Olympic Club (Lake) - California - USA

Olympic Club,
599 Skyline Blvd,
San Francisco,
California (CA) 94132,
USA


  • +1 415 587 8338

  • Dennis Bouey

  • Willie Watson, Sam Whiting, Robert Trent Jones

  • Chris Stein


The Olympic Club was founded in 1860 and it is the oldest athletics club in America. After the Great War, the sporting Olympic Club decided to get into golf and purchased the Lakeside course from the financially struggling Lakeside Country Club.

The course had been built on the landward side of a barren strip of hillside, which separates the Pacific Ocean from Lake Merced, the largest freshwater lake in the San Francisco area (hence the name of the course). Set on the seaward side of the hill is the Ocean course, which also belongs to the Olympic Club.

Trees are the predominant feature of the Lake course (in distinct contrast to the Ocean course) but they were planted after the acquisition to add definition to the desolate sloping topography. Despite its name, there is not a single water hazard on the Lake course – and there’s only a single fairway bunker on the entire course. You can’t lose a ball unless you get it stuck in a tree and, according to Olympic legend, three branches were once lopped from a tree and 150 balls fell out. You have been warned!

Host to five US Opens, the Lake course is a serious challenge. Take your stabilisers and expect few level lies on these sloping fairways. Don’t expect too much respite once you reach the sanctuary of the small greens either, because most of the putting surfaces seem to present you with permanent downhill putts. What’s more, the greens are lightning fast and if you miss with you approach shot you’ll be in the vicious rough.

It’s not that easy to get a game here, so we recommend that you befriend and member at your earliest opportunity. The Lake course, which is no longer visibly beside the lake, is a daunting experience.

In November 2017 the PGA of America announced that the Olympic Club will host the 2028 PGA Championship and the 2032 Ryder Cup. It will be the first time the Lake course has hosted either event.

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Reviews for Olympic Club (Lake)

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Description: Host to four US Opens, the Lake course at Olympic Club is a serious challenge. Take your stabilisers and expect few level lies on these sloping fairways. Rating: 4.9 out of 6 Reviews: 14

Without being repetitive, I have played the course on several occasions and been a keen media observer when the 1987, 1998 and 2012 US Opens were played at the Lake Course. The layout, as mentioned by others, plays off a side hill slope. The holes work their way back and forth along the side hill nature of the property. When the course plays especially fast as it can be for the Opens the unpredictability of where the ball will finish gets extremely magnified.

A good example of that is the 17th hole -- which was changed to a par-5 at the 2012 event because so few people could actually hit and remain on the sloped left-to-right fairway.

Memorability is not a strong fixture of the Lake Course. Nearly the entire course blends into the scenery with the trees standing guard alongside each hole. I do like a few holes. The slightly uphill 2nd is extremely good. The fairway slopes to the left and heaven help anyone who loses the shot to that side. The green is elevated and well defended with a bunker in front and three others to the side locations. The downhill par-3 is also quite strong. Even from an elevated tee the green is pinched in towards the front and again well served by flanking bunkers. There's more room to the back but anything long will need Houdini's assist to escape with par.

I am not a fan of the "reverse camber" holes at the 4th and 5th. Both are strong par-4's because the terrain accentuates even the tiniest of miscues. As mentioned by John in his review -- there's no alternate way to play the hole and your forced to play a shot that even the world's best cannot always pull off.

The short uphill par-4 7th is a fun hole -- and it's one of the few that adds a good deal to the strategic side of things. The par-3 8th was simply turned out to something far, far different than its original intent. Extending the length to a far greater number only added more difficulty -- not compelling architecture.

From the 9th through the 15th -- you encounter the side hill nature of the property. The holes are quite simply indistinguishable from one other. Much is made of the long par-5 16th. It is simply that -- long. The sad part about 600+ yard holes is that top players all play to the same point for their 3rd -- leaving roughly 100 yards to the target. The 17th follows with an uphill movement and the par-5 is a good opportunity for a birdie. The much hyped short par-4 18th is exactly that -- way overrated by many and certainly not worthy of mention with the elite short par-4's in golf. The green has been softened to provide for a greater range of pin positions because the former green was sloped too severely from back-to-front. Who can forget the inane situation Payne Stewart faced when a back pin was used and his ball could not find a resting spot during the 1998 Open.

The Bay area is blessed with a wonderful array of superior designed courses. The Lake can certainly play tough because the rough is certainly among the toughest you will encounter given the frequency of the misty marine layer that hovers over the course. Few people who finish an 18-hole round will confess unbridled love for the course. Amazingly, those same people when playing nearby at San Francisco GC will say the completely opposite thing. No doubt the main draw when coming to the area is the City of San Francisco. The Lake Course is an unremitting chore of a course. I can only shake my head and have to ask "why" the PGA will come here in 2028 and even worse -- the 2032 Ryder Cup is scheduled here as well. Yikes!

by M. James Ward

4 / 6
Olympic Club (Lake)
October 21, 2018


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I found the Olympic Lake course to be very difficult to play for a non-scratch player. The trees are grown in very tight, it is built on the side of a mountain and the greens are too fast. It is hard to get an even lie more or less anywhere on the property. In addition, to properly play the course you have to be able to hit a draw and a fade at will. What makes this especially difficult is that most of the lies you will have require you to work the ball the opposite of the way the terrain dictates. That is, if you have a cut lie it requires you to hit a draw shot and vice versa. One of the prominent design features of Olympic is the 'Reverse Camber' which is an architectural term for fairways that slope in one direction while the golfer aims at a green that turns the opposite way. A Reverse Camber is not a unique architectural feature at Olympic, other courses have similar designs. What makes Olympic especially difficult is that there is nowhere to play safe or to bail out, unlike on most other designs. It simply forces you to have to try to hit a shot that all but the most accomplished golfer cannot hit.

On the bright side, Olympic Club only has one fairway bunker. In this regard it is the antithesis of Whistling Straits with its close to 1,000 bunkers. The thing is, Olympic doesn't need any fairway bunkers. The combination of hemmed in fairways, small greens and uneven lies is enough to easily rank it among the most difficult courses in the world along with Oakmont, Bethpage Black and Royal County Down (with the wind up!). The routing of Olympic is essentially sideways on the hillside. It does not play up and down the hill, but rather you find yourself walking sideways on hilly terrain throughout your round.

John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs

4 / 6
Olympic Club (Lake)
November 27, 2016


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Once the trip to Pebble was confirmed I tried in all ways to get both to San Francisco GC and Olympic Club. 3 weeks from the trip I surrendered with SFGC but a magic email came to my inbox confirming the Tee Time for May 20th at 9:30am. I was at Monterrey, my flight from Argentina arrived the day before and drove directly to play Cypress Point and stayed at Carmel. The following day I was up 5:30am with friend Lucas to drive 2hs and experience another Major Venue. It is not easy to get unaccompanied play and not always you are paired with somebody friendly, but this time weOlympic Club (Lake) Golf Course - Photo by reviewer played with a PGA Pro from Australia who made our round really a very enjoyable one.

8:00am we were there and after breakfast at the Club House and a long practice session including putting we were ready to tee off. I have to be honest: I was not 100% familiar with the entire course, I only had a clear picture of #1, #16 and #18, every other hole was a completely new walk for me! I had the picture that #1 was an easy hole but after a pushed driver, a topped second and 3 putts the double bogey was a cheap result, but very frustrating! #2 is an uphill par 4, not long and were to the green you will always need one more club than what you imagine. #3 is a very nice par 3, with elevated tee which faces the Golden Gate. 4-5-6 are some very tough par 4s, where you need to managed effect on your driver in order to hit Olympic Club (Lake) Golf Course - Photo by reviewerfairway. Short par 4 #7 is one of the jewels, Pros will be able to hit the green but if on the wrong platform be sure you will 3 putt. #8 is a very good par 3 which finishes by the Club House (in US Open they use #1 and #9 tees) before tough #9 if you miss on the right side of the green. #10 is a flat par 4, dogleg right finishing in the Hot Dog House (we had some great Burger Dogs!!). Then 11th is maybe one of the best ones, long and tight to a 2 platform green. At 13 I hit the worst shot of the day, hooking an 8 iron from center of the fairway to left of the bunkers. But what came after was even stranger, as I hit my lob wedge the ball just did not move and went straight down, what in Argentina we call an aerial potato (papa aérea). I didn’t like par 3 #13, it was just standard. Dogleg left par 4 #14 is one of the greats, 15th is a nice short one before long par 5 #16 which was the final fall of Furyk in 2012´s Open. 17th is just ok, nothing too special. But 18th is just iconic, elevated from the fairway for a second uphill approach to finish watching the immense Club House. A great experience, you feel that “7th gear” that Major Venues have and lunch afterwards in the Club House watching both courses and golf on TV just makes it perfect.

I have to say to have played better designed courses and with a more special feel (Merion and Oak Hill of this type) but the pristine maintenance and the challenge make it a superbe test of golf. And if you have some more energy, go and do the Cliffs Course maybe the best par 3 course I have ever been to.

5 / 6
Olympic Club (Lake)
June 02, 2016


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The Olympic Club has a well-deserved reputation as a challenging golf course. The fairways are bounded by beautiful trees and the greens guarded by bunkers that often require an aerial approach. While there is only one hole with fairway bunkers, there are plenty of doglegs requiring a tee shot to the proper side of the fairway to provide the best angle for the next shot. The strongest stretch is the last six holes, with the unusual par sequence of 3-4-3-5-5-4. And while the first three holes are also strong, the nine holes in between are a bit repetitious. From the members’ tees holes 4-6 are all within 20 yards of each other—though with elevation changes. The 7th and 8th (a short par 4 and a par 3 added a few years ago) are excellent, but then dullness returns. Holes 9-12 are all within 10 yards of each other and quite flat. When I was told that 10 plays a lot like 5, I had to stop and think to remember a hole I’d played only an hour ago. The greens are quick and challenging but only a couple have the kind of undulations I find interesting. The best feature of this middle portion of the course is Hot Dog Bill's behind the 10th green. Many years ago, Bill had a little hot dog wagon outside the course boundaries and members would send their caddies for Bill’s hot dogs. Eventually the club invited Bill onto the course and he and his descendants have been serving hamburgers in hot dog rolls there ever since. This unusual combination is a remnant of the tiny wagon that did not have enough room for both hamburger and hot dog rolls. While I enjoyed Olympic, my host also took me to the Menlo Country Club. I found the the recent Kyle Phillips remodel there even more enjoyable.
5 / 6
Olympic Club (Lake)
November 28, 2015


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Olympic Club is a much-storied course, just a few miles down the road from San Francisco Golf Club, Olympic was founded in 1893 as an athletic club in the city of San Francisco. In 1924, the club acquired land bordered by the Pacific Ocean and Lake Merced to build 36 holes of the Lake and Ocean courses. The Lake has hosted four U.S.Opens [now five] and the Tour Championship in 1993. Because there are no water hazards and only one fairway bunker, some call the 6,808-yard par 71 Lake course one of the world’s longest short courses. Larry Berle.
3 / 6
Olympic Club (Lake)
October 02, 2014


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Keith Baxter
October 02, 2014
The above review is an edited extract from A Golfer’s Dream, which has been reproduced with the author’s kind permission. A Golfer’s Dream, by Larry Berle, tells the story of how a regular guy conquered America’s Top 100 Golf Courses (following Golf Digest’s 2001/2002 list). Larry has exclusively rated for us every course in the hundred, using our golf ball rating system. However, Larry did not rate the 100 courses against every golf course he has played, but instead he rated them in relation to each other within the hundred. Consequently, in some cases, his rating may seem rather low. A Golfer’s Dream is available in Kindle format and also on Kindle Unlimited via Amazon... click the link for more. 
I first visited the Lake course in 2007 and many of my opinions have remained unchanged. It continues to be very demanding off the tee, whether you have to nail it down a corridor of never ending trees, or shape it in either direction to find the fairway. Not many of the holes would be categorized as ‘breath-taking’ prior to the 18th. Olympic Club (Lake) Golf Course - Photo by reciewerMany of the par 4s have a familiar feel to them. If you stand 150 yards out, the approach shots begin to look and feel the same. Each has a slightly raised green with a bunker left and right. I remember feeling this way on my first visit and anxiously waiting for a hole to stand out. I did appreciate the new 8th hole which has become the club’s signature hole, and feel that the new green location was a terrific change and welcomed improvement. Similarly with the 18th hole, the clubhouse in the background provides a magnificent setting and tantalizing finish into such a small narrow green surrounded by murderous bunkers. Other than a handful of memorable holes, and having played all of the Top 100 ranked courses in the country, I feel like the Lake course is slightly overrated. The routing is somewhat uneventful along the side of the mountain, offering plenty of parallel holes and uneven lies. Small subtle greens, challenging approach shots, and raw toughness characterize this old layout worthy of its inclusion in the USGA rotation. The club is progressively cutting down Pine Trees, opening up sight-lines, adding Tiger Tees and holding up its reputation for the best hot dog burgers in the world!
4 / 6
Olympic Club (Lake)
December 09, 2013


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Have to agree with the others that this course is way overrated. Sadly it's a diamond in the rough and could be top 15 in US if they did a proper restoration. What they have done is modernize it to the point it's not fun, just long and hard. The bunkers are not original and need to be brought back to their original shapes and all the bunkers they filled in should be restored. The two new holes, the 7th and 8th are out of place and don't fit a course built in 1927? I would rate it 9th in California.
4 / 6
Olympic Club (Lake)
March 02, 2012


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Bob
April 08, 2012
Ignorance is bliss. I have played 7 of the top ten. Riviera is very similar to Olympic in style but lacks any subtlety that is rife on every hole at Olympic. Exception is Riviera's magnificent 10th hole. Pebble is the gorgeous old lady, with Cypress last 5 holes unmatched in beauty. Torrey Pines is under rated after alterations. LA North was more of a challenge than Riviera, just not the curb appeal and clueless press backing. Mayacama with Torrey Pines should be bumped up the list in time. Pasatiempo and San Francisco are also beautifully designed tracts that require continual thinking and deft play. I agree with other reviewers: if it's beauty and challenge, Pebble is always a winner. If you want an awe inspiring challenge: Play Spyglass Hill, Olympic, and Mayacama. With nods to LA North, Halfmoon Bay and Spanish Bay. After 52 years of golf, I've played at many venues and wish to play them all. It seems that these lists ebb and flow directly related to hype and how often public sees (not plays) the golf courses. Why isn't Torrey Pines rated higher than Riviera, which should be barely in top ten, if at all. Just one mans opinion based on playing competively at many of this States fine courses.
Sean
June 17, 2012
The Olympic Club has always been hard. Yes, it's been lengthened from the tips to cater for professional tournaments but here people really need to play the right tee, even if that means more forward than their ego would like. There has been relatively little change in the course since 1927 and only one hole has been outright replaced; and the old hole 8 was probably the least challenging hole of the course before, now it's a challenging hole with a good set of bunkers and if the flag is in back you definitely need to shape your shot to get near the pin. If you take the course for what it is, something that you can't overpower and need to think and manoeuvre your way around it will treat you to a splendid round of golf. It will probably beat you up a bit along the way but at the last hole it will be certain to say "I o U" before you leave.
Where do you start? This course will host the 2012 US Open so expectations were sky-high on arrival - for the record, all of these were met in bundles. Olympic Club (Lake) Golf Course - photo by reviewerFrom the pro-shop, to the locker rooms and then to the putting green you are quickly aware that The Olympic Club is a special place. Even the position of the 1st tee (right by the pro-shop window) is fantastic and also the best par-5 in my opinion. I played in May 2011 (just over a year to the US Open) and I cannot now wait to watch the coverage and get a better idea of how to play the course properly even when the rough has been grown up! The course is immaculately conditioned with as good a set of greens I have ever putted on. I was told there are nearly 40,000 trees on the course which just adds to the enjoyment, especially as some of the Cypress trees have grown in some unique formations. It would be so easy to describe every single hole; I will not do that here – just some words about the final hole though….again in my own opinion, the best par-4 under 350 yards that I have ever played – tee shot played deep into the valley with the approach to a raised green heavily bunkered and a rather small target to be honest. The Lake course oozes quality and do whatever you need to do to play here, it is worth the effort – NB If you have time try the Ocean course too, not quite as stunning but a very hard act to follow…
6 / 6
Olympic Club (Lake)
May 31, 2011


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A top golf course, the longest 7200 yard course I have ever played. Bring your "A" game if you are playing off the tips.......... A true ball strikers course, Pebble doesn't get close. For looks go for Pebble for a challenge play here!
5 / 6
Olympic Club (Lake)
May 29, 2010


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my dads friend is a member here, and he got me on before i went off to college. Let me tell you, an absolutely wonderful golfing experience. I had a great ballstriking day and shot a 79. what really got me on this course was the rough. If you can keep the ball in the fairway then approach shots are fairly straightforward even on sloping lies. number 18 is a nuts hole. Period
6 / 6
Olympic Club (Lake)
December 14, 2009


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