California Golf Club of San Francisco - CAL CLUB PDF Print E-mail



By Jason Bruno

California Golf Club is true to its name, pure golf is the ethos of this

members only club. Founded in 1918, Cal Club (as it's known within the

global golf community) was originally located in the San Francisco town

of Ingleside. In 1924, the club purchased a 425 acre parcel eight miles

further south on the peninsula. The newly acquired land featured rolling

terrain that was once a part of the original Baden Farm located in San

Mateo County.







To say a few course designers have had their hands on the property at

one time or another is an understatement. A.Vernon Macan and Willie

Locke were architects of the original routing and design when ground-

breaking began in 1924. The course opened on May 26, 1926, but just

two years later (just as work was about to commence 120 miles south

on Cypress Point Club), Dr. Alister MacKenzie and Robert Hunter of the

American Golf Company were brought in to redesign several bunkers

and a few greens.





Byron Nelson at the Cal Club in 1953 conducting a clinic. 53 years later

(just months before his passing in 2006) he signed this photo that adorns

the walls of the club today.







In the mid 60's the state of California enforced an action of eminent

domain to create a roadway just off of the new interstate 280 - west

of the course. Around that same time, Robert Trent Jones Sr made

changes to the course that only added to the club's lost identity. After

decades adrift, the club found its way through the leadership of long-

time member Al Jamieson (committee chair & club President during

the days of reckoning in 2005 and 2006 ).





In 2005, course Superintendent Thomas Bastis was dealing with an

uncontrollable nematode problem and the club decided it was the right

time to embark on a search for an architect to do some partial renovation

work and upgrades to the greens. While conducting several interviews

and meetings over a 12 month span, some sage wisdom was imparted

by 1964 U.S Open Champion (and former club member since 1949) Ken

Venturi who told the project committee, "Gentleman, you only get one

chance to do this right." Venturi's influence on the club's old guard and

Jamieson's leadership formed a coalition that championed the cause for

a complete renovation/restoration.


Kyle Phillips was the architect chosen for his big picture vision of the

finished project and in 2007 he began a comprehensive 16 month

transformation of the entire property. The project included discarding

the old eighth hole, creating a new driving range, the ambitious re-

purposing of a 17 acre hill that was previously used for organic refuse -

which is now the seventh hole and the restoring of the 13 original holes

to their golden age identity (complete with MacKenzie-esque bunkers).

Phillips left no detail to chance, he was able to unlock the angles and wide

corridors by initiating the removal of thousands of trees that over time

had strangled site lines and blocked the crisp Bay Area winds. Another

daunting endeavor was bringing in five thousand truck loads of sand

that was essential to change the soil profile, solidifying Phillips' masterful

plan of creating a firm and fast (fine Fescue) playing surface. Coupled

with pure Bent grass greens, the signature of the club since its reopening

has been its pure and lean "feed the ball" links type conditions.

The union of Kyle Phillips' vision and Al Jamieson's club presence was

nothing short of a golf super nova. A project this worthy only succeeds

long term with a group of highly talented personnel that tends to the land.

Fortunately, Cal Club was already equipped with a duo of California's finest

- Thomas Bastis and Joshua C.F Smith (their young Jedi apprentice Javier

Campos was just beginning his journey at the time). Bastis notes that it

took the course legitimately 3 years to mature. "The entire course was

hydroseeded, not a stitch of sod on the property during the renovation,"

said Bastis. Seed germinates in random sequences and in an irregular

manner and as a result the front nine was closed to carts until the grow

-in was complete. During that time, the club made serious inroads in

changing the culture to a walking club. Cal Club moved towards recruiting

new members that exhibited a high golf I.Q and as Bastis noted, "Just

because someone plays a lot of golf, doesn't mean they're an educated

and informed golfer. It just means you play a lot of golf." Today, the club

is a walking club with a solid caddie staff. As a result of the cumulative

efforts of all parties, California Golf Club has gone from relative obscurity

to becoming a Top 50 course in the World.





The Course

Just steps from the pro shop, here's the view from the 535 yard par 5

opener. The Championship Venturi tees play 7,216 yards. Carry, pull

a trolley or take one the outstanding caddies. This is one of the best

strolls in the game.







The first fairway runs downhill to the farthest northeast part of the

property, encouraging aggressive play right out of gate. San Bruno

Mountains provide the scenic backdrop.







While the first two thirds of the opener have you seeing opportunity,

the green complex is a handful to take in. Swales, hollows, mounds

and MacKenzie style bunkers guard the front and back, turning this

green light special into an examination of finesse and precision.










This view of the 448 yard par 4 second illustrates the superb re-creation

of MacKenzie's bunker designs by Phillips and his team, but also the

detail performed daily by Javier Campos and his Agronomy staff.








The 437 yard third is a downhill left to right stunner that encourages

a fade off the box and right to left approach.









The unreachable 592 yard par 5 fourth features this long linear sand

bunker that's carved into the transition of berm to fairway. The length

of this sandscape defines the line of play and serves as an ideal

element of drainage








T.Bastis image

Like many golden age gems, tees and greens are in very close proximity

at Cal Club (as seen here on the short 346 yard par 4 fifth). Not only is

this the shortest par 4 of the routing, but it's also the most secluded hole.

Playing just a bit longer than the yardage as it gently climbs within a mini-









This view from approximately 50 yards short of the back left hole

location shows the tight fine fescue lies that require your focus.

Local knowledge reveals a backboard just beyond this back left

hole location.










The mid-length par 3 sixth sits on high elevation with a clear view of

the mountains and the Bay Area suburbs below. Deep bunkers protect

the front left and the higher sloping right side. The right to left influence

gives this beauty a redan-ish feel.








The tee view on the seventh reveals the most dramatic Phillips original

on the course. Once used for organic refuse, Phillips converted the site

to a spectacular downhill 411 yard Cape hole.









The slope spills dramatically left to right, while well positioned bunkers

guard the bold line to cut the corner. The ground game is a very viable

option here to feed the shot along the decline to an open entry green.









The green complex on the 241 yard downhill eighth features a large

surface that requires your full attention. No auto two-putt here.








The present day range now occupies an area in the middle section of

the property that was once the Agronomy staff's maintenance area.

The club's new maintenance building is one of the projects presently

in the works.








T.Bastis image

The 419 yard ninth features a blind tee shot.








The approach on the ninth is another that rewards the shot that

plans for the left to right pitch of the green.








T.Bastis image

An overhead of the 412 yard tenth is another example of how the

land flows at Cal Club. Notice the fairway bunkers and a centerline

mow pattern that moves right to left, then trundles downhill and

swings back in the opposite direction.









Tough to see the back right pin here on the 412 yard tenth where the

green gently slopes away from the elevated eleventh tee (left).








The 407 yard eleventh is the essence of ground game options at Cal











The 232 yard twelfth is the most savage one-shotter on the property,

nothing less than your best will do here.










Bunker view on the twelfth.








T.Bastis image

The 433 yard thirteenth, note the difference in elevation from the

tenth green down on the right.









Note the flag whipping on the exposed smallish green here on the 13th,

late afternoon Pacific winds pack a punch.









Cypress dot the landscape throughout the property, but Phillips chose

wisely keeping the foliage that enhances the beauty of the routing

but rarely comes into play. The fourteenth is the third leg of the back

nine ball strikers exam and is the longest par 4 on the property at 479










Although the routing has a very back and forth side by side sequence

on the inward side, it never felt monotonous or lacking in variety.







The greenside bunker here at fourteen is the most intricate at Cal Club

and my personal favorite on the course.









T.Bastis image

The overhead view of the 513 yard par 5 fifteenth green.









This view of the fifteenth green complex shows just how much the lay

of the land influences ball direction, a subtle factor not always so easily

observed while in play mode. Note the sideboard to the right of the hole










The charming downhill 133 yard sixteenth. Just a precise wedge to

this well protected green, easy to make 2, easy to make 5. Looking

over the green is the seventeenth tee box that features a line of play

across the edge of the green. Jay Blasi noted that such a design is a

golden age trait that would likely never get built on a modern day










Seventeen tee view.










The approach on the 567 yard penultimate hole. Playing generously

downhill, a speed slot just short left of the green feeds the ball right

to this front right flag.









Long before you walk down the hill towards the finisher at Cal

Club, you know you've just experienced one of the world's finest.









Unlike so many of the finest golf clubs in American golf, the Cal Club

is unassuming in its vibe. The bar and grill is the perfect friendly and

casual energy. Guests are made to feel like they belong. In fact, we

made it known, the day at Cal Club was our best golf experience of







We have several people to thank who contributed to this story, Thomas

Bastis was very generous with his time and insight on all things Cal Club

(including the Kyle Phillips transformation and several of his drone images

that are part of this feature). Glenn Smickley for his hospitality and finally

Superintendent Javier Campos who hosted us and allowed a couple of turf

guys to pick his brain.


To read our Q&A with Campos in our Designers & Turf Masters section,

click the link below:



To catch the flyover view of Cal Club from Puffy Jacket Productions

click here: