Harding Park Golf Course
The Harding Park Golf Club (commonly known as Harding Park) is a municipal golf course owned by the city and county of San Francisco. It sits in the southwest corner of San Francisco, California – west of San Francisco State University and surrounded by Lake Merced on the other three sides. The entrance is at Harding Road, which connects to Skyline Boulevard on the east.
The Harding Park was opened on July 18, 1925, named after U.S. President Warren G. Harding, an avid golfer, who died while visiting San Francisco two years earlier. This 163-acre (0.66 km2) course was designed by Willie Watson and Sam Whiting, who owned the nearby golf course Olympic Club, for a price of $300.
The golf course quickly attracted national attention when the park hosted a number of golfing tournaments. The prestigious U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship was held at Harding in 1937 and again in 1956. In the 1960s, Harding became a regular stop for tours and produced many big-time golfers like native Ken Venturi, Gary Player, and Billy Casper. But by the end of the decade, after the San Francisco Open Invitational in 1969, we saw the downturn of the park as the PGA Tour left Harding due to deteriorating condition and antiquated facilities. The condition only worsened during 1970s and 1980s as the city cut down budget for upkeep and maintenance. The low point came in 1998 when Harding was used as a parking lot during the U.S. Open in the nearby Olympic Club.
Finally, a turning point for the park came when Sandy Tatum, a long-time San Francisco lawyer and a golfer, led the crusade to restore glory to Harding. He eventually got the approval from former mayor Willie Brown to allow Arnold Palmer Golf Management, a Florida company, to renovate and operate the park. In 2001, however, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, namely former District 7 Supervisor Tony Hall, opposed the project sharing fear that Arnold Palmer’s involvement in the project represents privatization to municipal golf course. As opposition outgrew, Arnold Palmer backed out from the project due to financial problems.
When the hope to renovate Harding seemed unrealistic, Sean Elsbernd, Hall’s staff who later succeed Hall, helped to revive the project. He and Tatum convinced Hall that the renovation can possibly bring in big money golf tournaments like PGA Tour back to town. They also addressed funding concerns since the state granted money from Proposition 12, a measure passed in 2000 to fund parks across California, can help fund the project. But advocacy groups like the Neighborhood Parks Council continued to oppose the project, claiming that renovating the golf course was not a priority for the city and that those state grants can help improve other recreation facilities across town. Nevertheless, because of possible revenue for the city if golf tournaments come to San Francisco, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the resolution to use Prop. 12 money in 2001.