A Day of Thrills at Our New Favorite 9 Hole Course in America

By Jason Bruno

We all know that some golf experiences are more memorable than others, and on those occasions where you plan your travel, step off a plane, gather your sticks and meet up with friends – the excitement and the expectation level gets raised exponentially. As the years begin to fly by, those experiences are the currency that soothes the soul. Such was the case in early December, when I took my third cross-country trip of ’23 to the Bay Area . . . this one would be a shorty, just 30 hours in California.

For me, as far as golf regions go, the Bay Area falls into that elite category. The fantastic topography, crisp cool climate, perhaps the finest golf course architecture in America, and some of my very favorite friends in the industry. I get out there every chance possible, and this particular journey carried with it a “Golden Ticket”.

The “Golden Ticket”

Thrilled to be on the short list of invites for the soft-opening (Media Day) of Golden Gate Park, a community asset that was in dire need of a renovation (and it received one of the highest order) – a partnership between San Francisco Recreation & Parks, The First Tee of SF and Jay Blasi Design joined forces to make the unlikely a reality. Our comprehensive hole by hole feature on the renovation project posted several weeks back – click here to read).

An intimate group of a few dozen were on hand, starting out with an early spin around the nine holer, followed by a delicious surprise from the Burger Dogs team of Olympic Club fame.

After lunch, Dan Burke of the First Tee SF and course architect Jay Blasi said a few words, and it was back to the golf course.

Our group of seven – Jack Steffan, Jay Blasi, Jason Bruno (author), Mike Pettit, Jim Harmon, Dr. Doug Yarris and Drew Harvie assembled on the first tee for an encore 9, but it was Steffan’s first go around. Bellies full of ground chuck & sirloin, we were energized for some excitement – and as the sun climbed higher and the morning moisture evaporated from the playing surfaces, the course contours began to do their thing.

The first six players all hit with varying amounts of success on the uphill opener, the last to swing was Jack Steffan. His ball flew just past the flagstick on the right side, took one bounce forward and began to spin back towards the hole. It had to be close, but the surface is slightly blind from the tee. As we approached the putting surface only half a dozen balls were visible. As the group walked up onto the green, all of us paused as Jack walked up to peek in the cup . . . his first swing of the day was indeed an ACE (his first in 55 years of playing golf)! Pandemonium immediately broke out among our group, we celebrated Jack’s moment for the rest of the nine, and we still had eight holes remaining. Jack Steffan’s Ace was the second in the new history of GGP, just two days previously, Blasi hosted a VIP group that included K.C Murphy who made a Hole-N-1 on the downhill 2nd hole.

It had already been a magical day, perfect weather with great friends on a piece of property crafted for thought provoking fun and thrills . . . on a public access links landscape, Fine Fescue turf, with pure bent greens in San Francisco. C’mon, does it get any better than this?! If we had stopped there and headed for the airport, it would have already been a top ten day in my book of favorite golf experiences, we were there to celebrate it all, and doing it with course architect and close friend Jay Blasi made it all the more special.

Quit while you’re ahead, grab a bite on the way to SFO and call it a day. No chance, the sun was just beginning to cast glorious shadows, we reconfigured another group for a second encore. We were going for the hat trick – 27 holes . . .

7th hole – Anthony Shipman, Mark Luthman, and Zac Keener chasing the sun with yours truly – photo by Jay Blasi

Most of the “Golden Ticket” holders began to make their way out of the park to beat the San Francisco traffic. We gathered a group of die-hards to chase the sun and headed back to the first tee. To gluttons, there’s never enough sunlight on days like this, reality could wait for tomorrow . . . the evening still belonged to Shipman, Luthman, Keener, Blasi and Bruno.

As we approached the shortest hole on the property, the downhill eighth, it was playing just 91 yards, but as you can see (photo above) the back hole location wasn’t the easiest target to get to. As I approached the tee, I heard Blasi say, “Take it over the Cypress, past the hole onto the kicker slope . . . it will react like a backboard and feed back towards the hole.” I set up for an 85 yard shot considering it’s a decent amount of downhill slope, thinking it may actually carry closer to 95 (the way I was swinging my wedges that day). The swing and strike did exactly as I hoped, and the ball did precisely as Blasi had ordered up – carrying over the left half of the tree canopy, landing about 5 yards past the flag onto the backslope. The ball paused for a split second before it began trickling back towards the cup in what seemed like slow motion to me. Honestly, watching the ball roll back towards us and the hole felt like eternity, but in truth it was probably five seconds before it disappeared in the cup for an epic ACE – the group went nuts. I was in disbelief, a surreal moment for sure. I had a couple of Aces previously, but nothing quite like that moment. I’m humbled to have the opportunity to describe my own thoughts during a moment like that and to have one of my dearest friends there to advise on the shot on a design that he created. It was Blasi’s day, and there he was celebrating the moment with his buddies. I was just grateful to be there, the moment was simply a gift from the Golf Gods.

The currency of that day at Golden Gate will spend nicely in my memory bank for eternity. For those who stuck around long enough to see Golden Gate Park in all her glory during the golden hour, good on ya, it was an evening to remember. I headed to SFO for the redeye back to Palm Beach on an absolute high, totally glowing . . . we had a new “happy place”, and the beauty of it is, everyone will be able to enjoy the same thrills that we did. It won’t be long before members at Cypress Point, San Francisco Golf Club, Cal Club, Lake Merced and Olympic Club come see it for themselves, and think why don’t we have a place like this at our club.

Thanks to Dan Burke, Jay Blasi and Josh Lewis for giving public access golfers a gem they can enjoy for years to come.

As if we needed another reason to visit the Bay Area.

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