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I: The California Club of San Francisco

There are few sounds which send a shiver up your spine on the first morning of a golf trip quite like rain pounding on the roof. A detour toward California’s ‘reliable’ May sunshine to catch some final rays before a UK ‘Summer’ had apparently backfired – there really is no magnet to rain quite like a round of golf.

An afternoon tee time provided some glimmer of hope, and after a long morning of cats and dogs, just as the Uber pulled into our driveway the clouds began to part- a California Club miracle.

Typically I’m all in for the path less travelled and our entrance to the Cal Club could never be criticised as boring.

 

Our host Evan had fired through a code to unlock the gates, however, reluctant to expose the club’s secrets to our driver, we opted to be dropped at the gate and walk the quarter-mile up to the clubhouse. At the time we didn’t think much of it, but apparently two Kiwi lads hoofing it up the driveway of one of the most private clubs in America, bags slung over their shoulders, hadn’t gone unnoticed – Evan pronounced us the first to ever take that walk.

Just two Kiwi battlers fumbling their way along the ropes of American private golf, just trying to keep their heads above water….

Cal Club's stunning clubhouse rises above restored MacKenzie bunkers

Cal Club carries the tag of being one of the best ‘hangs’ in golf, which came to the forefront out of the gate. A couple of beers in one of the most homely clubhouses you could imagine, nestled amongst members, chased down by a few too many more after the 18th cup was hit – the boys were made to feel more than at home.

The challenge and enjoyment of Cal Club is driven by its tumbling terrain- large slopes and smaller undulations create the ideal playing field for firm and fast golf. Holes are seamlessly routed across the land, with the front nine playing through valleys on the low-ground, and the back side beautifully connected across the higher ground with spectacular views of San Francisco.

The downhill tee shot on the third hole- an early display of Cal Club's tumbling terrain

As with any course touched by the Good Doctor, Alister Mackenzie (Cypress Point, Royal Melbourne, Augusta National), Cal’s bunkering is strikingly artful and wonderfully strategic. Combined with the firm turf and undulated green complexes, the bunkering determines the ideal angle of approach and strategy of the hole. Mackenzie’s influence (And Kyle Phillips’ eye for renovation) shines through- a wonderful example of width, angles and short grass a plenty assisting the boys in their search for some wayward tee shots. Cal is the poster child for hard par easy bogey.

Short grass and attractive bunkering as far as the eye can see 

The one-shotters at Cal Club are one of the finest sets I have encountered. With exceptional variety in their length and shape, each providing a uniquely spectacular green site. The mind-blowing infinity green of the 6th, the brawny downhill 8th, the tilted 12th smothered by bunkers and the shallow green of the spectacular drop-shot 16th.

With seemingly no weak holes to speak of, two par fours found their way to the top of my memory; the downhill 3rd playing through a tumbling valley, and the waterless cape hole seventh asking for a hero carry across a deep gully- the green suspended to the right and the age old question of how much can you bite off without feeling sick.

 

Combining the land movement and bunkering with some handsome trees outside the playing corridors, Cal Club was an incredible walk just outside the city, and home to a wide variety of the most interesting golf shots I have seen- every moment captivating. Firm fairways maximise the slopes, the ball bounding and running – a live ball is always more fun than a dead one. A truly magnificent golf course in a remarkable setting.

Walking down the 18th fairway, sun going down over the clubhouse and shadows creeping across the fairways, there was a feeling of immense gratitude to both Evan for generously sharing his home with us, and for the days to come. Cal Club – an oasis in the city of fog, was a spectacular way to kick things off and firmly sits as one of my favourite days in golf.

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The California sun setting over the 18th green, ending a magical day at Cal Club

Tonight and until tomorrow, our minds are turned to an hour and a half down the coast- what a time to be alive.

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