One of the longest-running amateur tournaments in the nation commences this month with the 107th playing of the San Francisco City Golf Championships.
First played in 1917, the City has withstood two World Wars, a Great Depression, a global pandemic and 19 U.S. Presidents, making it one of the longest consecutively contested amateur tournaments in America.
With roughly 600 players annually, The City is also one of the last large municipal tournaments in the country. The competition takes place at TPC Harding Park and The Presidio Golf Course over four weekends and with quarterfinal and semifinal matches being contested on the same day, followed a day later with a 36-hole final, The City is one of the most grueling amateur tournaments in existence today.
Even though players are often times faced with wet and soggy conditions which come with a Northern California winter, the ball is always played down regardless of the weather, keeping with a longtime tournament tradition.
The City has also been a springboard for many amateurs who have gone on to play professionally. Past Champions include U.S. Open Champion Ken Venturi, PGA Champion Bob Rosburg, Masters Champion George Archer and U.S. Women’s Open Champion Juli Inkster, although winners of the championship flight also include firemen, bartenders, airport baggage handlers and stock brokers.
Its long history is as zany, eclectic and diverse as the city which bears its name. Players have turned to fisticuffs to settle their differences, alcohol to calm their nerves and plastic garbage bags to keep them dry.
Here are the Top 10 Things to Know about the San Francisco City Golf Championships.
• • • • •
1. Ken Venturi and Harvey Ward
The San Francisco City Golf Championship was first played in 1917 when Woodrow Wilson occupied the White House and has been played every year thereafter, making it one of the longest consecutively contested amateur tournaments in America. With roughly 600 players annually, The City is also one of the last large municipal tournaments in the country.2.
The City is played at San Francisco’s historic TPC Harding Park while the qualifying rounds were held at the Presidio Golf Course, one of the oldest courses on the West coast. The Championship divisions play all match-play rounds at Harding Park. Open Flights play at scenic Presidio with semi-finalists advancing to Harding Park for the final weekend of the Championship.3.
Past champions of The City include 1964 US Open Champion Ken Venturi, 1999 US Women's Open Champion Julie Inkster, and 1969 Masters Champion George Archer. Major champions Tom Watson, Johnny Miller and Bob Rosburg also took participated in The City during their formative years, but failed to win the championship.
Gary Vanier, an ex-Stanford player who has won the men’s championship a record six times, and Sally Krueger, who is the most successful player in the history of the City Championship. She has won the women’s title an incredible ten times.
"Most every winner of The City will say it is a tournament that you’ll never forget as a champion and the most important event to win in Northern California," said 1999 champion and NCGA Hall of Famer Randy Haag
4. 1963 champions George Archer and Jan Ferraris
The City is one of the most grueling of all municipal amateur championships. Spread out over four weekends, two rounds of stroke play cut the field to the 64 players who compete in match play. The Round of 64 will be conducted on Saturday, March 18, with the Round of 32 and 16 matches held the following day. The quarterfinal and semifinal matches are held on March 25 followed by the 36-hole final the next day. In addition to scratch flights for men, women and seniors, there are multiple net flights for higher-handicap players.5.
The beauty of the San Francisco City Golf Championships is often found in the stark contrast of each opponent as they stand on the first tee ready to do battle. After all, this is the tournament where bartenders, police officers and firemen have tangled with the country club elite in memorable clashes of rolled-up corduroys and customed tailored trousers. Most recent champions have been up-and-coming high school players, competitive collegians and an occasional mid-amateur., including last year's SF City
champion Michael Jensen
, a longtime member and former club champion at The Olympic Club who caddied for Colt Knost when he claimed the 2007 U.S. Amateur at Olympic, reached the semifinals of the 1993 City against a man nicknamed "Scarecrow." “He played in overalls, a flannel long-sleeve shirt and a straw hat. And he beat me,” told PGATour.com. “That’s the greatness of The City Championship.”
6. Weather is always a factor in The City
The City is conducted on San Francisco's public courses during the wet and cold of Northern California's winter and because of the large field and firm schedule, doesn't take a break for rain, wind or water-logged fairways and greens. And the ball is always played down.
Haag shares this story from the late '80s. "Back during El Nino, it was raining so hard on us at Lincoln Park during qualifying. There was a putt on the par three third hole and there was so much rain on the green that there was water coming up out of the cup, our putts would go in the cup and the current of water would then push the balls back out of the cup. I've never seen anything so crazy. We counted balls that went into the cup, and then after a few seconds were pushed up and out."
“The one thing I remember about the City was they would never call play,” Johnny Miller once told The San Francisco Chronicle. “If there was a half-inch of water on the green, you would chip it with a 7-iron or 8-iron and wait for the ball to sink into the hole.”
Participants remember seeing the late Sandy Tatum, the former USGA president who led the revitalization of TPC Harding Park, carrying his bag through the rain. "Sandy Tatum is a member at Cypress Point, a Rhodes Scholar, a lawyer, and a partner at one of the top firms in San Francisco. It’s raining cats and dogs and he’s qualifying for the championship flight. That’s how much the tournament means to people,” San Francisco golf historian Bo Links told PGATour.com in 2020.7.
One of The City's greatest moments came in 1956, when Ken Venturi and E. Harvie Ward, two of the world's top two amateurs at the time, met in the final before an estimated 10,000 followers at Harding Park. Ward was the reigning U.S. Amateur champion and less than a month later, Venturi would finish runner-up at the Masters. The finalists were good friends and both were salesmen for San Francisco car dealer Eddie Lowery. Venturi, whose parents Fred and Ethyl ran the Harding pro shop for years, defeated Ward, 5 and 4, garnering large, bold-type headlines the next day on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle.
8. Presidio Golf Course
Players used to sign up at the Roos Atkins on Market Street in downtown San Francisco when the department store was the tournament’s sponsor. It wasn't uncommon for players to sleep overnight outside the store to ensure their spot in the field.9.
The top two flights in the Open Division named the "Venturi" and "Susko" respectively, are named for two of the tournaments' most popular competitors, Ken Venturi and John Susko, the latter of whom met an untimely death from Crohn's disease in 1983. Susko is remembered as a popular Lincoln Park golfer who won the City Championship in 1978 and 1980, won the Alameda Commuters in 1981, and participated in a number of National amateur events even with a condition that often sidelined him for weeks at a time.10.
Qualifying rounds have been moved from Lincoln Park Golf Course back to the meatier Presidio Golf Course, one of the oldest courses on the West coast which dates back to 1895. Before opening its doors for public play in 1997, The Presidio was a private club with both civilian and military membership. Its rolling terrain, tree-lined fairways, postage stamp-sized greens and trying weather conditions, make the Presidio one the toughest 6,400-yard layouts in golf and a true challenge for the heartiest of walkers.
Lawson Little, winner of two U.S. Amateurs and the 1940 U.S. Open, once said this about the Presidio: “I have played the best courses here and abroad, but none more enjoyable than my home course of Presidio. I learned how to strike the ball from every conceivable lie. Presidio demands accuracy, but being a long hitter, I also had to learn how to hook or fade around trees. I had the reputation of being a strong heavy-weather golfer; well, Presidio has powerful wind, rain, fog, sudden gusts, and sometimes all four on any given round.”
ABOUT THE San Francisco City Championship
*An NCGA Points Tournament*
**New Entry Procedure for 2024:
Registration opens for all players on
October 1. There will be 50 spots held for
players under the following
* The past 10 years of the San Francisco City
* 2023 San Francisco City Men’s
Match Play Qualifiers
* Top 20 men’s 2022-2023 NCGA Points
* 2023 NCGA Champions (Amateur, Mid-
* The top 3 finishers in each of the 6 AmateurGolf.com Winter
(Dec 2023-Feb 2024)
Registration for exempt players, and for non-
players with a handicap index
of 6.4 or lower
as of the date of
entry, opens on October 1 and will
open until the field limit (120 players including
reserved for exempt players)
is reached. When the field limit is reached, all
additional registrants will be entered in
pre-qualifier at Presidio Golf Club on Friday,
Once entries close, if there are any unfilled
the Men's Championship (due to
fewer than 50 exempt players registering
or withdrawals), they will be filled by Pre-
registrants in the order in which
Players entering pre-qualifying will pay an
of $165 for the pre-qualifier, and
advancing from the pre-qualifier will pay the
remainder of the entry fee (must be paid
prior to playing).
The 36-hole match play qualifier will be held
9-10, 2024, with
18 holes played at TPC Harding Park and 18
Course for a combined 36-hole qualifying
There will be 156 players in the qualifying
64 players advancing to match play. When all
qualifying has been completed, the Men’s
Championship Flight will consist of 64
In the event of a playoff to qualify for
player must be present in order to retain his
to participate in the playoff.
Match play will begin on March 16, 2024. All
match play for the Championship Flight (Mar
23-24) will be held
at TPC Harding Park.
A schedule of all dates of
play can be found on the tournament website
WITHDRAWALS AND REFUND
Players needing to withdraw should do so by
out the form at sfgolfchampionship.com/contact/
the entry deadline of February 19
refund of their entry fee minus
$50. There will be no refunds after the
The use of carts is prohibited for players and
in the Men’s Championship Flight (Appendix I
SPECIAL OFFER TO SF CITY PLAYERS:
players get 50% off Strackaline Yardage Books! CLICK HERE for
ABOUT THE SAN FRANCISCO CITY
The oldest municipal tournament in the USA.
play event with scratch men's, senior men’s,
women's, senior women’s, and open flight
Past champions include Ken Venturi, Harvie
Juli Inkster, Bob Rosburg, George Archer, and
Dorothy Delasin. Some of the “non winners”
Tom Watson and Johnny Miller. Click the
for more about this wonderful event.
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