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The San Francisco City: 100 Years Worth Immortalizing

The San Francisco City: 100 Years Worth Immortalizing

January 22, 2016


Six-time San Francisco City Champion Gary Vanier

By Brian Murphy

Hundreds of years ago, tapestries were commissioned to depict epic events; yards and yards of thread woven on a loom to tell tales of ancient conquests and odysseys.

You know what needs its own modern-day tapestry?

“The City.”

The San Francisco City Golf Championships will be played for the 100th consecutive year this winter. It is believed to be the longest uninterrupted golf competition in the world, and the stories and names and lore of “The City” belong on a tapestry, icons and images spun on a loom, weaving tales worthy of generations.

“The City” is a patchwork of stories and anecdotes, of conquerors and vanquished, of bad lies and mud, of roast turkey sandwiches at the old Benny’s Restaurant.

If we commissioned this tapestry, hundreds of years from now, scholars would study the iconography surrounding 10-time women’s champion Sally Voss Krueger; or would pour over the symbols denoting the epic 1956 match between future U.S. Open champion and native son Ken Venturi and the charismatic defending champion and amateur legend E. Harvie Ward; or trace the trajectories of the massive drives from City legend Frank Mazion.

The tapestry would somehow denote Mother Nature’s role in “The City,” artwork symbolizing rain and fog and wind. It would artfully display the old use of temporary greens in stormy climes; it would tell the story of Harding Park’s layout, of Gary Vanier’s record six men’s championships, of working-class players in blue jeans playing country club players in Pine Valley logoed gear, where white collar meets blue collar.

I love this idea.

If only we could start a GoFundMe to pay for it, and if only we knew any Benedictine monks with years of spare time on their hands to do the work.

6df847929f803f98cb07f2e96f8e5714Happy 100th birthday to “The City,” golf at its most raw and honest.

As the golf writer for the San Francisco Chronicle from 2001 through 04, I was privileged to cover four Cities at dear old Harding Park. Here’s what I remember:

  • Two-time champion Jim Evans pondering a temporary green on No. 15 in the 2001 City, a ragged arc of white spray paint encircling a gopher hole masquerading as the cup, and saying: “I’ve had out-of-body experiences on those temporary greens where I feel like I’m in Scotland in the 1700s.”
  • Voss Krueger, the 10-time women’s champion, homing in on her ninth title in 2004, closing out her title by pulling 6-iron out of her bag on No. 11 tee, and jarring it on the fly. Ace, match.
  • That same year, former USGA presidents and Northern California golf royalty, bucket-hatted Sandy Tatum and Grant Spaeth, in their blue USGA jackets, serving as walking rules officials. “Walking that first fairway with some of the most important people in the game,” said eventual champ Steve Sparolini, “I could only think: This is very important.”
  • A match in which a ponytailed, blue-jeans-wearing player—who shall remain nameless, for 5th Amendment purposes—fell behind early. His caddie, a shaggy-haired blonde gent who seemed to tumble out of Jeff Spicoli’s VW bus from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” took a particular interest in my notebook and journalism, in general, asking questions about the free press in surfer-laden accents. His player fell behind early, though, and I left the match. Catching up with them on No. 15, the surfer caddie spied me across the fairway with a broad grin and indicated with a thumbs up that his man had turned the tide, taking the lead. What had happened? Suffice to say, the caddie whispered to me, he urged his loop a quick duck into the woods behind the 6th tee, proffered a match, a quick puff or two from some leaf now sold at medical clubs on Market Street, and his player relaxed mightily. He won the match.
  • Covering the 2002 British Open at Troon, a Shakespearean storm blasted the ancient links. Howling gusts, a biting cold, rain in your face like needles. Even Lear might have stayed inside with a hot cup of tea on this one. And yet, the players played (it was the weather that derailed Tiger Woods’ Grand Slam bid, an 81 setting him tumbling from the lead), and somehow, Napa’s own Scott McCarron stood tall in the tempest, shooting a magnificent 72. He entered the Royal and Ancient Golf Club’s press center, shook the dampness off his rain gear, sat down at the dais, shuddered from the chill and said with a smile: “Man. It felt like a San Francisco City Championship out there.”

A half a world away, The City loomed.

All images and memories ripe for the tapestry.

Here’s to another 100 years of “The City.”

Author: Scott Seward

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