We have all been somewhere in our lifetimes that has completely blew away our expectations. The Niagara Falls were so much bigger than I ever expected, when I visited as a child. The Grand Canyon absolutely blew my mind and how it seemed to stretch for miles and miles, upon no end. New York City still blows me away every time I visit just for the sheer size of the buildings and the surroundings. In golf, I don’t believe it is as easy to be mind-blown by your surroundings, as it is in other areas of our lives. Seemingly, it takes a special place, or maybe a vista that we just haven’t seen before, in order to trump our expectations. The California Golf Club of San Francisco was one of those places, that absolutely exceeded every expectation I came with. I have no problem saying that Cal Club may be the most underrated course that I have ever played, and in my opinion, was the best course, amongst the San Francisco courses I was able to play.
Cal Club doesn’t currently sit in the Golf Digest Top 100 courses, and that mainly may be a Cal Club thing, but it is easily on of the best I have been able to play. There is something special about Cal Club that is hard to explain. While on the property, you get the feeling that you are part of a very exclusive surrounding, but there is also the feeling that this place is so low key and laid back in spirit. I have an Uncle that works for a big law firm, and he regularly takes trips to SF and plays Olympic, Lake Merced, and others, but when I told him I had played Cal Club, he hadn’t even heard of it before. I even texted my Dad after the round and told him, “When you are driving in, it feels like you’re approaching an LACC-esque country club, but when you’re out there, it just feels like you’re playing golf.” The mystique that surrounds the Cal Club is one that I have felt at few places, and it took my intrigue to a whole new level.
Cal Club was still old-fashioned down to its core. Original lockers, original clubhouse, the pro shop separated from the clubhouse, and no shorts. It is an amazing setting that you stumble upon walking the grounds around the course. The club was started in 1918, but in a different location than where it currently sits. In 2007-08 Cal Club was restored back to its “Golden Age” look by Kyle Phillips and his team, where the layout became more fairway and whispy fescue.
I had no idea what to expect when getting on the course. It looked incredible from what you could see on the range and putting green, but I quickly realized how impressive this layout was going to be. One of my lasting memories of the course was that it didn’t get boring. Each hole seemed to bring something new to the table, and never did I feel that things became repetitive or monotonous. The layout utilizes the natural slope of the land very well, and until you start reaching your finishing holes, you really don’t realize how much elevation change youhave taken on the entire day. You always seem to be gradually climbing, while only being challenged with a straight uphill shot here, or a straight downhill shot there, but nothing ever too drastic. The elevation changes create some beautiful vistas, for not only seeing the surrounding bits of the course, but to also see some of the beautiful pieces of San Francisco off in the distance.
Cal Club gives you the opportunity for so many options with its layout. It is 100% a demanding layout, and golf digest even once ranked it in the “Top 200 Hardest Courses”, but the layout gives you the opportunity to be creative and utilize the slopes around the greens and fairway. It is so easy to let a chip shot get away from you, or for a putt to get ran by rolling down grain. A course that definitely requires “shots” and an imagination for your shotmaking. It doesn’t require hitting targets off the tee, but great placement to set up approach opportunities. Many times, I was told throughout my round if I could be a little left or right of a pin location the ball would filter its way told the hole, providing natural movements from the slopes.
The par 3s at Cal Club are some of the most memorable. Many picturesque par 4s, but the par 3s are some of my favoritesthat I have played. When I think back to the par 3s, I don’t see any as “too hard” or “unfair.” What I see is a layout that challenges your creativity as a player, but also allows you to take a safe route. I love the idea of playing a par 3 and having a target besides taking dead aim at a pin. Hole 12 at is a perfect example. A long par 3 that could stretch back to 230 yards, and is well-guarded from front to back by bunkers. The green is positioned diagonally with a large right to left slope, and will allow you to utilize the slope and chase your shot back to a tucked left pin. Some might see that as “favorable” golf, but there is nothing favorable about coming in with a long iron/hybrid/wood to a green that requires that level of accuracy and precision. The slope and contour offers reward to a well-struck shot, and nothing more.
It’s hard to put into words just how impressed I am with Cal Club. It’s easily one of my favorite courses I have everplayed, and also one of the best layouts. When the course was renovated back to its golden age roots, it wasn’t overdone. Its layout is one that offers challenge, strategy, and simplicity. A place where you won’t find yourself overthinking shot selection,or reloading for balls off the tee. A layout that is right in front of you, but still require imagination for a shot or two. The mystique of Cal Club is one that I will always remember, and I cannot wait to get back again someday soon.
One of the best looking holes on the course. View from tee on hole 3.
Hole 7 over the canyon.
The beautiful hole 6 par 3
Hole 11 approach
Hole 12 par 3
Hole 16. A short downhill par 3 barely playing 100 yards
Approach into hole 17 par 5