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  • Writer's pictureMason Reed

#32 Olympic, #33 San Francisco (Top 100 ranks 60 and 23, respectively).

Technically my plan was to start The 90Project in 2024. So these two were a preview of sorts, to getting a few things done. Like deciding if I wanted to use my "good" camera or my iPhone to take pictures. And just how complicated it is to get on private golf courses. I've heard that only about 20 people have completed the top 100 and it makes sense for so many reasons. At the most basic level, you need time, money and connections. 80 of the courses are private. But there's more to it. When people have time to accommodate you on a private golf course may not be when you are able to do it (and vice versa). Travel problems happen. Weather happens. And frankly, many hard core golfers would rather play at their home course or take a group trip to epic destinations. Setting out to play these courses takes an amazing amount of commitment and coordination - and sometimes (but hopefully not all of the time) you may need to play by yourself or with some not-particularly-warm hosts.

It didn't take getting too deep into The 90Project to realize that any time you can pick off more than one course on a single trip it's a huge win. This was one of those cases. I had plans to be at Cal Club in the fall of 2023 with a couple of co-conspirator golf sickos: John Handley and Ryan Van Pelt. Ryan had just been on a golf trip with a SFGC member who we will call "Bob." Bob agreed to fly out to SF to take us out to SFGC and he also joined us at Cal. This was a massive win because SFGC is not the easiest golf course to get on. It's known for it's low-key vibe and not being particularly welcoming to outsiders, something that I think is a serious misperception. More on that in a second.

But first, Olympic. Olympic is an institution in SF. If you can believe it, they have 12,000 members though only a small subset have golf privileges. The golf course has hosted all kinds of big events and is particularly suited for USOpen style tournaments. A recent update from Gil Hanse had the members buzzing. The place felt like a golf factory. The course is very beautiful - long, hilly and covered in iconic cypress trees. But it's worth noting that I am a huge sucker for California golf. It's my favorite (Pasatiempo, Cal Club, LACC, Riviera and anything on the Monterey Peninsula). I played with three strangers who were cordial, but didn't seem particularly interested in anything about me, my golf or this project. They were kind enough to give me the lay of the land around Lake Merced and let me know as they pointed out SFGC the old joke that "Olympic members work for SFGC members." All of my fellow golfers left immediately when the round was over - I packed up my stuff and headed down to the Cal Club where I knew I'd be welcomed with open arms and offered a drink before my bags hit the floor.

The next morning we met Bob and another member at SFGC. This was definitely one of those "don't take pics, don't use your phone" kind of places. Which to be fair, is good behavior when you show up at any private golf club. After all, it's someone else's place and you should be a deferential guest not an entitled, unrefined turd. SFGC's reputation is a place that is not particularly welcome to guests - like, you won't be sitting around afterward having a bunch of beers and yucking it up with other members. Two things immediately stuck out to me: one was that our hosts couldn't be nicer, more welcoming hosts. They were kind, fun, funny and gracious. So that contradicted the club reputation. Second was something I learned from good pal and golf course critic Andy Johnson - he said SFGC is simply not a social club from a cultural perspective (by contrast, Cal Club is 180 degrees different). This was simple but revealing. They just have a different culture, but they aren't unwelcoming. It's an important nuance. We played our round, the course was amazing, we bought some stuff at the pro shop and we left. No pictures*, no beers, no nothing. But my fondest memory was playing with our two amazing hosts and good pal Ryan Van Pelt. I suspect that throughout The 90Project a theme is going to pop up over and over about how much good company can enhance the golf experience. I already knew this, but I'm much more aware of it now.


*Oops that's a lie. I have one pic. Taken while I went to the bathroom. Don't tell anyone.

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