can't wait to go back!
Had the chance to play California Club (Cal Club) and I was not disappointed. I came in with very high expectations which is always dangerous but not only is the course terrific, so is the experience. For a course with no water, there is plenty of challenge due to the superb bunkering.
Holes that jump out
#18 - (par 4)In my opinion, the best hole on the course. Great way to finish an amazing day with a challenging approach shot to a very guarded green. Club house in the back ground
#3 - (par 4)begins with an elevated tee-shot, wraps itself around an incredible assembly of bunkers and finishes on a beautiful pushed up green.
#7 - (par 4) definitely the most dramatic hole on the course. It is a severe dogleg right playing over a little canyon.
#8 - (par 3) elevated tee shot on a long par 3 with an interesting knoll in front of the green that needs to be utilized for shorter hitters
Shocking it isn't in some top 100 world rankings. It is private, not the easiest place to get on but if you do get the chance, play it....immediately. Also, stick around the bar after the round, the men's clubhouse is a great place to unwind after a round with some of the friendliest members I have ever met.
A fantastic course if you are able to get on. its better than Riv and every hole is different. A beautiful setting among the cypress trees. Course was in great condition and is a challenge from any tee box.
Cal Club and Kyle Phillips take a bow. Doak’s Bel-Air restoration is impressive, but the vision and execution shown on this property has produced one of the best routings I have played in California. The two new holes, the 7th a cape hole and the 8th, a long par 3 down the hill, guarded by bunkers short, and a unique double bunker shared with the 3rd 'Signature' hole are both natural and feel like they were always there. However for me it's the tree removal and rugged MacKenzie bunkering that really make this place shine. When I played last week they were still removing trees on the par 3 6th hole which has views north back over the bay and to the snow-capped mountains beyond. If I had to be uber-critical, the tree removal has left one of the great short holes, 16, exposed to the housing behind the green, but the green complex itself has plenty of interesting pin placements, including I am told, front left which has been known to yield a hole-in-one or four. Can't wait to get back and see this place playing firm and fast during the summer.
Cal Club is definitely one of the best golf courses in the world. It's a very difficult course with a great layout. The course also has awesome views of South San Francisco. It's always in amazing condition and plays hard and fast. When I played it this summer, it felt like I was playing a practice round for a US Open. The course could easily host a major championship or a Ryder Cup. I can't believe Golf Digest doesn't have Cal Club ranked inside their Top 100. Makes no sense.
Cal Club takes all the great elements of San Francisco courses and puts them all in a gorgeous 18 holes making it, in my eyes, as the best track in San Francisco.
Do you want an excellent routing up, down and through hills? Cal Club has it. Do you want rugged bunkers and speedy greens? Cal Club. Want a golf course that gives you awe inspiring holes, jaw dropping cape holes and challenging par 3s? Cal Club again.
It may not get the limelight of of an Olympic or a Harding Park. It may not have the intrigue of SFGC but Cal Club is the complete package, 18 quality holes that will entice you to play it again and again. Play it if you can and make sure to spend as much time as you can on the 6th green.
Cal Club was the recent beneficiary of an amazing renovation by Kyle Phillips, part of a run of wonderful new courses and excellent renovations by his team. Removing thousands of trees this course was totally transformed into an awesome course of the highest caliber that is truly fun and playable by all abilities. In fact, it’s so good that it is now vying for the top spot out of the San Francisco golf courses. For the author it’s far more fun than the Olympic Club and definitely gives San Francisco Golf Club arun for the #1 spot. Some of the major aspects of the renovation include greatly widening the playable areas, fairways width and short grass. Green surrounds have been shaved down allowing a multitude of playing and recovery options. The ground game is now a vital part of a round at Cal Club and this works perfectly with their extremely firm and fast conditions. One of the other strengths of the course now is the incredible variation in holes on this hilly property. The new holes Phillips added are fantastic. His cape hole rendition makes perfect use of a previously unused area of the course and perfectly links up with the long par 3 8th hole. Note worthy is the quirky but creative use of a double bunker separating the green of the 4th but seamlessly tying everything visually together.
The back 9 maintains the high level set out on the front and works out and back from the clubhouse making perfect use of the hilly terrain. My favorite hole on the back 9 is the drop shot par 3 16th. As I learned the hard way the miss is not short as the recovery shot you are faced with is straight up a steep slope, a tough play from a tight lie. What makes the hole great is the fact that you play it with a short iron like a 9 or a wedge and that from a highly elevated tee and yet there is really no easy shot, even with the shortest clubs in the bag.
Cal Club has simply become a great course, no other way to look at it. The author is already extremely looking forward to a return visit one day.