The Itinerant Golfer

The Itinerant Golfer's Take on Olympic Club (Lake)


Olympic Club (Lake)

Architect: Sam Whiting
Year: 1879

524 Post Street, San Francisco, California 94102
(415) 587-8338

driving range available
motorized golf carts and caddies available

U.S. Open - 1955, 1966, 1987, 1998, 2012


The Olympic Club was founded in 1860 under the name San Francisco Olympic Club and is recognized as the oldest athletic club in the U.S. At the time of inception the club focused on physical fitness as golf hadn’t yet made it across the pond. In 1918 The Olympic Club took over the struggling Lakeside Golf Club and introduced golf to its members at a new location on Lake Merced separate from the downtown clubhouse.

Almost immediately the club decided to replace its one golf course with two, so land was acquired and Willie Watson was hired to do the layout of the new courses. In 1924 the Lake and Ocean Courses were opened. Three years later in 1927 Sam Whiting remodeled and rebuilt the courses after they sustain significant damage from a landslide. A third course was added in 1994 which is a par 3 nine hole course designed by Tom Weiskopt and Jay Morrish called the Cliffs Course.

Over the years The Olympic Club has had a rich championship tradition with the USGA choosing to contest four U.S. Opens over the Lake Course and another one coming in 2012. The previous U.S. Opens have all been quite the story of underdog triumph. In 1955 Jack Fleck defeated Ben Hogan in an 18 hole playoff. Again in 1966 a playoff decided the outcome where Billy Casper edged out Arnold Palmer. In the 1987 U.S. Open Scott Simpson managed to knock off Tom Watson by just one stroke and finally, in 1998 Lee Janzen took the win away from runner up Payne Stewart. I think its safe to say that underdogs have done quite well for themselves at The Olympic Club. In addition to the four U.S. Opens the club has also hosted two U.S. Amateurs and a U.S. Junior Amateur as well.

After an inspiring morning of incredible golf at San Francisco Golf Club our 3-ball group headed over to Olympic Club to meet our host there for our afternoon game. My Northern California contact, Jim, had arranged for us to play with his buddy Mark who is a native of San Francisco and a golfer in grave danger of breaking the 14 club rule. I’m not talking about the clubs in his bag, but the clubs that he belongs to. I turns out he is a bit of a “collector”. Mark arrived just in time for our tee time and was ready to go. He had played 18 holes in the morning at one of his other clubs so with all of us having warmed up with a game in the morning we skipped the range and went directly to the first tee.

It didn’t take much debating to decide that we would play the 6,597 yard tees. The other option was 6,934 yards and based on the warnings of how difficult this course was so I didn’t see any need to make it any harder than the wind and 55 degree weather already was going to make it.

The course doesn’t waste any time letting the players know that the trees are going to be a factor here. In the photo below of the first tee you can see how the first 100 yards or so are framed by the trees. This would be a bit of a theme for the afternoon.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
The 1st hole is a par 5 that we played from 515 yards and I found the bunkering strategy to be interesting. The photo below was taken about where my second shot landed and as you can see the bunkers are probably 60 to 75 yards from the green. From back in the fairway where I hit my second shot I would not have guessed they were that far away.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
The photo below was taken on the 2nd hole tee which is a par 4 of 380 yards from the blue tees. Again note the trees framing the hole. If you get too far to the left or the right they can be a real problem.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
The 3rd hole pictured below is a long par 3 that we played from 212 yards. As illustrated in the photo below it plays considerably downhill. I hit a 200 yard club that landed pin high in the bunker, so I would say 10 yard less than the yardage would be the correct club.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
I liked the 4th hole quite a bit. It is a sharp dogleg left that was 417 yards from the blue tees. A draw is in order for the tee shot. If the drive goes right it makes the hole really tough. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
The second shot on the 4th hole, pictured below, is a long one as it plays dead up the hill. A drive that goes right is a stiff penalty here because the uphill and the extra distance away from the hole really can make the second shot painfully long. Below is a photo that was taken at the bottom of the hill looking towards the green.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
After coming up the hill with the approach shot on the 4th hole we head straight back down the same hill on the 5th hole. This one is a 434 yard par 4 that doglegs to the right. The photo below was taken on the tee box and clearly a slight fade is an excellent plan here.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
The 6th hole is yet another long par 4 that we played from 426 yards. We can’t seem to get a break here on the distance. This is the fourth par 4 we’ve played and there has only been one that was less than 415 yards. The photo below is Jim getting ready to hit his drive on the 6th tee. Again, you can see that the trees make a bit of a chute so its best to hit a ball pretty straight off this tee.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
A quick side note here about Jim who very kindly set up all my rounds for the Northern California trip. He is a lifelong lover of the game and a pretty good stick too. An interesting fact about him is that he has had nine, yes NINE, holes in one. What makes that story even more interesting is that three of those holes in one came on the same date. Not the same year, mind you, but on July 29 of three different years he had holes in one. That is pretty amazing. I am going to be playing with him again at Sand Hills this year and I’m expecting to see my first hole in one and am going to enjoy that free drink after the round!

The photo below is of the approach to the 6th green. The bunkering you see around the green is very typical of what we saw all afternoon here at Olympic’s Lake Course.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
Finally at the 7th hole we got a little break on the yardage. This hole, pictured below, is a par 4 that we played from 284 yards. When the U.S. Open returns here in 2012 I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of going for the green and eagles on this hole.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
Here is a look from the right side of the 7th green with the clubhouse in the background.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
The 8th hole pictured below is a nifty little par 3 that plays at 169 yards from the blue tees. It was just a bit uphill so I hit 10 yards extra and landed on the front of the green. Again the trees create a bit of a narrow chute for the tee shot.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
Here is a bit closer view of the 8th green complex.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
The 9th hole is yet another long par 4 at 424 yards. The par 4s on this course are relentless. The photo below is of the 9th green complex.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
And here is a full view of the 9th green.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
I didn’t get any photos of the 10th hole, but after the 10th is where the halfway hut is located. The Olympic Club serves a unique hamburger that is long, thin and comes on a hot dog style bun. I’d never seen anything quite like it and its one of those little touches I’ve found at clubs that I always remember.

The 11th hole is another long par 4 that we played from 414 yards. The photo below was taken from the tee box and as you can see the hole is again lined with trees.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
The green for this hole pictured below is tucked back in a little grove of trees and sits on a plateau with bunkers on either side for shots that come up short on the left or go anywhere right of the green.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
The photo below is of the 12th green which is another nice green complex with bunkers left and right.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
The 14th hole is a par 4 that played 402 yards and is a dogleg to the left. In the photo below of the approach shot you can see that there is a dip in front of the green so shots that come up short may result in a difficult uphill pitch.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
The 15th hole was a nice little short par 3 of 142 yards. The green is surrounded by bunkers as shown in the photo below.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
The 16th hole is a beast of a par 5 at 579 yards. The ideal drive is a draw but as seen in the photo below it is not an easy shot. There is a bit of chute to be navigated in order to get the ball out to the fairway.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
The 17th hole is the second of consecutive par 5s and this one played at a fairly short 491 yards. Clearly this will be set up as a par 4 for the 2012 U.S. Open. The photo below is of the green complex which has more great bunkering.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
One of the great finishing holes in golf is the par 4 18th hole that we played from 334 yards. I’m guessing that this will be stretched out for the U.S. Open in 2012 as it would be unusual to see two driveable par 4s in the championship setup. The photo below was taken on the tee.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
Here is a zoomed in view from the tee. Note the big bunker on the right. This is not greenside, so any balls in this bunker will require a shot that will carry the right distance AND account for the considerable uphill climb to the green.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
While the distance is not terribly long there are bunkers all around the green so any attempt to drive the green can lead to trouble. As shown in the photo below and mentioned just above the green sits at the top of a hill which causes the bunkers to play fairly deep as you must take the distance and elevation into consideration for your bunker shot.
 
The Olympic Club - Lake Course
 
I have to say that our entire group was leaking oil on the second nine holes. The temperature never rose above 55 degrees and the wind was a steady blow all day long. With this course being our second 18 holes of the day it really beat us up. I normally do not ever like to take a cart, but in this instance I was glad I did. The course is built on the side of hill and the walk is no doubt a tough one. As the second 18 holes of the day it would have been a grueling walk for sure.

The Lake Course here at Olympic definitely lived up to all I’d heard about it in regards to difficultly. This is no pushover golf course by any means. The par is 71 and the rating is 73.2. That means that a scratch player could expect to score 2.2 strokes over par. That really tells the story on how difficult this course is. When you couple the long rough with the trouble the trees can cause if you miss a fairway you’ve got a pretty tough course. Accuracy off the tee is crucial here and players who can really shape their drives on command will have a big advantage over those who cannot. Overall, I enjoyed the course and I’m looking forward to seeing the U.S. Open there in two years. There is sure to be some major drama for that event. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to see a winner with an over par score here. Its definitely going to be a good one to watch!