Daly City, Calif. – One year after Willie Lock’s design of Lake Merced Golf Club opened for official play, Gene Sarazen, one of five golfers to complete the career Grand Slam, took on British Open champion Arthur Havers in an exhibition match there.
That competition set in motion Lake Merced’s devotion to hosting elite competitions, starting with the 1930 Northern California Junior Championship, which eventually became the Northern California Golf Association Junior Championship, an event played at Lake Merced annually for more than 50 years. Future major champions Bob Rosburg, Ken Venturi and Johnny Miller all played in the competition at Lake Merced.
In 1941, the LPGA Tour’s first event in California was held at Lake Merced. The San Francisco Women’s Match Play was claimed by Hall of Famer Babe Didrikson Zaharias. The 2009 California Amateur and 2009 NCAA Division I West Regional were also held at Lake Merced.
For several decades, Lake Merced has served as a host site for U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and more recently, Women’s Open sectional qualifying.
And in 1990, Lake Merced hosted the U.S. Junior Amateur, which was won by 17-year-old Matthew Todd, but is perhaps remembered more for who didn’t win: a 14-year-old by the name of Tiger Woods. It’s the only Junior Amateur Woods entered that he failed to win, as he claimed three consecutive titles from 1991-93, then went on to win three consecutive U.S. Amateurs (1994-96) as well as three U.S. Opens (2000, 2002 and 2008).
So it’s only fitting that Lake Merced would invite the USGA back for the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, which will be conducted July 16-21. The Girls’ Junior is part of an exceptional two months for San Francisco golf. Lake Merced has a U.S. Open sectional qualifier on June 4, while The Olympic Club plays host to its fifth U.S. Open June 14-17.
“It seems extraordinary to me that we are having two of the 13 [national] championships being conducted [by the USGA] a mile from each other,” said Lake Merced president Karl Lytz at media day for the U.S. Girls’ Junior on May 1. “More importantly, it speaks to the dedication of the people who play this game [here in the Bay Area] and support the game’s values through the courses and financial contributions that make all these things possible.”
At 6,291 yards, the par-72 Lake Merced layout is sure to test the 156 competitors, said Donna Mummert, the director of the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship. The course is expected to play firm and fast with green speeds between 11 and 11½ feet on the Stimpmeter and 2½-inch rough. The course has no water hazards, but it features plenty of tree-lined fairways and rolling topography that forces golfers to hit approaches to several elevated greens.
“When people see there are no lakes or ponds to carry, they think this should be a pretty easy course,” said Mummert. “That’s not necessarily the case. Course management will be the key for the players. You have to be on the correct side of the fairway and picking the right approach to the green with the challenging [green] complexes. But good shots will be rewarded. And the course is in excellent condition.”
One issue the players may face in July is fog. The marine layer can roll in at a moment’s notice. The unpredictable nature of the weather could create unique challenges, especially for those competitors who don’t have much experience with it.
Course superintendent Zach Ohsann said the fog will be “the most challenging aspect for the players. It can provide heavy moisture and you’ll see temperature changes.”
Although World Golf Hall of Famer and five-time USGA champion Juli Inkster never played a competition at Lake Merced, she has played the layout on numerous occasions.
“It’s not only the fog,” said Inkster, winner of three consecutive Women’s Amateurs (1980-82) and two U.S. Women’s Opens (1999 and 2002), “but the fast, undulating greens. It’s sidehill [lies] and downhill [lies], the overhanging trees. It’s got everything wrapped up into one place. The person who wins this championship is going to be very good at course management, a ball-striker and a good putter, so you’re going to have an all-around champion.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer. Email him at email@example.com.