This is golf at its environmental best. The fairway straddles a commanding bluff over the sea, surf lapping the rocks below, and peering through the trees is the trusswork of the Golden Gate Bridge, shining orange-red against a gray-blue sky.
Lincoln Park is San Francisco's premier municipal golf course and without question one of the most scenic public courses anywhere. Its fairways -- including No. 3, with its view of the Golden Gate -- wind past woods, along the sea, around two classic buildings -- the high-rise art deco Veterans Hospital and the domed Legion of Honor art museum -- and even past three old graves that once were part of a cemetery for oriental settlers.
Of course, all of northern California is a sought-after oceanside golf location because of its dramatic coastline and its year-round temperate climate. But it has few publicly accessible courses on the water. Pebble Beach and Lincoln Park are two that are. For a mere $125 you can play Pebble Beach. Or you can play the comparably scenic -- though not as challenging or prestigious -- Lincoln Park for as little as $3.50.
Lincoln Park is open to anyone who can pay its modest green fees, but it has the feel of an exclusive private club. The location on superbly scenic and prime real estate five miles west of downtown San Francisco is the main reason.
The stately frame clubhouse dates from before the turn of the century. It also marks one of the course's oddities: Unlike most golf links, where the clubhouse is at the end of the 9th and 18th holes, this one has three clubhouse holes: the 8th, the 13th and the 18th.
For scenery and vistas, and a true outdoor recreation treat in "everybody's favorite city," give Lincoln Park a 10. In terms of golf challenge, it earns perhaps a six or seven. The course is a short one -- about 5,300 yards (a championship course like Pebble Beach runs at least a thousand yards more). There is only one par 5. The ground at Lincoln Park tends to be hard, and the rough is easy. Greens, tees and fairways are in the shape you would expect for a popular public course: adequately maintained, but often showing wear.
Lincoln Park covers a hilly rectangular strip near the city's Richmond District, starting a few blocks beyond the Presidio and stretching to the ocean near Cliff House, the rambling structure next to the ruins of the Sutro Baths. The course is home to the annual city tournament as well as some qualifying matches. Two holes lie between the clubhouse and the sea. The first tee faces the afternoon California sun and brings you 316 yards closer to the Pacific, over an uncomplicated fairway. No. 2 is a nice 205-yard par 3, running by the Legion of Honor museum. Finishing these first two brings you to what Lincoln Park is all about: sea air, panoramas and a picturesque but not insurmountable demand on your golf game. ocean breeze, is exhilarating and more than makes up for No. 3's potential hazards -- a slice here will put you over the cliff, though a straight hit of 154 yards will land you next to the pin.
The most arduous holes at this unusual course are probably 5 and 13, both with lots of uphill shooting. Five is a 350-yard par 4, and 13, at 495 yards, has a par 5 and a full view of San Francisco's skyline. Sixteen is a long par 3 (230 yards) that leads to another long par 3 hole (240 yards) that is known, says assistant manager Michael Yee, as "northern California's most scenic." Seventeen includes a panorama of both the Golden Gate and the ocean. Par at Lincoln Park is a low 68.
Golfing at Lincoln Park can provide a welcome change of pace from the bustle of the city and is a particularly good way to play hooky from downtown business. Hop on a Geary Street bus (No. 38), and take along a pair of shorts and sneakers in your briefcase. In 25 minutes you can be out on the fairway, feeling the Pacific breeze. Rent clubs and stash your gear at the clubhouse. Green fees are $7 on weekdays and $12 on weekends, with twilight rates half price on weekdays (starting around 3 or 4 o'clock, depending on the season) and $7 on weekends.
Enjoy the quiet and the splendor of this urban oasis as you knock a golf ball across its acres. Tip: Keep the ball low (it will roll well on the solid turf) to improve your distance, and keep your eyes high to take in the course's beauty.
Have a postgame drink or snack on the clubhouse veranda. Or amble down to Cliff House (a 15-minute walk), a San Franciso watering hole for decades. Located on the coast highway, its modern lounge sports floor-to-ceiling windows viewing the ocean. A hundred yards offshore is Seal Rocks, a mound of dark stone surrounded by foaming waters and always seemingly crawling with seals. These creatures get to play along the ocean all day every day. But at least you'll get in one afternoon.