2020 PGA Championship: Five things to know about TPC Harding Park in San Francisco

For the second consecutive year, the PGA Championship will go to a public golf course with a massive population surrounding it. Last year it was historic Bethpage Black in New York, and this year it’s TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, which will host its first-ever major championship.

This, however, will not be its first big-boy tournament. The course has already had plenty of those following a turn-of-the-century renovation that restored one of the most famous municipal courses in the United States to its former glory. Harding Park hosted the WGC-American Express Championship in 2005 (of course Tiger Woods won), the Presidents Cup in 2009 and another WGC event (this time the match play) in 2015. It is no stranger to high-stakes golf.

But the PGA of America has been a stranger to the West Coast. This tournament has not gone west since 1998 when Vijay Singh won his first major at Sahalee Country Club in Washington by two over Steve Stricker. No fans will be there to enjoy the PGA’s return to the Pacific Ocean, but it’s still going to make for a glorious viewing experience. 

Here are five things to know about TPC Harding Park and the 2020 PGA Championship.

1. Parking lot: In researching Harding Park, my favorite nugget is that it was used as a parking lot for the 1998 U.S. Open at Olympic Club, which sits just across Lake Merced from this course. A parking lot! Seven years later, post-renovation, it hosted a WGC, which saw Woods beat John Daly in a playoff when Daly missed a 2-foot putt. Daly was so enamored with the renovation that he flipped the script.

“They need to park cars at the Olympic Club and play the U.S. Open over here,” he said at the time.

2. Big deal for San Francisco: That the good golfing folks of San Francisco don’t get to enjoy this major is a massive bummer, given how much Harding Park has meant to them throughout the years. The course itself dates back nearly a century, and though it has weaved in and out of disrepair, it has remained a public staple in this great city.

Harding cast an early spell on Bo Links, now a San Francisco lawyer and unofficial golf historian. Links grew up in the Richmond District and played the game at various uninspiring venues, but he quickly discovered the wonders of this picturesque patch of real estate alongside Lake Merced, tucked in the southwest corner of the city. He often took the bus across town, arrived at the course early in the morning and tossed his clubs on a pull cart. He began playing at Harding in the early 1960s, at 13 or 14, and he marveled at the landscape — a vast, open expanse of glorious grass lined with majestic cypress trees.

“I remember my first time playing there, thinking, ‘Wow, this is what a real golf course is like,'” Links recalled. “You knew you were in the major leagues when you went to Harding.”

3. $300: That’s how much Willie Watson and Sam Whiting (the duo that also designed Olympic) charged to draw up the plans for Harding Park. The renovation in the early 2000s was about $23 million more than that, but that’s likely the best $300 ever spent on a public golf course in U.S. history (depending on how you feel about A.W. Tillinghast and what happened at Bethpage).

4. How’s the weather? Great golf courses force great players to make great decisions. This is where Harding Park could (could!) shine. I certainly worry that this could turn into a Bethpage-like bomb-fest that only tests players’ length, but the X-factor here could be the weather. After reading about the history of this course, which has hosted amateur events like the San Francisco City Championship and myriad professional events in the 1950s and 1960s, it’s clear that Open Championship-esque conditions could come into play. That would make an already-tough course downright nasty and truly reveal who the best ball-strikers (and decision-makers) are among the group. 

5. That club twirl: Harding Park is home to many things, and one of those things is the greatest club twirl in the history of professional golf. Facing Tim Clark and Mike Weir in the Saturday morning foursomes session of the 2009 Presidents Cup, Tiger Woods hit one of the great shots in event history and gave us one of the great moments in team golf. Aspirational stuff. If we see this again on the weekend this year at Harding Park, I worry the good folks in charge of our internet servers may have a meltdown on their hands.


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