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National Park Mystery Spot 1 Revealed: Bob Hope and Bing Crosby Were Here Too


Situated in San Francisco’s Presidio, a component of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Presidio Golf Course was the object of yesterday’s inaugural mystery spot quiz. If you figured it out with just the five clues provided, congratulations. Don’t feel bad if it stumped you. This was a bit of a toughie.

Back in 1895, the Presidio’s commander, Colonel William Graham, gave the San Francisco Golf and Country Club permission to build a nine-hole golf course on the post. The new course, only the second golf course ever built in Northern California, wasn’t much to look at when it opened. However, it was playable – if you were a club member, guest, or member of the military, that is. The greens fee was fifty cents.

The course was expanded to an 18-hole layout in 1910, then redesigned and lengthened to its present form by 1921. The Work Projects Administration (WPA) added thousands of trees along the fairways in the 1930s, and today these trees are a signature feature of the course. The entire layout is part of the Presidio’s National Historic Landmark District.

The Presidio Golf Course has a fascinating history. Not all of it is focused on golf, either. President Teddy Roosevelt reviewed troops there in 1903, and many survivors of the great 1906 earthquake and fire were lodged there for a while in a refugee camp.

By the 1930s, the course had matured and gained respect as a worthy test for top-quality players. Some truly memorable things happened here. In 1935, for example, golf’s immortal Byron Nelson, then an unknown, amazed the Presidio gallery and caused quite a national stir when he defeated Lawson Little, one of the best match players the game has ever seen, on his home course

The Presidio’s golf course had a magnetic attraction for the rich and famous San Francisco residents and visitors. One of the Bay Area’s most famous native sons, Martinez-born Joe Dimaggio, loved the privacy it offered. Babe Ruth played here, and so did Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and lots of other people whose names you’d instantly recognize.

Most people who have played this course over the past 114 years are not household names, of course. Indeed, the aura of exclusivity that was attached to the course during its first century of existence was pretty much obliterated in 1995 when the course acquired a new clubhouse (the old one’s still private) and opened to the general public. The course is now open every day from dawn to dusk, and tee times can be booked up to a month in advance. Non-residents can pay up to $145 for 18 holes, but San Francisco residents are entitled to a reduced rate.

Serious golfers will want to know that this par 72 layout (rated 72.2) plays 6,477 yards from the back tees, features rye grass, and has a slope rating of 136. Wind, fog, sloping fairways, and elevation changes make this a challenging course for players at any level. You'll get gorgeous views of the city in a tranquil setting. Remember to bring layered clothing, even if its sunny downtown.

If you just want to practice on the course's driving range, you'll find it nice, but pricey. A large bucket will set you back around thirteen bucks.

Traveler trivia – no extra charge: In 1964 somebody finally noticed -- to his utter astonishment, no doubt -- that the golf course had never been included on the list of the Presidio’s real property. Thus, nearly 70 years after it was built, the course was entered on the property book pretty much the way you’d add an extra chair that turned up during an inventory of office equipment: “Found on Post, one golf course, 18 holes, 149.6 acres….”


I assume my America The Beautiful National Park Pass won't get me a free bucket. Do the marshalls wear Smoky Bear hats?

The Presidio Golf Course website has a comments section, Terry, and in that you'll find some complaints about rude marshals. Sure doesn't sound like park ranger behavior to me. As for the free bucket of balls, well, I guess it wouldn't hurt to ask. I don't think you'll find them in a charitable mood, though. BTW, I've seen this course, but haven't played it yet. I usually visit the Bay Area a couple of times a year, and one of these times I'm going to play that course and use that warmup range.

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