The weeks leading up to my afternoon at Olympic Club in San Francisco were filled with anticipation for my rounds of golf in California. I was initially disappointed that a tournament was taking place on the famed Lake Course during my visit, but I was pleasantly surprised playing the “secondary” Ocean course! My very generous friends who took me to play Fishers Island Club let me stay at their home in downtown San Francisco. It was a nice cab ride over to the Olympic Club on a misty and cold San Francisco day for my round on the Ocean Course.
The Olympic Club is a unique place when it comes to golf clubs. Olympic was founded as an athletic club in 1860. Over 5,000 members belong to the club, but only 900 or so are “golf members.” The rest having playing privileges, but have to pay greens fees and cannot sponsor unaccompanied guests. There is a City Clubhouse, which is in the center of San Francisco and has a pool, squash courts, basketball courts, handball courts, and fitness center, among other sporting venues. A number of other sports, including golf, are found at the Lakeside Clubhouse. In total, 19 sports are represented at Olympic. The result is a club that has a golf reputation, but does not have the atmosphere of a traditional golf club. It is nearly the opposite of where I would play the next day – Cypress Point Club. Despite this lack of smaller club golf ambiance, I would happily spend my days at Olympic Club.
The Ocean Course was designed by Willie Watson and course superintendent Sam Whiting in 1924. Storm damage then led the course to be redesigned by Whiting in 1927. The course is a mix of treelined dogleg holes and elevation changes, presenting nice views of the San Francisco suburbs. A handful of holes on the back nine are said to be designed after famous holes at other courses. You’ll see influences from Augusta National, Pinehurst #2, and Oakmont. The resulting mix of holes makes for an enjoyable and challenging round of golf. In the words of my host, “You’ll typically find that tough fairways play to easier greens, and easy fairways play to tougher greens.” Keep an eye out for this in the photos below.
Hole #1 – 532 yards
The Ocean course opens with a dogleg left par 5. The tee shot is straightforward, but shorter hitters will have a blind shot to the layup area short of the green.
Hole #2 – 181 yards
The 2nd hole is a par 3 with a two-tiered green. The greens were very firm and fast during our round, and I was left with a frighteningly fast putt back down to the bottom tier.
Hole #4 – 519 yards
The par 5 4th works uphill with a large hill dropping off on the left side of hole. Drives have to avoid lefthand bunkers in the fairway, and an additional set of bunkers catches approach shots erring left. Take the hint and err right on this hole!
Hole #5 – 152 yards
The downhill 5th hole provides great views of the surrounding San Francisco suburbs as well as a peak onto San Francisco Golf Club, which can be seen on the left adjacent hillside. The 5th green is the center of the three in this photo, and the downhill approach shot plays one club less.
Hole #7 – 429 yards
This long dogleg left par 4 requires an accurate drive to reach a downslope towards the green. I took a hybrid off this tee, didn’t catch the downslope, and was left with a 200 yard downhill iron to the green. The approach played a club less due to the elevation loss.
Hole #8 – 384 yards
The 8th hole’s bunkering is similar to many holes on the Ocean course. This green was long and slender, working away from players to the right.
Hole #10 – 169 yards
This par 3 is modeled off the 12th hole at Augusta National Golf Club. There is obviously no lake, and there is an additional right hand bunker, but the similarities are certainly recognizable.
Hole #13 – 350 yards
The 13th is inspired by Oakmont, and according to my host, it apparently had church pew bunkers down the left side of the fairway at one point. This was one of my favorite holes on the course. The two balls seen in the photo above were 105 yards from the green, which was beautifully undulating. (Scroll down to the bottom of this post to see a close-up view of the green.)
Hole #15 – 428 yards
The 15th hole looks open from the tee in the photo above, but the area to the right of the tree is deceivingly narrow. I pulled my tee shot and was blocked out for my approach shot.
Hole #17 – 191 yards
The par 3 17th is another strong par 3 on the Ocean Course. The first photo in this review is me teeing off on this hole. It is every bit of 191 yards to this green and balls landing short right will roll back off of the green.
The final hole on the course has a multi-tiered green with a large sloping front. Do not come up short! The hole initially seems easy, but any mistake could easily turn into a bogey or worse.
I hope to be able to return to the Olympic Club to play the Lake course among a handful of other great Bay Area tracks. I had a few glances at the Lake course throughout the round and, between those sightings and the US Open coverage, my interest has been piqued!
Lake gets the kudos but man Ocean looks great . I would want to play there for 13!
On a return visit I’m hoping to get out to play the Lake Course. That being said, Ocean is no slacker as you pointed out! 13 is a great hole.
Did you snap a shot of the 16th tee? I birdied it today and want to relive it!
Hi Glenn, well done on the birdie there! I just looked back in my photo library and I didn’t snap one of 16 tee. However, I did get a grey shot of the approach to the green. I didn’t put it in the review, but just uploaded it and added a link below. Thanks for writing in!
You played Olympic and Cypress Point in one weekend? How the %#$@ did you pull that off?!
Please share the secret. I would literally kill for that experience (and that’s not hyperbole!)
Hi Drew, the good news is that nobody had to die in the process! haha. I’m fortunate to have some friends in California who arranged the rounds for me. There’s no real tip or trick, just meeting the right members who are happy to host!
Great review on Ocean. The back nine is as good as anything! Have you played Lake yet?
Hi Cam, I haven’t played the Lake Course, but it’s on my bucket list! Hopefully I’ll get back to it one day sooner than later!
Hi Graylyn: It looks from your post like Olympic allowed unaccompanied guest play if sponsored by a member. Do you know if that’s typically the case and what the parameters were! Time to get out the Rolodex for my next trip to San Francisco. Thanks! KY
Hi Ky, I’m not sure about Olympic Club’s policies, but I did play my round accompanied by a member. Hope you can get out there!
Thanks! Happy golfing!
Olympic is pretty strict right now during covid. Happy to answer any questions. As a member, I don’t have the ability to call in unaccompanied guests. That would have to be a reciprocal call from your head pro at your club
Cam: Thanks so much for the information. COVID does seem to have impacted a number of guest policies, including ours here in Portland. Hopefully things will get back to normal soon! Thanks again.