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 #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 #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!