The Presidio Golf Course dates back more than 100 years and Robert Johnstone designed it, returning with William McEwan a few years later to remodel it. Set close to downtown San Francisco, it’s a popular facility that winds over hilly ground between stately pines and eucalyptus.
Tom Doak made a point of playing Presidio in 2016 and awarded the course a rating of four out of ten. He commented as follows in his Christmas 2017 Confidential Guide update:
“Fortified by the Spanish in 1776 to defend the harbor of San Francisco Bay, The Presidio was a prestigious U.S. Army posting from 1848 to 1994, when the base was closed and installed into the National Park System. A civilian club shared the course [and the upkeep] with the Army for many years; the club still operates but the course is open to the public now. It’s very steep in several spots, and some new bunkering is so tight to the fronts of greens that it demands several unreasonable approaches. But, along with Wawona in Yosemite, that makes two golf courses within the borders of a U.S. National Park!”
Presidio is not far from San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts. But William Gladstone Merchant and Bernard Maybeck’s striking building is not the only artwork in the neighborhood. Presidio’s bunkers were artfully designed by the firm of Suny Zokol (and shaped, in most cases, by course superintendent Brian Nettz). They have a classic ragged look, accentuated by fescue-like wisps on the edges. At 6481 yards from the longest tees, the course needs some defense and much of that defense is provided by sand.
Though Presidio’s bunkers are indeed, things of beauty, they are challenging and best avoided. Some have claimed that even Harry Houdini would have trouble making an escape from some. While I acknowledge such an argument, its proponents need to understand that there’s no rule that says a bunker escape must be made by striking the ball toward the green. And, of course, strategic thinking about one’s approach shot may dictate that such bunkers are best be avoided at all costs—even if that means directing a shot to the edge—or even off—of the green.
The course dates to 1895 but the current routing is likely the 1921 work of Herbert Fowler—designer of such gems as Eastward Ho!, Walton Heath and Cruden Bay—and his student, Tom Simpson. The course is laid out over typically hilly San Francisco land. Fortunately the uphill holes are short (averaging 362 yards for the par 4s from the back tees). The two longest par 4s average 436 but each benefits from a severely downhill tee shot.
Presidio is an enjoyable course and easily the finest located in an American national park. (This is damning with faint praise as the only other one I’m aware of, Yosemite’s Wawona course, is as close to a bad golf course as there is. My definition of a bad course is rather liberal: It’s one where you’d prefer to be at work than playing.)
Pair this course with Harding Park and San Francisco has two great old historic public offerings that in my opinion both fly under the radar. Presidio even more so than Harding Park. I feel like nobody ever mentions this course and its just kind of considered the old muni in San Fran (which it is), but it's still a must play. From the hilly terrain to the old clubhouse to the above average condition of the course, Presidio offers a great deal that is ignored by many. As a midwest guy, the holes lined with the Eucalyptus trees offered a unique feel and beautiful framing. I'd advise anyone going to the bay area to make a stop by Presido. It's a fantastic old golf course.