Albert Warren Tillinghast was probably the greatest American golf course architect of his day and “Tilly” was the genius who crafted San Francisco in 1915.
“Now Tillinghast’s genius was being given free rein and it shone brightly out in California as well, at the San Francisco Golf Club.” Wrote Philip Young in the book entitled: Tillinghast – Creator of Golf Courses. “There are those who, to this day, after viewing all of his great courses, believe this to be his finest work.”
Situated close to Golden Gate Bridge, the course was not only the first remarkable example of the great architect’s craft, it was also the first course of any real quality to be constructed on the West Coast of America.
Laid out on a rolling pine-forested landscape near Lake Merced, the course stretches out across a number of valleys and ravines with the front nine occupying the most dramatic terrain. It’s here that one of Tilly’s favourite holes, the appropriately named par three 7th “Duel Hole,” is located.
This short hole is situated on the site of the last legal duel in American history (when a Supreme Court Justice shot and killed a US Senator in 1859) and it plays downhill to a small kidney-shaped green that drops off to the right.
The par three 13th hole (recently restored by Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design firm) is another great one-shotter on a back nine that finishes, like the outward half, with a wonderful par five hole. With no cart paths or yardage markers to distract on the fairways, a round here with a member at San Francisco is one to savour.
The following comments were kindly provided by Tom Doak:
About 8-9 years ago we rebuilt all of the greens at SFGC in order to combat nematode infestation which had gone beyond the bounds of chemical control. We had to rebuild some of the greenside bunkers as part of that, and at the same time, we restored a few fairway bunkers that had been filled over the years, on holes 1 and 17. We added back tees on holes 2, 3, 6, and 9 as well.
About 5 years ago, we rebuilt holes 13-14-15 to the original Tillinghast design. Those three holes had been completely re-routed in 1949-50 by a local club professional, Harold Sampson, when the highway on the eastern boundary of the course was being expanded.It's a bit hard to describe exactly what we did, without knowing which version of the course you are familiar with. This restoration was a cause of some heavy political infighting at the club: almost none of the members remembered the course prior to 1949, so to them it was a redesign, and a few of the opponents of the project are still critics of the work, even though no one has argued that what we did wasn't true to form.