As you may have heard, 2009 Presidents Cup host course TPC Harding Park, was recently awarded a slew of events including the 2020 PGA Championship and the 2025 Presidents Cup. This is normally rather unremarkable news; but Harding Park is no unremarkable course.
Once upon a time, Harding Park Golf Course was one of the premier tracks in the country. Designed by heralded architect Willie Watson (who designed the nearby Lake Course at the Olympic Club), the course opened in 1925 and was one of the first courses in the country that targeted the general public over the wealthy elite. In fact, Watson, along with partner Sam Whiting, when approached with the prospect of an “every man’s course”, designed Harding Park for a reduced fee of just $300.
The course turned out to be an immediate hit, as Harding Park was the host of two U.S. Amateur Public Links in 1937 and 1956. The 1960’s saw the course host numerous PGA TOUR events won by Hall of Fame players like Gary Player and Billy Casper. But in 1969, the TOUR left the aging Harding Park for greener pastures, and soon the municipal gem on Lake Merced slowly faded into nothing more than a parking lot.
In 1998, the U.S. Open was staged at the Olympic Club, which sits only a half mile across the lake from Harding Park. The former host of two Public Links and the hallowed fairways on which Ken Venturi grew his game was littered with cars, serving as a staging area for the “real” course next door.
Things took a turn for Harding Park, which is owned by the City and County of San Francisco, when former USGA President and Bay Area resident Sandy Tatum took an interest in restoring the course’s former glory. After a lengthy political fight, restoration finally began on the course in 2002 under Architect Chris Gray. Gray, who was the head of course design and improvements for the PGA TOUR, importantly bucked the trend of the time by leaving the design as it was. The course was lengthened by 400 yards, the facilities were modernized and the turf was nursed back to health.
Harding Park was once again a viable TOUR option; hosting the 2005 WGC American Express Championship barely two years after the ribbon was re-cut. But what makes Harding Park such a desirable venue?
Aside from the setting on Lake Merced and the majestic cypress lining it’s fairways, it’s a classic shot maker’s course. The layout is mostly flat, but the sloping is very well done and the course requires you to work the ball both right and left with regularity. The fairways are very tight, but most of the holes are of modest length which allows for non-driver options off the tee on many holes. The greens aren’t outlandish, but do enough to offer resistance to the player looking to
It’s been a long journey for San Francisco’s municipal prize, but Harding Park is a shining beacon in an otherwise dark period for the game. In a golf climate that is seeing net course closures year after year, the reclamation of a formerly great municipal golf course will not only provide a great Championship venue in the future, but it can provide a road map for how to reverse the trend of course closures and overall golf apathy.