The Takeaway: In an area loaded with top shelf golf, The Cal Club shines. With superior movement in the property, hole designs, and bunkering, The Cal Club is the best course in the Bay Area and among the best in the Golden State. Grade A+
Designer: Vernon Macan in 1926; Alister Mackenzie 1927 bunkers, Kyle Phillips renovation 2007
Phone Number: (650) 588-9021
Course Website: Official Website - Visit The California Golf Club of San Francisco's official website by clicking on the link provided.
Directions: Get here! - 844 W Orange Ave, South San Francisco, California 94080 – UNITED STATES
What to Expect: There is a contentious debate among golfers, and certainly among members, of which private course in San Francisco is the best. While some contend it is the Lake course at Olympic Club with its shot shaping and history of hosting U.S. Opens, and others argue that it is San Francisco Golf Club with its old school charm and intimate routing, I am firmly in the camp that The California Golf Club is comfortably the best course in the Bay Area. The movement in the terrain, and the way the holes are designed within it, represent some of the best work I’ve seen. A masterful variety of uphill and downhill shots are required while also rewarding players that can shape their ball when needed; though the fairways offer plenty of width to navigate within. The tees and fairways feature fescue grass which plays firm and fast while the bentgrass greens roll pure and with pace. The renovation that Kyle Phillips did was masterful and features some of the most attractive bunkering you will find at any course in the world, especially with how the edging compliments the shape of the Monterey tree tops. The afternoons at Cal Club are notoriously windy and temperatures rarely get very warm so having a jacket or sweater handy is recommended while pants are mandatory. You’ll also have a caddie to help carry your clubs and navigate the course since walking is required the majority of the time. In the end, Cal Club has few peers when it comes to exceptional variety in terrain, hole shapes, and overall design; it is simply one of the best inland courses in the world.
By the Numbers
Individual Hole Analysis
Signature Hole: 16th Hole – 133 Yard Par 3 – An under-utilized design feature in a routing but found at great courses such as Sand Hills and Cypress Point, a short par three late in the round is revealed as the 16th hole at The Cal Club. Like the 12th at Augusta National, winds swirl here and create havoc with club selection, especially since you'll be hitting a club that will launch high in the air and receive maximum exposure to the gusts. The kidney-shaped green is twice as wide as it is deep and is encircled by seven bunkers that protect every edge except the front left portion of the putting surface. The biggest mistake you can make here is to have a lack of commitment, so despite whatever conditions you have no control over, commit to the club and swing that will give you the best opportunity to stick the green. 5s are as common as 2s here, but at just 133 yards and playing downhill, it is gettable by every range of handicap.
Best Par 3: 12th Hole – 232 Yards – I fell in love with this hole the moment I laid eyes on it. A beautiful setup with the green perched on a high spot with a valley fronting it and a series of tee boxes working their way up the opposite hillside is unveiled at the 12th while the towering Monterey pines on each side frame in the setting. The tee shot threads the 11th and 18th greens enroute to a putting surface that is protected by seven bunkers; most of which are found on the left side of the hole. A front right pin is the most accessible while back left takes some serious game to hit a tee shot close to. I love par threes that play a bit uphill while still offering a glimpse of the putting surface, and this one is top shelf.
Best Par 4: 7th Hole – 411 Yards – There are so many good two-shotters at The Cal Club that it is a shame to feature just one, but the 7th certainly stands out as the most dramatic and memorable. Found on the western side of the property, the 7th runs along a ridge that features tons of falloff on each side of the fairway and the right side being the most prevalent in view as the fairway capes around it. Balls that don't find the short grass will likely go MIA for the rest of your round so it is imperative you keep your tee ball in play. Carrying the bunker complex on the corner will require 255 yards of carry which doesn't seem that difficult, but with the prevailing wind coming in from the west it is quick to knock down tee shots since they will be traveling west north west towards their destination. The fairway tilts left to right and tumbles downhill towards the green requiring players to play their approach shot short and let their ball trundle onto the putting surface. With the mountain of South San Francisco creating the backdrop and the ravines creating a sense of isolation, the setting for the 7th is fantastic.
Best Par 5: 17th Hole – 567 Yards – The words "South San Francisco The Industrial City" painted on the mountain in the backdrop creates an ideal aiming point on the 17th hole, though going up the left side of the fairway can be beneficial considering the left-to-right tilt the fairway features. The bunkers on the right side are easily carried but leaking a tee shot to the right of them will get into the trees or potentially work its way out of bounds, so the miss here is definitely to the left. After ascending uphill with the tee shot, players crest the hill and find the fairway switches to a right-to-left tilt and steadily descends 50 feet enroute to the green that is littered with bunkers on each side. The ideal approach shot carries the bunker complex that is 50 yards short of the green on the left side and then catches the slope that will send balls bounding to the right towards the putting surface. The good shots here can get you home in two, and even if you are a little short, there is a good opportunity to wedge a shot close and walk away with a birdie before heading to the finishing hole.
Birdie Time: 1st Hole – 535 Yard Par 5 – The opening hole is as generous as Cal Club is going to get with this downhill par five to start off with. The fairway tumbles downhill from tee to the green which makes this hole it very reachable in two; particularly with the firm conditions. 280 yards up the left side is a fairway bunker that you'll want to avoid but stands as a nice aiming point to hit a little cut off of. The front of the green is receptive with just a bunker pinching in from the right to be aware of, but an aerial or ground shot here should find the green. In fact, you'll want to play a shot that lands short of the front edge since balls will kick forward onto the putting surface. There are plenty of challenging holes at Cal Club to contend with, so go get yourself a birdie here and build up some insurance early.
Bogey Beware: 3rd Hole – 437 Yard Par 4 – Dubbed by many as the signature hole at Cal Club, the 3rd is a strong par four that bends to the right around some tall pines and difficult bunkering. It is tempting to challenge the corner, but with over 300 yards to carry the sand and trees that swat down shots more often than seeing balls sail over them, the prudent play is up the left half of the fairway. However, the further left you go the more the greenside bunkering comes into play that laces the left side of the putting surface. The circular green is less than 5,000 sq.ft. and doesn't provide a large target if approaching the green from mid-iron length. The downhill nature of the tee shot puts a premium on accuracy and the tightness of the ideal landing spots amps things up even more, so you'll need to be on your best game to find a green in regulation here.