NCGA Golf

Summer 2019

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superintendent Jack Fleming, who labored on several Alistair MacKenzie designs, in- cluding Cypress Point and Marin County's Meadow Club. The prolific Fleming even- tually designed, built or remodeled about 60 courses in Northern California. But here, in the massive, 1,017-acre Golden Gate Park – developed in the 1870s by the legendary John McLaren, and home to the de Young (Fine Arts) Museum, the Acad- emy of Sciences, Kezar Stadium and more – Fleming was handed a special plot of land. After all, the Park shares the landscape, vegetation and climate with nearby San Francisco Golf Club, The Olympic Club and Harding Park. But while comparing the respective architecture is specious, Golden Gate has its challenges. "Fleming felt that his design could make you use every iron in the bag," explains Moore, during a quick round on a breezy day in late April. The marine winds, seldom felt on the tee box, are quite evident by waving treetops. "No round is ever quite the same as another, because of the wind and because we move the tee blocks." The feeling here is one of seclusion, especially on the sixth green, at the lowest point on the course, encased by a wall of green. Following is a fairly challenging trio of holes: the seventh has a large and high- hanging cypress branch dangling just shy of the left half of the green on the 162-yard hole and making one wish for a draw in- stead of a fade. The eighth is only 109 yards, yet all uphill to a putting surface that can't be seen from the tee. "It's a hole," concedes Moore, "where an awful lot of my good rounds come to die." The task at hand doesn't get any easier at the ninth, the No.-1 handicap hole and longest at 194 yards and playing straight into prevailing winds from the highest point on the property. It also brings the park's signature into view, the landmark Dutch Windmill, a 75-foot tall structure built in 1902, which once pumped 30,000 gallons of water an hour to irrigate the park and fill its artificial lakes. The windmill and its distinctive vanes serve as the Golden Gate Golf Course logo. A former CFO of an experiential mar- keting company, the outgoing 43-year-old Moore stumbled into the GM job about five years ago, which just happened to be one block from his home and the locus of his golf passion. "The marketing back- ground is helpful," he explains. "Our six- member golf operations staff applies experiential principles, addressing regulars by name; using a booking system that allows players to make tee times without charge; and making the municipal property feel like a private club. When we turn a first- time player into a repeater, we know we're on the right track." Owned by San Francisco's Parks and Recreation department, the course and its facilities are leased by The First Tee of San Francisco, who put some 4,500 youngsters through the local program each year, another dimension of the course's civic role. And for a nine-holer with a small, net- enclosed "driving range," its teaching staff is the envy of any full-size course. The Director of Instruction is Tom Johnson, who played on the PGA Tour and learned from Butch Harmon, and worked with among others, Dave Stockton. His fellow pro is John Wolff, who learned to play at Pasatiempo as a junior, and for- merly was head golf professional at the Moraga Country Club. Both give reason- ably priced lessons, with special packages on the range and on course. The greens fees are affordable too, cost- ing less than a movie ticket, tub of popcorn and a beverage at the local movieplex. A City-dweller with a $107, two-year resi- dent's card can play for $17 on weekdays, $19 on weekends, with seniors getting by for $14. The top rate is $22 for weekdays and $26 for weekends. A tourist desiring rental clubs and a pull cart is going to spend about $50 for a magical experience. But not all is bliss. Golden Gate suf- fered a huge blow in July of 2018 when its 1,500-square-foot clubhouse, which had a pro shop and full kitchen, burned to the ground. Arson investigators suggested the cause was "suspicious external materials." While insurance will cover a replace- ment, the fire destroyed more than a beloved hangout since 1951; it consumed Moore's primary set of golf clubs and also broke his heart. "I met my wife here and I proposed to my wife here," he told the San Francisco Chronicle, right after the fire. "It's really a community center … (for) … meeting like- minded people from all backgrounds." Currently operating in a temporary structure until the permanent clubhouse opens in 2021, golf operations are back at full speed. Food service is not. "Food was a very important part of our operation, for golfers and financially," Moore says. The old 400-square-foot kitchen not only produced hot dogs, but also was widely known for its weekend barbecue sand- wiches, either brisket or pulled pork. And it wasn't just golfers chowing down. While on a walk through the Park, visitors were gravitationally drawn to the clubhouse by the aroma. So when the new kitchen opens, promises Moore, barbecue will definitely be back. Jay Stuller lives in Novato and always is available to play nine. NCGA.ORG | SUMMER 2019 55

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