The History of Lincoln Park Golf Course
Check out the Lincoln Park scorecard from the 1960s from Ken Harrington's private collection. Note that it reflects the time when #3 was a dogleg par 4. Also note the length given for #1. (Where was that tee?) In those days, and until the 1990s, the current #12 played as #2, and vise versa. Note also Condition of Play #8. And then note the handicap strokes awarded on 16 & 17. And follow through to figure out how that happened. (Hint: it has something to do with length.)
And now, back to our regular programming:
At the turn of the 20th century there were no municipal golf courses in San Francisco or, for that matter, in any of the surrounding communities. However by 1902 golf was fast gaining popularity, and many private golf and country clubs were starting. The general public, who did not have access or were unable to afford the country club setting for golfing recreation, began to press the City to set aside some public land to be groomed as a public golf course.
In 1902 the parcel of land now referred to as Lincoln Park was a cemetery, which was named Potter’s Field. Like many cemeteries of that era, it was ethnically divided into various sections. What is presently the eighteenth fairway of the golf course was a burial ground, primarily for the city’s Italian community. The area that now constitutes the first and thirteenth fairway was the Chinese section of the cemetery and the high terrain at the fifteen fairway and thirteenth tee was a Serbian resting place.
At the beginning of 1902 two men, Jack Neville and Vincent Whitney, approached John McLaren, San Francisco’s steward of public parks in the early century, about the prospect of constructing a municipal golf course. Jack Neville at the time was a member of the recently formed Claremont Country Club in Oakland and was considered one of the finest amateur golfers in the country in the early part of the century. Vincent Whitney was a member of the Olympic Club and owned the Whitney Building, which stood for years on lower Geary Street. Both of these men were wealthy members of private clubs but were very instrumental in starting San Francisco’s first municipal golf course.
John McLaren suggested that the Potter’s Field site would be a good place for the city and for Neville and Whitney to try their hand at constructing some golf holes. At the time golf was still considered a game to be played on links land as near to the ocean as possible, and Potter’s Field, despite it being an existing cemetery, was considered a good site. By the end of 1902 a three hole layout was completed on the hilly, windswept, and almost treeless land. These three holes occupied what is presently the first, twelfth and thirteenth holes of the modern course.
The new links proved to be very popular and for six years it remained a three hole layout, which was free to the public. During this time Tom McHugh became the first City greenskeeper maintaining the grounds that made up the three hole loop. By 1909 the three hole loop was no longer satisfactory and more holes were deemed necessary. At that time the City requested that Neville and Whitney return and construct three more golf holes, which were located where the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth holes are presently.
During 1909 the Board of Supervisors by legislative action approved the complete removal of the cemetery and further construction continued on the public golf course on the Potter’s field site. In an historical news account filed by Raymond Bartlett on December 19, 1915 in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle he states: “In 1909 the ground occupied by the present course was the abiding place of the City’s dead. By a resolution of the Board of Supervisors the ground was turned over to the Park Commission. The tract then embraced 150 acres. (At a later date) Fifty acres were turned over to the United States government and added to the Fort Miley reservation, while the balance was kept to be improved for the enjoyment of the public. In the same year in which the cemetery was removed the Park Commissioners surveyed a course plan for (a full) eighteen holes, following a plan suggested by some of the foremost experts of the country."
Among the experts consulted were Neville and Whitney, who went to work on designing the fourth, fifth, and sixth holes. These holes occupied what now makes up the fourteenth and fifteenth holes, the practice fairway and the eighteenth green. San Francisco now boasted a nine hole public layout with nine more holes on the drawing board.
The name Lincoln Park was designated by the Board of Supervisors in 1909 as a dedication to President Lincoln, and there was no fee to play the course. Lincoln Park was subsequently expanded to ten holes in 1914. It was not until early 1917 that Lincoln Park became a full 18 holes, and it was at this point that the first City golf tournament was played at the Lincoln Park Golf Course. The first winner was Fitzgerald Marks, the second winner Eddie O’Brien, followed by the third winner, Sam Colon Jr., who went on to become one of the City’s most well-known players and also one of the finest amateur players in the country. Lincoln Park still serves today as one of the sites for the SF City Championship.
Lincoln Park existed as the only municipal golf course in San Francisco for a period of twenty-three years. During this period of time the course underwent no less than six remodels. Under the auspices of John McLaren, himself an immigrant from Scotland, the work to improve Lincoln Park into a stern and interesting test of golf came at the hands of Herbert Fleishacker. The original Lincoln Park clubhouse was completed in 1922 and Mayor Rolph attended the dedication ceremony, praising both McLaren and Fleishacker for their efforts on behalf of public recreation. During the 1920s, the cost to play at Lincoln Park was $ 2.00 p/month. In 1923 Lincoln Park was chosen as the site for the Legion of Honor Museum, an art museum, philanthropically financed by the Spreckles family. It was built to honor the American solders who lost their lives in the Great War, World War I. The construction of the Legion of Honor did however result in further remodeling to the course.
By the 1920s golf was fast becoming a popular game. The number of players desiring to play exceeded capacity during daylight hours and another city golf course to the south was on the drawing board. The numerous renovations have added an interesting element to a course, that was once a burial ground and is presently the surrounding home of a beautiful art museum. Lincoln Park Golf Course, at Lands End in San Francisco with its majestic views of the Golden Gate and the Pacific Ocean that rival any of the Monterrey golf courses, has always been a beautiful public asset to be treasured.