A newly issued club history allows us to finally focus on a lesser known but spectacular golf club. The 1978 edition of the San Francisco Golf Club’s history dubs the club a “reclusive, private institution.” I would have to wholeheartedly agree with this assessment, as San Francisco is one of the most private and elite golf courses in the world. San Francisco Golf Club is (today) an early A.W. Tillinghast design and features his signature polished look and exquisite bunkering. I have been fortunate to play San Francisco once and it remains a prized memory.
The newly issued History of San Francisco Golf Club
The Tillinghast course is the fourth one the club has played on. Their history dates back to 1895 when they first played a member-designed 9-hole course. Their current site is in a golf rich neighborhood and sits across Lake Merced from the Olympic Club and TPC Harding Park. The new club history takes the reader through the prior renditions of the courses at different locations in the city.
San Francisco’s first club history was titled History of the San Francisco Golf Club (Donovan & Jerris C19870) and was compiled by Edwin J. Coopman, with a foreword by the then club president, W. A. Bentley. The book was issued in a limited edition of 1,000. It was a compact history at only 96 pages and jumps around quite a bit. The black and white book has several vintage pictures of the course and clubhouse but provides only a short description of the holes. Curiously, a third of the page are printed on orange paper. As compared to other club histories from exclusive golf clubs, it appears not to have been written for posterity; it seems to be aimed at club members of the 1970s.
The new club history, by contrast, is a much more comprehensive effort at 192 pages. Written by Phil Young, it is done in color with gilt edges and was issued with a slipcase. Like the first club history, this one was also issued in a limited edition of 1,000. It contains a hole-by-hole color spread of each hole on the course with multiple pictures from various angles. The book also includes old black and white photos of yesteryear, showing broad views of buildings in the City by the Bay; today the course is completely hemmed in.
In addition to covering the club’s history through the various iterations of the course, the book also outlines the controversy and resistance to changes made recently by Tom Doak to holes thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen. It also highlights Roger D. Lapham’s role in the club. During 1926, this captain of industry was the President of the American Steamship Company, Cypress Point, and the San Francisco Golf Club. The intertwining of memberships between Cypress Point that continues to this day, with more than a handful of members having playing privileges at both (lucky bastards!).
Although the club prides itself on being reclusive and private, that ends once you are inside the front door. The old-world clubhouse is among the best in the country, with a first-class locker room, fireplace, and grill room. They also make a point of being inclusive from a golfing standpoint. Both club histories emphasize that they have a “no one left on the tee or lonely in the Clubhouse” policy. I experienced this firsthand when I visited, our host made sure that those on the practice putting green already had a game before we set off, and he mentioned it (rightfully) as a point of pride.
A spread of the golf course’s fifth hole from the new club history
The club also issued two short monographs, the first was privately printed in 1958, written by Harold Havre, titled, A Short History of the San Francisco Golf Club. It was done in wrappers and is only fifteen pages (D & J H9730). The second, San Francisco Golf Club 2004 was produced in wrappers and is forty-two pages and includes a history, a list of charter members, honorary members, directors and committees as of 2004, articles of incorporation, bylaws, customs, club rules, policies regarding alcoholic beverages, visitors and the golf course.
San Francisco is one of those rare clubs that is quite happy to fly below the radar. They have never hosted a major (or amateur) championship and seem to have no interest in doing so. They are publicity shy and content to have their golf masterpiece quietly to themselves. They don’t even offer the new club history for sale in the pro shop.
— John Sabino