Harding Park no great course, pros just being polite in San Francisco
If you only read the San Francisco Bay area papers you’d think that Harding Park was collecting the kind of universal gushing reviews that Russell Crowe earned for A Beautiful Mind a few years back. I don’t want to say the Bay area dailies are giving a hometown pump-up job to the renovated muni hosting the American Express Championship, but word is Harding Park crusader Sandy Tatum is asking for a ghost writer’s fee.
Yes, the pros have said a few nice things as they playfully wrestle for the $1.7 million first-place check in this still very offseason event. Tiger Woods has even broken into some Stanford reminiscing for the local columnists. But here’s a news flash: It’s called being polite.
No one outside of San Francisco thinks this course is really major championship caliber. Except maybe Golf Digest legend Ron Whitten. I’m still trying to figure out what course Whitten saw that brought out his near religious resurrection review. It certainly couldn’t have been the same course I experienced on a San Fran golf trip last winter. Of course, Sandy Tatum wasn’t holding my hand.
When I was at Harding Park, some of the local golfers who pay the half-off resident greens fee were complaining about the greens being good one week, horrible the next. (Here’s the link to the TravelGolf.com story). Just what you want for $16 million.
Speaking of that, Geoff Shackelford wonderings on how Harding Park could have cost $16 million to renovate, makes for some interesting
GolfObserver.com. Like any self respecting journalist, I’m allergic to math, but you can look around Harding and rack your brain trying to figure out where the money went.
I found Harding had two really neat holes. The much talked about 18, the one the pros politely call “goofy” and No. 14, where it’s almost like playing golf in a chute. If that’s the stuff of new legend, the golf business is in trouble.
Of course, you won’t hear that in San Francisco.
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The question is: What's a course like when the mere mortals are allowed on? And even at its absolute best this last weekend, even Harding defender poster David L. just admitted the course wasn't that inspiring.
The San Francisco crowd? Great. Harding Park? Not so great.
And I was there this last March when the weather couldn't have been more sunny sky beautiful. Ask any local and they'll tell you the weather's often better in San Fran in the winter than the heart of the summer. This isn't a weather issue, just an overhyped course issue.
Here's the deal, the course is very challenging, great to play, and one of the best "munis" around. Every time I play Harding, I am struck by what a great day of golf I had. For $88 on the weekends ($46 with a city card), it's a tremendous place to spend a day. Yes, the weather in winter is sometimes nicer than a June day, but we still get our share of winter rains (every course in Northern California is not at its best at this time of year...see the fact that some pros refuse to play the AT&T in February due to perceived poor conditions)
btw, calling San Francisco "San Fran" belies the fact that you are not a local (2nd only to calling it "Frisco").
Inconsistent greens? Not at the tournament. And remember, this is Nor Cal. You have greens that remain moist for months at a time while enduring 80,000 rounds a year, with many of those 300 lb. players doing pirouettes next to the hole after missed three footers. Yeah, they do get bumpy and uneven at times. It's part of the game.
Harding was everything the announcers said it was. As Tiger said, "it rewards good shots and penalizes marginal shots" without 8" roughs and tricked up greens. And when a course limits the winning score to -10
with a field of 70 of the best players in the world, it is a true and fair test.
But I have to say, as a local, after a while all the gushing did make me start to cringe.
Read your column with peaked interest. H'mmm, I could write a book. How about 75,000 rounds a year and full tee even in February -- wear and tear with slow growth...
First, this past winter was no time to judge Harding. Weather was terrible, turf conditions were not good. Frankly, our City staff has been learning and raising the quality bar since our opening in 2003 -- AND they, to the credit of SF municipal employees, have reached the mark. There won't be any going back either.
As to the sincerity of the pros'comments on Harding -- it was all real. Even off the record the caddies were gushing. Even the wives in the clubhouse were thrilled. Sure, the course put on its Sunday best (well, almost as we could notch it up even further), but the kudos were very real. I personally had the press coming to me asking if the positives were real as they were astonished by the favorable reaction.
I have been around golf professionally since the 1960's, Ron Whitten and I even worked togther when I was tech editor of Golf Course Management magazine. Ron shoots straight, objective and hard. He hit the mark on his assessment of Harding and time will tell.
There is more to Harding and SF golf than you can see right now. You mentioned Lincoln (and Sharp too) -- well just watch partner!
Director of Agronomy
To rip Harding based on comments by some weekend hackers about inconsistent greens is ridiculous. I notice not a single comment about the design of the course itself or the shotmaking it requires. The beauty of Harding is that it requires just that, shotmaking. The fact that you think 18, probably the worst hole on the course, is one of the best, shows that you know nothing about golf or course design and really shouldn't share your thoughts on those topics with the world.
I've played Harding many times and, while I agree it is being overrated by the media, it is definately a top tier course design and also a course with a lot of history. I'm sure you'd be happier if they held the tournament at some new tricked up high end daily fee course with pretty grass and perfect greens, eh?
If I play an away course, I try never to criticise it. It is someone's home course, and they may take offense.
I had a friend play at my course two years ago. He was a hack. He voiced his dislike of the course. He hasn't been invited back since.
One rule I live by: I never take instruction or advice from a hack. I am guessing that you are a hack. So I won't take heed of your review of Harding, just like I won't take heed of your choice in cheesesteaks. BTW, are you even from Philly?
Olympic Lakeside...which you can see from Harding..Chris....only deserves more respect because of it's great (and deserved rep)....but , of course....you've played both and know that.
Harding is truly one of the great golf experiences that a public golfer can experience. When you are playing Harding there is no mistaking where you are. The place just oozes San Francisco. To judge the course conditions mid-winter is not fair as well as expecting municipal course conditions to be on par with PGA Tour conditions in the middle of winter. As a layout Harding is fabulous, especially when you get a bit of wind blowing and the famous Marine Layer. It held up very well to the best players in the world. Then only day they had their way with it was the first day with SoCal weather.
I played Harding back in the early 90's when I was at Stanford and absolutely loved the place before the makeover. I played it in very poor condition but still found it to be a great and unique golf experience. With the changes and improved conditions I am looking forward to getting back. Harding Park is all about the San Francisco golf experience. If you can get on the Lake or SF Golf Club great but that is unattainable for most mortals. Harding exudes the same type of atmosphere plus a special feel that only a muni can. If you play golf because you love it you will not leave Harding disappointed and the remake only made it that much better. Otherwise, there are plenty of very well conditioned, forgettable layouts around the country that will be happy to take your money.
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