Harding Park Golf Course has a long history that dates back to 1925 when the course was laid out by Willie Watson and Sam Whiting. The names of Watson and Whiting are not naturally associated with the Golden Age of golf course architecture but their Lake course at the nearby Olympic Club is testament to their design ability.
Set to the southwest of downtown San Francisco, adjacent to the State University, Harding Park is framed on three sides by Lake Merced and the course itself is routed on ideal sandy ground. Named after the keen golfer and US President, Warren G. Harding, the city-owned municipal course hosted a number of high profile tournaments before and after the Second World War and became a regular PGA Tour venue during the 1960s.
Sadly, Harding Park fell into near terminal decline and 1998 it was unceremoniously used as a car park when the US Open was hosted at the Olympic Club. Sandy Tatum, a San Francisco attorney, led a contentious mission to return Harding Park to its former glory. A public-funded $16m restoration project began in spring 2002 and the course re-opened in the summer of 2003 to cautious but steady applause.
Tall Monterey Cypress trees frame most holes making the fairways feel extremely narrow. Small, tricky greens make scoring tough and if you have a decent card going you’ll need to focus hard towards the end of the round because Harding Park has a cracking finishing stretch that starts at the short par four 16th and continues on a high bluff before reaching the signature 18th.
The home hole is a spectacular par four with Lake Merced as the backdrop. The hole doglegs hard left on its way back to the final elevated and multi-tiered green which slopes sharply back to the fairway.
The future of Harding Park was cemented after a thrilling finish to the 2005 WGC-American Express Championship, which culminated in Tiger Woods beating John Daly in a sudden-death playoff. Top-flight golf returned to Harding Park in 2009 with the Presidents Cup, which the US team convincingly retained.
In 2010 the City and County of San Francisco passed the management of Harding Park to the Tournament Players Club of California, so the facility is now known as TPC Harding Park. The World Golf Championships - Cadillac Match Play was hosted at TPC Harding Park in 2015. Rory McIlroy claimed the WGC title, beating Gary Woodland 4&2 in the final.
I played Harding in May 2015 only a few days after the WGC Match Play that Rory McIlroy won. The course is in good tournament condition and the track that will challenge you on distance and shot making. I did play well that day, so it left a positive vibe. Walking up 18 was fun as the grandstands were still up.
I loved playing through the mature landscape. I admit I am sort of 'old school' when it comes to golf course architecture and Harding fit my eye nicely. It has been a couple of years since I played it and on reflection there are no memorable holes. It is also a little pricey too. But I am glad I played it at least once.