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Matt Schoolfield

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Apparently, San Francisco has extended the lease of Gleneagles GC at McLaren Park for only one year.

Rec and Parks Dept, again apparently, believe that there are not enough players using the course to justify its continued existence. It appears that the course/club is planning to begin a development/training program for new players, and to be generally more open to new comers. Ideally this will be enough to save the course, but I would like to solicit some ideas from the group.

The course is a 1962 Jack Fleming design, with very few changes through the years (trees now line fairways that used to be much more open, and Erik de Lambert, a former operator, changed the 3rd green). Golf author [1, 2] and podcaster [3] Stephen Proctor is a former club president. Fried Egg Golf has mentioned the course twice when talking about affordable golf architecture in Northern California [4, 5] and already wrote a long form piece about saving the club during the pandemic [5]

I am a member of the club, and this has been unnerving, because the situation is extremely challenging because of the course's challenging architecture. The club boasts the second highest slope on a public course in the city (only slightly lower than Presidio), yet because of the 9-hole nature of the course, it typically tries to cater to beginners. It's also the only muni course in the city not able to participate in the reclaimed water program (unlike Harding/Fleming and Lincoln), which leads to higher costs, and notably worse course conditions by comparison. Finally, the location of the course is a third challenge, the course's clubhouse sits awkwardly in the center of a park, and the only neighborhood adjacent is public housing which, unfortunately, does not seem to have a positive relationship with the course.

I find these three points of fact put the course in a fairly untenable situation long-term, but I still would love to help preserve one of the more architecturally interesting courses in the region.

- Any advice on how to make a punishing course less punishing for beginners?

- Does anyone have experience on setting up a warm-up cage? The course has no range, and I totally understand when folks get fluster on the first hole (it's extremely challenging).

- Does anyone have experience on setting up a player development program?

Finally, if you've never played, I suggest you go play while you can. I hope the course isn't closed at the end of next year, but I don't see any easy solutions.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2023, 05:12:58 PM by Matt Schoolfield »
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Matt Schoolfield

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I am going to bump this thread because we had a meeting this week and there is still a very good chance the course could close at the end of 2024. Gleneagles is far from perfect, but it's one of the more architecturally interesting courses in San Francisco.

Don't take my word for it though, here's what Brett Hochstein wrote about SF's Gleneagles in his article Jack Fleming: Golden State’s Link to Golf’s ‘Golden Age’ in the Pacific Coast Golf Guide:

Quote
Some of Fleming’s other best works include Sierra View, Sharon Heights, Boulder Creek and Adams Springs. Fleming said of Sierra View, “I left everything as it was and added a little grass. The hills were just right, and I didn’t have to cut down a single tree.” 

But none of those layouts may beat out San Francisco’s Gleneagles at McLaren Park for overall playing interest. While a number of bunkers have been added and shifted, the two main staples of any design — the routing and the greens — remain largely intact from Fleming’s original design. The medium-small putting surfaces are quick and tilt in all directions, with contours both subtle and bold.

It is this variety in the shapes and strategies of the greens that set the course apart from its 1960s contemporaries, which often repeated similar greens concepts (plain back-to-front tilt) for all 18 holes. Rather, it feels more like a course built in the 1920s — The “Golden Age of Golf Course Design.” With the architect’s background, it is not hard to see why that is.

The main issue the course faces is obviously maintenance, but that leads to a serious branding problem. Because the course is not connected to the city's reclaimed water system (which is on the west side of the city), these costs have lead management to focus on the greens, and allow the fairways and especially the rough, to suffer for much of the year. This poor conditioning can turned off many highly-skilled players for whom the course would be best suited, and the club plays preferred lies because of it. Instead, beginners often come play the course, but with a rating/slope of 70.0/130 at only 5874 yards, it is arguably the most challenging public course in San Francisco (Presidio Green tees is comparable with 69.5/129 at 5746 yards). It's not exactly beginner friendly.

I'll be writing a hole-by-hole walk through on my blog over the next coming months. Mostly just to raise awareness that the course is in real threat of closing, but also to try to preserve the architectural ideas that most impress me with Fleming's 1962 design.

We will be contacting the SF Public Golf Alliance, as I would like to try and create a Jack Fleming tournament to mirror the Alister MacKenzie tournament they put on at Sharp Park (Fleming designed the new holes there after the storm that washed away the holes on the beach). Gleneagles simply needs more rounds played and more club members.

So, if you've not played the course before and you will be in the area, I would obviously recommend a round. I've had some folks reach out already to come play the course since the last post and I was happy to walk them through each hole. It can be tricky to book a full 18 there, but I'm always willing to make time to try to facilitate that for anyone else who is interested in a full round.
« Last Edit: December 13, 2023, 03:23:05 PM by Matt Schoolfield »
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Kevin_Reilly

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Matt,


Thanks for bringing some attention to Gleneagles.  It is a gem of a course and setting (inside the fences) that has been in a difficult situation fiscally since its opening in 1962. 


Read here for the chronology of Gleneagles:  [size=78%]https://www.gleneaglesgolfsf.com/history[/size]


The current realities are as follows:


- The city of SF sets a cap on green fees (less than $30 weekday rate for nine holes, less for seniors, and $5 for Youth on Course) while it does not provide any financial support for the course beyond a very modest water stipend.


- The course has always suffered in comparison to the other SF muni courses (Harding, Fleming, Lincoln, Sharp and GG Park) in terms of financial support from the City budget.  Gleneagles has been always forced to MacGyver solutions/fixes to problems and equipment (and rely on the charity of local private clubs), while the other five courses can get help from SF Rec & Park.


- The course (unlike the other five SF courses) is in an economically challenged area of the city, so not a place you'd just casually visit for a round of golf.


- The course has TWO full time course employees.  Yes, TWO.  That is all that is possible under the course financial budget.  How does that number compare to the other SF courses?


- The course benefits greatly from the generosity of local private clubs and their superintendents, and
also benefits from the generosity of architects like Brett Hochstein and George Waters (in his pre-USGA days).


- SF Park & Rec has never had any interest in Gleneagles and in fact they'd probably be just as happy with it being an unmaintained patch of green grass or something like a mountain biking facility.  Just look at the old putting greens adjacent to Stern Grove or Moscone Park to see what SF Rec & Park thinks about golf.


- Since the days of Mayor Ed Lee (a big supporter of public golf and Gleneagles in particular), no person in SF government has cared one bit about Gleneagles.  All credit to the late EdL and Tom Hsieh for all they have done to keep Gleneagles alive and a fun place to play over the past 40+ years.


It is a wonder that Gleneagles is still open in the face of all of the above.  Players laud the conditions (the greens are amazing) while recognizing that they aren't playing a CCFAD course with $100+ green fees and conditions to match. 


What could Gleneagles be like if the City of SF gave it $1 million per year for maintenance/improvements?  IMO it would be a world class 9-hole course!


Hope all on this board will visit and enjoy the course whenever in SF.  The 19th hole is world class...the course (especially the greens) is a treat.
"GOLF COURSES SHOULD BE ENJOYED RATHER THAN RATED" - Tom Watson

Matt Schoolfield

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Thanks Kevin.

I want to reiterate that this thread is mostly just informational. We've talked a lot about NLE courses people loved, and this will be one of them for those of us who have played it often. Architecture nuts will rave about it once it's gone (because we'll remember the architecture, but not the poor conditions)... but the green-is-good crew will always think it was terrible.

I'm not really asking for anyone to help "save" the course. The club members will try to raise attention to the situation, but it's mostly out of our hands. As Kevin noted, good management is effectively impossible due to the issues brought up, and leads to questionable decisions due to impossible tradeoffs (like having to combine the role of bartender and pro shop attendant leading leading to exasperated -- at best -- service for guests). It's survived this long mostly on generosity.

Get out there while you can. I would strongly recommend February-April, as the summer months are really when the fairways start to languish. If you can play during the winter, it can actually get pretty lush, but wait for a week without rain for the course to dry out.
« Last Edit: December 14, 2023, 10:14:07 PM by Matt Schoolfield »
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David_Tepper

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Matt -

I first played Gleneagles back in the 1970's, before Erik de Lambert took over running the course (and started calling it Gleneagles). Back then it was just McClaren Park golf course. At times the white bloom of the wild flowers in the fairways was so pervasive you had trouble finding a white golf ball hit down the center of the fairway. The little shop there sold orange golf balls to make it easier to find your ball. This was well before colored golf balls were commercially available.

Erik de Lambert improved the course and the clubhouse enormously. I wonder what would have happened if he had not come along in 1980 to operate the course. The city may very well have closed the course 45 years ago.

Does Tom Hsieh still operate the course. Does he hold the current lease?

I am not sure what, if anything, can be done to make the course more accessible for beginners and high-handicap players. That is a pretty severe property. The only thing I can think of is turning all the par-4s and 5's into a couple of par-3's and making the property an 18-hole par-3 course, with holes ranging from 100 to 150 yards.   

With regards to setting up a warm-up cage, you might want to check with the USGA. I would think they can offer some guidance on how to do that.

Do you have any idea how much revenue the course has been generating for the Park & Rec Dept?

DT
« Last Edit: December 14, 2023, 09:01:08 PM by David_Tepper »

Jeff Schley

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Matt,


Thanks for bringing some attention to Gleneagles.  It is a gem of a course and setting (inside the fences) that has been in a difficult situation fiscally since its opening in 1962. 


Read here for the chronology of Gleneagles:  [size=78%]https://www.gleneaglesgolfsf.com/history[/size]


The current realities are as follows:


- The city of SF sets a cap on green fees (less than $30 weekday rate for nine holes, less for seniors, and $5 for Youth on Course) while it does not provide any financial support for the course beyond a very modest water stipend.


- The course has always suffered in comparison to the other SF muni courses (Harding, Fleming, Lincoln, Sharp and GG Park) in terms of financial support from the City budget.  Gleneagles has been always forced to MacGyver solutions/fixes to problems and equipment (and rely on the charity of local private clubs), while the other five courses can get help from SF Rec & Park.


- The course (unlike the other five SF courses) is in an economically challenged area of the city, so not a place you'd just casually visit for a round of golf.


- The course has TWO full time course employees.  Yes, TWO.  That is all that is possible under the course financial budget.  How does that number compare to the other SF courses?


- The course benefits greatly from the generosity of local private clubs and their superintendents, and
also benefits from the generosity of architects like Brett Hochstein and George Waters (in his pre-USGA days).


- SF Park & Rec has never had any interest in Gleneagles and in fact they'd probably be just as happy with it being an unmaintained patch of green grass or something like a mountain biking facility.  Just look at the old putting greens adjacent to Stern Grove or Moscone Park to see what SF Rec & Park thinks about golf.


- Since the days of Mayor Ed Lee (a big supporter of public golf and Gleneagles in particular), no person in SF government has cared one bit about Gleneagles.  All credit to the late EdL and Tom Hsieh for all they have done to keep Gleneagles alive and a fun place to play over the past 40+ years.


It is a wonder that Gleneagles is still open in the face of all of the above.  Players laud the conditions (the greens are amazing) while recognizing that they aren't playing a CCFAD course with $100+ green fees and conditions to match. 


What could Gleneagles be like if the City of SF gave it $1 million per year for maintenance/improvements?  IMO it would be a world class 9-hole course!


Hope all on this board will visit and enjoy the course whenever in SF.  The 19th hole is world class...the course (especially the greens) is a treat.
Thanks Kevin for the insights, very informative. 2 full time employees?  Relying on charity from local private clubs?  Muni golf needs more NLT and Save Sharps Park type initiatives. Sad to have to basically perform CPR on them to keep them alive, I feel golf is a public good to offer recreation for the public. Parks, waterfronts, basketball/tennis courts don't generate income so to provide a modest budget to keep the course playable is needed.  In general, regrettably many parks and recreation departments in big cities now are shadows of their former selves.
"To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice your gifts."
- Steve Prefontaine

Matt Schoolfield

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Does Tom Hsieh still operate the course. Does he hold the current lease?
Yea, Tom still operates it and holds the lease. He plays in the tournaments pretty frequently as well. Ultimately all decisions are his.

I am not sure what, if anything, can be done to make the course more accessible for beginners and high-handicap players. That is a pretty severe property. The only thing I can think of is turning all the par-4s and 5's into a couple of par-3's and making the property an 18-hole par-3 course, with holes ranging from 100 to 150 yards.   
I've already mapped out tee locations for a par three course on the existing course on my computer (with interesting approaches, but keeping all tees visible to the back tees, and out of the way of the main landing zones to prevent them becoming too damaged, not that that really matters on a course where people play preferred lies). Again, however, if that's not something Tom wants to do, then it's not going to happen.

If the course used this routing in lieu of closing, I'm certain the holes would be far enough away from each other for mixed uses (although I'm also sure the liability there would make such a proposition impossible).

Insofar as a par three course to shrink the footprint, that would be fairly easy. Only the north-side of the course is severe. The south-side is effectively flat, and I think a nine hole short course could be built on #3-#6 section of the property (again, mostly flat).

With regards to setting up a warm-up cage, you might want to check with the USGA. I would think they can offer some guidance on how to do that.
Again, if that's something Tom wanted to do, the club would do all the work and make it happen. I'll definitely talk to the Club Officers about having a discussion with him.

Do you have any idea how much revenue the course has been generating for the Park & Rec Dept?
I do not unfortunately. My understanding is that the revenue isn't the important metric. When you look at the extremely limited availability at Lincoln, Harding, and with the renovation at GGP, it's hard to look at Gleneagles as anything short of unacceptable. I rave about the club because of the architecture, and the bar is genuinely the best 19th hole I've ever been in (it literally has regulars from the neighborhood), but without some serious investment, I think the only way to increase the play is by educating the public about the how challenging/interesting the course is, despite it's poor maintenance... however I think most of the muni players in the city are more into green-is-good augustification and are not interested in thought-provoking architecture that intentionally sends a middle-of-the-fairway fade careening off a ridge into trouble.

I always push for muni facilities to do double duty to serve the neighborhood, and that bar isn't serving all the people it should be. If I were in charge, and had a bit of money, the very first thing I would do is to connect the clubhouse to McLaren, so people could park in the overflow lot outside the course to access the park via the Clubhouse. I would also add access to the Excelsior neighborhood via a staircase/crosswalk to Russia Ave, and add a pedestrian entrance and crosswalk to Crocker-Amazon Park. The fact that all the folks at the soccer fields don't retire to the clubhouse after their games is a waste, but again most people don't know this place exists. Hikers are often turned away as they try to access the park through by walking by the clubhouse. AFAIK, the only way to improve fairway conditions would be reclaimed water, and that would be effectively impossible given the topography, unless the city decided to invest in reclaimed irrigation for San Bruno/McLaren/Bayview/Candlestick, but who knows.
« Last Edit: December 15, 2023, 01:59:05 PM by Matt Schoolfield »
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Brett Hochstein

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Thanks for all the discussion of Gleneagles here. It's a wonderful place, very cool golf course worth its salt, and one of the best hangouts anywhere. 


The issues are well-told, especially by Kevin. Another point though about the reclaimed water possibilities--I recall Tom discussing some crazy San Francisco law that gives the City ownership of all water both below AND above ground.  It would be very easy to create a little reservoir off the right of number 2 to catch runoff and supply irrigation for the early part of summer, but you would still have to pay the same high City water prices. So there's no point.


I've done some formal/informal consulting with Tom over the years, and like many I've spent a ton of time thinking about what is best for the place to help it survive into the future.  I truly grapple with it, because the answer is probably renovating and re-imagining it in a way that likely ends up losing a lot of what makes the place special in the first place--the difficulty of the architecture, the legend of its regular players, the rare authenticity of the "10th" hole hangout, and the overall "dive bar course" feel to the place. As Matt says, there probably needs some more community/park connection, and that'll be hard to achieve without disrupting the current community of golfers. It's tough, and that's why the course, among many other factors, is in its current predicament.


I actually have a bunker renovation/tree management plan for the course mostly completed buried away in my office, in addition to the perspective sketches up on my website, but after some 6 or 7 years of sitting on it, I don't even know if what I envisioned then is the exact right thing for the place, even if doing it super cheaply (the only way to do anything out there). It's special as it is, but it also can't survive as it is. And the remedies, like my plans, are no guarantee to change that unless solving some of the other underlying conditions of water, politics, and place. I will continue offering help wherever I can, but those items are undoubtedly large and beyond me.
"From now on, ask yourself, after every round, if you have more energy than before you began.  'Tis much more important than the score, Michael, much more important than the score."     --John Stark - 'To the Linksland'

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Richard Hetzel

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 I am hoping to play it when I take a "month long golf sabatical" in May of 2025. Hopefully it's still around and accessible. I can only imagine how much that land is worth should the City decide sell it instead of keeping it as green space.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2023, 10:15:36 AM by Richard Hetzel »
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Matt Schoolfield

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If anyone is interested, I've started my series on the course's architecture. It focuses on Hole 1 & 10. I figured I might share it here with professional architects, as I'm just a golf nerd. If I've gotten anything obviously wrong, feel free to let me know:

Gleneagles GC at McLaren Park #1 & #10: A deep dive into the architecture that makes this intimidating opening hole so interesting
« Last Edit: January 10, 2024, 03:12:19 PM by Matt Schoolfield »
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