Measuring in at an imposing 673 yards, the 18th hole at Lake Chabot Golf Course seems, at first glance, like an act of course-design cruelty. There's a catch, though: it's a par 6. The extra stroke, combined with the hole's all-downhill orientation, turns the titanic track into a surprising birdie opportunity.
This final hole caps a breathtaking four-hole finishing sequence that rides the high ground, offering gorgeous vistas without sacrificing course play. At 259 yards, the 15th hole dazzles with tee-box views of San Francisco, Oakland, and the Bay Bridge, but its greatest gift to golfers is a high-risk chance to drive the green (pro tip: keep your driver in the bag; there's less room than you think).
Alongside the championship course, Lake Chabot unfurls a 9-hole, par-3 layout for golfers seeking a shorter round. Shaded by towering trees, the course arcs over the same elevation changes that shape its 18-hole counterpart. Before rounds at either layout, it's not a bad idea to warm up at the driving range and putting green. The Spanish-style clubhouse is also home to the Chabot Cafe, where guests can replenish and enjoy sandwiches artfully skewered with golf tees.
Championship Course at a Glance:
Golf legends Johnny Miller and Fred Bliss teamed up to design the course at Metropolitan Golf Links, and were rewarded with numerous accolades, such as the 2010 ELGA Chapter Award for Public Facilities from the GCSA of Northern California and Golf Digest. To achieve their links-style vision, the golf gurus incorporated the natural contours of the land and covered the terrain with omnipresent sand traps and modern turf hybrids. The result whisks golfers around a labyrinthine layout complete with straightaways, doglegs, and double doglegs, each made more difficult by heavy breezes that blow in from San Francisco Bay, which can disrupt shots and ground scorecard paper airplanes.
Course at a Glance:
Though Metropolitan Golf Links sometimes features a discounted price online, this Groupon still offers the best deal available.
While idly discussing the prospect of creating a miniature-golf course festooned with elaborate art installations, Michael Taft realized that he couldn’t think of a single putt-putt course in the Bay Area. Fast-forwarding to his retirement plan of owning a small business, Taft snapped up an abandoned video store and enlisted artistic friends and local craftspeople to make his dream a reality. Subpar Miniature Golf’s map of handcrafted holes has players putting their way through Bay Area landmarks, including an Altamont Pass windmill and the Golden Gate Bridge, tricked out with loop-the-loops. A sprawling, hand-drawn mural wraps its way around the room, depicting scenes of NoCal life and tricking gullible coyotes into trying to sprint through the walls.
Subpar Miniature Golf’s ever-growing arcade area keeps button-smashers busy with vintage pinball machines and a pair of air-hockey tables, contributing to Taft's dream of turning the space into a family institution and community fixture. As he told the San Francisco Chronicle, "Every once in a while, you'll hear a giant cheer in the back by a group that sunk a (great) putt. It makes me feel really good, like 'We did that. That's us.'"
Mare Island Golf Club, whose 1892 founding makes it one of the oldest courses in the country, attracts golfers with breathtaking island scenery. Built near old Marine barracks, the course—which wasn't expanded into an 18-hole layout until 2000—originally sported sand greens, dry fairways, and a cast of unusual inhabitants including a Marine lieutenant's horse, who was drawn to the grounds by career aspirations of becoming a golf cart.
Today, the par-70 course begins with nine traditional, tree-lined holes before opening up on the back nine with a links-style layout designed by renowned Pacific Rim architect Robin Nelson. As golfers swing toward distant greens, views of San Pablo Bay and—on a clear day—the Golden Gate Bridge appear from certain vantages and sand-trap oases.
To perfect a backswing or spell out a marriage proposal with golf balls, players head to the 225-yard driving range with a bucket of balls. Patrons should arrive at least 20 minutes before tee times and can grab a bite in the restaurant or look for one of the 10 ammunition bunkers scattered throughout the course, which serve as a reminder of its connection to the military during World War I and II.
Golf legend Arnold Palmer, known in the cleated world as the King and winner of the PGA Tour's Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, designed the undulating ryegrass fairways at Hiddenbrooke Golf Club. Ranked as one of Golf Digest’s Readers’ Choice Top 50 Public Courses in 2009, the course unfolds scenic views of rolling hills as players give their balls detailed directions, hand them compasses and trail mix, and send them hiking toward the pin. The 12th hole’s pin challenges orbs with one of the toughest locations on the course, and eight sand bunkers guard three sides of the 18th hole’s green. After working up a sweat, swingers can remove their gloves and Kevlar vests and celebrate or commiserate their score at The Grille, where diners gaze out over the greens while munching sandwiches and quaffing beer.
Course at a Glance: