Saturday, January 10, 2009

San Francisco and the CalClub

The lovely California Golf Club of San Francisco




I belonged to CGCSF when I lived in SF and the bay area. I went around earlier in 2008 and indeed the transformation was nothing short of brilliant. The course was always good, now it is better, but I think there might be some cocaine in the bunkers based upon how much some have said about how the new bunkers are so wonderful. Trust me, the course was always one of the best (Top 10-15 in CA, #2 in immediate SF area), but the sand capping is perhaps the best part of the re-do as it was a quagmire much of some years. Balls used to plug and disappear on downhill holes 8 and 14 and then pop up like flowers in the spring when drying out occurred. CGCSF will now play much more interestingly due to more firm conditions.

However, we'll not likely see this sort of thing anytime soon at other clubs as the CalClub spent close to $15MM and that just won’t be happening again soon in this economic climate. Sadly, that's how much money it takes if soils are uncooperative.

Best parts of the CalClub job? It remains a GOLF Club. Golf clubs and country Clubs are such different animals. Huge amounts spent on sand capping to the tune of 3-6 inches and other factors to improve drainage and firm the turf. Bunker appearances (“The look”) are window dressing and as I have always said that if bunker appearance is more important than placement and function, then the Old Course must be crap.

On a sad personal note: when I compare the brilliant job the CalClub did spending $14+MM to the board at my current club (Lehigh CC) spending $6MM to "upgrade the clubhouse" while not spending any money on the course has me thankful that I am not a gun whack job. Attracting members in the current economic climate will revolve around satisfying hard-core golfers, not country clubbers. Golf courses need to concentrate on golf during this downturn and beyond for viability, not all the CC stuff. So … Kudos to the CalClub, Razzies to LCC.

SFGC is the only course/club in the bay area that I can give a nod over Cal. We had reciprocity at the O when I was at Cal and I have over 100 plays at the Lake course (Including recently) so I am not just pulling rabbits out of a hat. Cal is that good.

Interestingly, I've had players from CA come to PA and tell me that they thought Lehigh was better than O Lake. We at LCC need about $80k to start. This ought to cover building a few tees and taking out the trees needed to build them to make 6900 yards where appropriate; and it just makes me so sad that we cannot do that. Several of the tees needed at LCC were actually drawn out by Flynn .... so we're not raping the design by building the length in to combat the equipment. We've even had Forse do the very prelim ...so, very sad. To see my old club in contrast do absolutely every effing thing right and hit a grand slam…

Early, I suggested on Geoff’s site that the last I had heard CalClub initiation was a north of $200k fee. Now apparently it's under $100k. I believe that to be true as supply and demand has always driven Cal's fee as it is partial equity. In 1984 my full boat was a mere $8500.

To clear a misconception, Saturdays have always been men only at CalClub with Sunday traditionally mixed couples day, but women otherwise play there with little restriction. Cal is a GOLF club and golf rules the roost However, the Men's Bar is as good as any and there's a lot of cards, dominoes, dice, etc. - a super club for guys, but never a men’s only club.

Again, Cal has always been a very good golf course, but now that it has the “in style” bunkers some have gotten a proverbial Japanese Election for it. It's always been good but suffered (as did all in the area) from a dense clay soil. Improvements started at the hand of Mother Nature when the El Nino (of 82-83?) took out 800+ trees and turf improved (O lost 1800 the same season); then similar numbers came out the next "Little ChristChild". Improved conditions and cypress trees nearing the end of their lives precipitated all the SF area clubs to do something active about turf; Peninsula in San Mateo was first.

Removal of water features is a big plus, but at a big cost not many clubs can swallow. Indeed the new hole two is a bit better, but the old one was no slouch. Old number three trades for the new eight (Longer, no water, still downhill) with a gain. New four, five and seven for old four (a GREAT five) six and eight is a slight overall plus. 9-14 have had some gains, mostly from conditioning and fourteen is a bit of a gain. Sixteen used to have two tees at 90*, I'm not sure if the south playing tee remains in any form, it was always a neat hole with those options.

Again, overall conditioning due to new sand base is the bigger gain than the "look" bunkers, but more strategic bunkers are now in place to take advantage of ground play. Both are a positive improving an always great club and course.

Fifteen -the classic tee

Fifteen - the tee added in 1984 (r)

Sixteen "Old Lower Tee" in 2008

New 18. Coming down this hill to the green used to be so tree-lined that we had coloured discs on the trees lining the fairways so that it was made easier to look for errant tee balls, knowing where to begin.

Also the view from the hill on 18.

I'll get around to the photos, check back.

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