When it came time to pick a college home, Tiger Woods, who hasn’t always made the best life choices (that’s a whole other story) did just fine by picking the lush, golf-rich environment of Northern California and nearby Stanford University.
Perhaps outside of Long Island, New York, or maybe Philadelphia, there is no better concentration of great golf courses than the San Francisco area, and when you consider public golf only, this area is the clear winner.
So, when it’s time for a golf getaway in 55–70-degree conditions and spectacular oceanside scenery, you can choose like Tiger did and find plenty of golf options in Northern California.
From the public Pebble Beach resort in the southern end of the area to newly restored Corica Park golf course in nearby Alameda, there is plenty of topflight public-access golf in the area.
The closest public resort to San Francisco, less than 40 minutes via a few switchback turns and narrow two-lane roads from the San Francisco airport, is the scenic and storied Half Moon Bay Resort. It features a large Ritz-Carlton hotel, an executive spa, 36 holes of public golf, the Ocean and Old Course, public beach, park, shops, firepits and plenty of hot chocolate to celebrate your good fortune of finding such a great California golf destination when you’re trying to escape the excessive heat of a Texas summer.
The appropriately named Ocean Course, an Arthur Hills design opened in 1997, is one of only seven courses in California with direct access to the Pacific Ocean. The Old Course, opened in 1973 and celebrating its 50th anniversary, is an Arnold Palmer design that is mainly parkland style with huge mounds, large trees and a spectacular par-4 18th hole with the ocean all along the right side of the fairway.
It’s a delight to your golf senses, especially on the Hills-designed Ocean Course that weaves in and out of ocean views starting on the par-4 first hole where the ocean is clearly visible on the right side. Holes No. 2 and 3 move closer to the water, with the par-3 third introducing the possibility of a wet OB shot to the right side of the green.
Holes No. 4-10 move along with a more dune-filled, tree-dotted landscape before the Ocean Course steadily moves back to the water after the midway snack house. The par-4 16th has the ocean and the public beach directly behind the green, with the par-3 17th turning right and making the ocean all along the left side of the fairway and the massive hotel straight ahead.
The par-5 18th finishes right next to the resort, with your own gallery watching your success or failure on the final hole of the Ocean Course. From there, you’re only a few steps away from the large fire pits next to the resort, the signature hot chocolate and drinks of a much stiffer variety.
Hills said he designed the Ocean Course, one of his few designs in California, to take advantage of the natural scenery and to allow golfers of all skill levels to enjoy the views and the golf. From only 6,854 yards from the back tees, it’s unlikely a professional tournament will ever be staged here. But for maximum fun and enjoyment, the Ocean Course is the place.
Palmer’s Old Course, the original layout here, is more of a journey through the trees and lush hills surrounding the area. Finding the fairway is key to success here; otherwise, you will find yourself with some awkward approach shots to the green. The course also goes past the practice area and golf school, where you can tune up your game before heading to either course.
The par-4 18th is almost straight downhill, with a good tee ball finding the bottom of the slope and setting you up for a good chance at birdie to finish your round. Of course, since the Pacific Ocean lurks along the right side, there is equal chance that a wayward drive leads to a closing watery disaster.
Whatever course you choose to play – or maybe you’re up for a beach power walk or ocean dip – the Ritz-Carlton can be your opening and closing destination. Among the many packages offered by the resort is the “Golf In-Golf Out” option, which combines the best of both.
Included are overnight accommodations at the Ritz-Carlton and one round of golf per person at either the Old Course or Ocean Course. The package also includes a cart with GPS, $50 resort credit and overnight valet parking. The resort itself has 261 rooms, with 100 ocean or costal view rooms, 62 with terrace fire pits and 22 suites.
Other amenities include a large spa and workout facility, tennis courts, coastal jogging path and a basketball court, along with the golf practice center. Dining options include the formal Navio grill that features fresh seafood, along with The Conservatory and the new Mullins Steakhouse next to the well-stocked golf pro shop. Of course, a journey into the small town of Half Moon Bay itself reveals more Northern California character and dining … from funky to fantastic.
Less than two miles away from the resort is Cameron’s Pub, which is crammed with enough memorabilia to be a living NorCal (which the locals call it) museum. And it just happens to serve great food. There are license plates on the wall, an old car by the old-fashioned diner and a story-filled paper menu that is as much educational as it is filled with good choices.
The Half Moon Bay Brewing Company is a slightly more upscale dining establishment right off of Main Street with a view of Pillar Point Harbor. Other side trips include the Pigeon Point Lighthouse, the nearby Barters Winery and Harley Farms, where you can find real goats not far from where a certain golf G.O.A.T. went to college at Stanford.
Food, fun, golf and lodging make for a great trip to the San Francisco Peninsula during the hot Texas summer or just about any other time of year. Tiger Woods made a wise decision to go to college here at Stanford (and make visits to the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay). You can do the same … without having to go through the school part.
For more information, go to www.thesfp.com or www.ritzcarlton.com/halfmoonbay or call 1-800-288-4748.