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Murphy’s Law


N


orthern California golf is the best. It’s a mystical thing. I always knew that instinctively. But nobody said it better than a golfer named Tom Stankowski, back


in 2004, at TPC Harding Park. The Spanos Tour was staging the San Francisco Open, 18 holes of urban poetry curling in and around Lake Mer- ced. Stankowski played great golf, winning by five shots. I was the golf writer at the San Francisco Chronicle covering the event, and when Stankowski spoke after his win, he seemed serene, content, at peace. He told me that when he knew the event was at


Harding, he drove up from his Oxnard home. He couldn’t miss playing there. Why? “It’s the bonsai look,” he said, gesturing to the neatly


formed Monterey Cypress dotting the land. “It’s a mystical thing.” Yes, sir, Tom Stankowski. Northern California golf: It’s a


mystical thing. Many of you have played golf around the western United


States. You’ve seen the contrast of irrigated green and slate- colored desert in Palm Springs or Arizona. You’ve seen the chaparral shrub of inland San Diego, and the signature Torrey pines on the coast. You’ve admired L.A.’s muni his- tory, whether at Griffith Park (they filmed “Rebel Without a Cause” there!) or at Rancho Park (Arnold Palmer made a 12 in the 1961 L.A. Open there!). But nowhere has the marriage of light and fog; nowhere


has the preponderance of 1920s-styled layouts, the golden era in American design; nowhere has a region where a public course carries the name “Pebble Beach” other than Northern California. And nowhere has the Cypress trees. The bonsai look.


Zen, even. Those Cypress trees at TPC Harding Park or at Crystal


Springs, they represent Northern California and the Bay Area beyond golf. They are our aesthetic, and speak to why we all love living here. It’s not just the thriving economy or the lack of snowy winters. To be a Northern California golfer is to be in and of nature, comingling with it on a daily basis. It’s hiking in the East Bay hills—then pegging it amid the Redwood trees at Tilden Park.


116 / NCGA.ORG / WINTER 2015


It’s mountain biking on Mt. Tamalpais—then playing nine holes at Mill Valley GC, gazing back at the mountain on the fourth green. It’s whale watching on the Sonoma Coast—then putting


Why Northern California Golf is the Best


on your windbreaker and playing 18 at Bodega Harbour. The Cypress tree represents NorCal golf, and identifies our sense of place, a signature—much like laying eyes on the Golden Gate Bridge, or watching a tech company barrel into a San Francisco neighborhood and gentrify the rents astronomically. It lets us know we’re here. I’ve played golf in the South, and


Spanish moss is pretty. I’ve played golf in the East, and autumn leaves are breathtaking. I’ve played golf in the


Midwest, and mosquitoes are, well, a problem. But eventually, in the South, you have to change your


shirt five or six times, lest you form sweat stains that look like the continents. And eventually, in the East, you put those golf clubs away and pick up your snow shovel. And eventually, in the Midwest, the mosquitoes don’t stop breeding. Or, as current PGA Tour pro Brian Harman said to his


caddie, a San Franciscan, when a teenage Harman played the 2004 U.S. Junior Amateur at The Olympic Club, far from his Georgia home: “Y’all don’t got no bugs!” No bugs, Brian. So here’s to the places in


To be a Northern California golfer is to be in and of nature, comingling with it on a daily basis.


Northern California that move your golfing soul. Here’s to Sharp Park, and


a history so powerful it fueled a group of golfers to move


heaven and earth to protect its layout. Plus, breakfast in the historic clubhouse restaurant and a dice game at the bar, if you’re up for it. Here’s to the nine-hole golf course at Golden Gate Park,


where generations of families learn to play the game nestled in the most majestic civic park west of Central Park. Plus, the canned beer is cheaper than at Giants games. Here’s to Presidio Golf Club, where if you squint hard enough between the fog and the trees and light, you can see the ghosts of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, two players who trod its fairways. Here’s to Pacific Grove Golf Links, where you can get


the Pebble Beach experience at municipal prices. Here’s to Indian Valley Golf Club in the summertime,


north of the fog line, a layout winding amid hills the color of a lion’s mane. Here’s to Northern California golf. Play in the rain.


Play in the mist. Play the ball down. Play on Mother Earth’s land as she intended. That’s what you do in Northern California. It’s a


mystical thing.


BRIAN MURPHY hosts the KNBR morning show “Murph and Mac” and was the San Francisco Chronicle’s golf writer from 2001-04.


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