Gleneagles at McLaren Park

Gleneagles GC at McLaren Park, San Francisco. Jack Fleming, 1962.

A 9-hole course with two sets of tees on each hole so that you can get an 18-hole experience without feeling like you totally just played the same nine twice. For example, the sixth hole is a 577-yard behemoth, even downhill, but when you return to it at the 15th, you play the hole from 501 yards. You’re still not likely to get home in two, but at least it’s much easier to get your second shot past the trees at the corner.

The course sits on a steeply sloping hillside in a rather rough neighborhood on the south side of San Francisco. The drought over the past decade hasn’t been kind to their maintenance budget, but they get by—when I played, the fairways were green and the greens were in good condition.

The site is a bit too steep to be ideal for golf. The first fairway slopes so hard from left to right that virtually any tee shot will end up in the right rough. Most of the holes don’t play so severely across those slopes, but you get tired of climbing the hills, too. Standing on the ninth tee—the hole looks like a very short par 5 on the scorecard, but it plays straight uphill—your concerns are as much about scaling the hill to the green and back to the clubhouse as they are about hitting good shots. (Or maybe that was just me, at the end of a long, unusually hot for the Bay Area day.)

#3 turns gently left

There are some nice holes here. The downhill third is a par 4 with Cypress trees guarding the inside corner of the dogleg and views of the hills beyond and the bay off to the left. The fifth is an abruptly uphill two-shotter that from its more forward tee seems like it ought to be reachable, but the hill tends to stymie those attempts and leave those who try with an awkward length pitch.

Gleneagles is also renowned for its 19th hole. Charmingly, the bar is not only a spot to grab a few after the round but its also where you pay your green fee before going out.

That’s the aesthetic here. Scruffy, but welcoming. Vaguely reminiscent of something from across the pond. It’s not a bucket list travel destination, but I wish more cities had offbeat courses like this. Or maybe they do and I just wish Phoenix had one. Either way, San Francisco is lucky to have Gleneagles.

California 5th Quintile [2019]