Will Shanshan Feng defend her title?
Foghorn – Par 4, 413 yards: This is one heck of a wakeup call. Long and difficult, the first hole will force you to earn a par. The hole bends slightly left, and the green is well protected by a single bunker on the left side. On a clear day, you can see the Marin Headlands through the pine trees on the right side of the fairway as you approach the green. How to play it: The smart tee shot is down the right center, which opens up the green. The green itself will kick the ball a little to the left, and if the hole is cut in the back left part of the green, watch out: it is very fast!
Lakeview – Par 4, 376 yards: A dogleg right of modest length. Three fairway bunkers stand watch on the left side at the corner of the dogleg. The green can be treacherous, especially with a back left hole location. There is a significant hump in the middle of the green separating left from right. Don't get distracted by the view of Lake Merced in the background. Pay attention to yardage as the downhill second shot tends to play a bit shorter than the distance indicates. How to play it: Longer players can carry the tree branches on the right side. The optimal drive is in the right center of the fairway, which opens up the green, especially if the flag is back left. If the flag is there, a smart play is to slightly over - club and make sure you get past the hole to leave an uphill putt. If you get on the wrong side of the hump in the green, you are looking at a very difficul t two putt. Whatever you do, try to stay below the hole!
Pine Cone – Par 3, 164 y a rds: A downhill par three to a circular green with five different levels. Bunkers protect the green left and right. The hole does not play as long as it looks. How to play it: Hitting to the middle of the green is always a smart move. If the flag is left or right, don't be suckered into going for it. If you miss the green and are "short sided," it is a treacherous up and down. Any shot that comes up short of the green in front will be rejected down the hill and you will be looking at a challenging flop shot coming back. There are a thousand breaks in the green and putting uphill is a distinct advantage.
Expedition – Par 4, 405 yards: Members consider this the hardest hole on the course. It isn't called Expedition for nothing! The tee shot is uphill and semi blind and there is a fairway bunker about 220 yards out on the right that you cannot see from the tee. The seen shot is uphill to a severely sloping green that is guarded by a deep bunker in front. How to play it: Long and straight is the ticket off the tee. The trick is to avoid a sidehill or downhill lie for your second shot, which must travel uphill to a very fast green. Take enough club to get over the massive bunker in front of the green, but by all means leave yourself an uphill putt. This is a green you can putt right off if you are not careful!
Landfall – Par 4, 381 yards: A terrific driving hole. The tee shot on this dogleg left is downhill and there are two fairway bunkers on the right side. The green is well protected by bunkers left and right and a slope that falls off to the rear. How to play it: Off the tee, members usually aim at the Olympic Club's clubhouse which is visible in the distance. Longer players can cut the dogleg, but that involves risk - reward with the trees along the left side. The shot into the green is deceptive. If the hole is in front, playing just short is not a bad "miss," as you will be able to putt from the fringe. If the hole is back left, watch out. It is hard to get to and if you are left short - sided in the bunker, you may be looking at bogey, or worse.
Cypress – Par 5, 479 yards: This is a fairly docile par five. The hole is straightaway, with two fairway bunkers on the left side of the landing area. The green is well protected by six bunkers, and it can be very tricky. How to play it: Longer players can carry the fairway bunkers and get home in two. If you aren't going for the green, club down and make sure you stay short of the greenside bunkers. You will only have a wedge left to the green, and you need to make sure you stay on the correct side of the flag. Once on the green, you will notice a ridge that runs front to back. If the hole is back right, make sure you are on the right side of the ridge, and try and stay below the hole. Putting downhill on this green can be difficult.
MacKenzie – Par 4, 417 yards: This hole is named for Alister MacKenzie, who redesigned Lake Merced in 1929. This is one of the original fairways from the old course. The original hole was a dogleg right par five. The current hole is a long par four that moves right to left. The green has three distinct areas with ridges protecting each one. As with most other holes at Lake Merced, a smart player will stay below the hole, and will make sure to position his approach shot on the right side of the flagstick. How to play it: The tee shot calls for a slight draw. The approach shot needs to be hit with enough loft to enable the ball to stop once it reaches the green. Whatever you do, don't "short - side" yourself in the left bunker. It is a very difficult up and down.
Cork Oak – Par 3, 162 yards : A long par three with the most undulating green on the course. The "Sunday location" is back right, but members will tell you that the hardest spot is in the front of the green because it is hard to keep the ball below the hole. How to play it: Do not over - club. It is almost impossible to get up and down from above the hole. Although the right bunker is much deeper than the left, more pars are made from it. This is one hole that calls for your best shot no matter where the hole is cut.
Highway – Par 5, 518 yards: This is a short five par that runs parallel to Interstate 280. The hole doglegs to the left and you will be playing back to the clubhouse. Longer players can get home in two. The green is well protected by four large bunkers. How to play it: Off the tee, aim at the angled windows over the clubhouse bar. If you want to reach the green in two, stay down the right side, as it opens up the approach. If you are going to lay up, make sure to club down enough to take all of the bunkers out of play. The green is straightforward, but don't underestimate it. It doesn't tend to break as much as it looks.
Golden Gate – Par 4, 373 yards: A sporty opening to the back nine. The entire hole is visible from the tee, and you will note that a bunker guards the left side of the fairway. The driving range, behind the trees to the right, is out of bounds. The shot into the green is tight and the putting surface is protected by very deep bunkers left and right. How to play it: Stay out of t he sand, both off the tee and at the green. If the hole is cut to one side, take the hint and play for the middle of the green. Short siding yourself will almost certainly produce a bogey. The green slopes noticeably back to front, so stay below the hole.
Sea Breeze – Par 4, 381 yards: While this hole is short, it is perhaps the tightest tee shot on the course. The landing area is protected by two bunkers on the left and two short cypress trees on the right. The green is also well protected - deep bunkers guard it left and right. Don't be long, as the area behind the green falls away and you can kick out of bounds if you aren't careful. How to play it: The smart play off the tee is to leave yourself short of the sand and trees. If you do that, you will only have about a 7 - iron into the green. The more adventurous player will try to hit it past the trouble off the tee, which will leave only a wedge to the green. It is pure risk - reward: if you are successful, the approach will be noticeably easier; but if you fail, you will be scrambling for your life.
Plateau – Par 3, 154 yards: A mid - length one - shotter which requires a full carry to a plateau green. The bunkers left and right mean business: they are deep, and par is something you will have to work for. The green is fast, sloping and a thrill from every angle. How to play it: Take enough club and make sure you hit it on the screws. There is little room for a shot that is not hit correctly. Stay below the hole and don't get greedy. Par is a good score here.
Tightrope – Par 4, 376 yards: Another tight driving hole that offers rewards to a straight hitter. A fairway bunker protects the left side, and overhanging limbs the right. At about 200 yards , the fairway drops into a valley, and then extends uphill to the green, which is bunkered in the left front and on the right side. How to play it: Some players lay up with a fairway metal to ensure a flatter lie for their second shot. Longer hitters will try and drive the ball to the bottom of the valley, which leaves only a short wedge shot to the green. The rub is that the landing area is tight. Anything left or right may be blocked by trees and limbs and you could be punching your shot under the trouble. The green has some deceptive breaks, so be careful once you get there.
Elbow – Par 5, 475 yards: This is the easiest hole on the course. It is a short five par, a dogleg left that is reachable in two shots. Four bunkers on the right side of the landing area are a warning sign: don't go there! The green is also guarded by sand to the left, right, and rear. How to play it: Long and straight off the tee will leave a straightforward second shot. While the green is reachable, there is risk in the form of deep bunkers that guard it. If you are not going for the putting surface in two, consider hitting a club that will leave you short of the sand, so you can flip a lob wedge close for a makeable birdie putt.
Fortress – Par 3, 184 yards: For members, this is "the" hole. A long par three that requires great strength and great skill. The bunkers that protect the green are deep and difficult. The green itself is fast and treacherous. How to play it: The key to this hole is the tee shot. Do not be sucker e d by hole locations that are near the sand, for you will not be able to get up and down if you are short - sided. If the hole is in the front of the green, missing short is not bad at all because you will have a relati vely straightforward up and down. But if you are in the sand, or over the green, you have work to do.
Alcatraz – Par 4, 335 yards : A short par four that tempts the brave and rewards the skilled. Longer hitters can get close to the green, but for most players the tee shot will be hit with a fairway metal or long iron, and you will have only a pitching wedge into an intriguing putting surface that is guarded by four deep bunkers. The green here is severely banked, very fast, and absolutely maddening! How to play it: Players "going for it," may get close to the green, but they risk being out of position. If the flag is in the front of the green, a smarter play may be to lay back and hit a full wedge which one can stop close to the hole. Position here is everything, both off the tee and on the green. Make sure you are below the hole if you want to leave with four or less.
Hawk's Nest – Par 4, 382 yards: Another sporty four par. You will see the green in the distance from the tee. What you can't see is the steep dip in the fairway at 210 yards. Longer hitters will be able to drive to the bottom of the hill, from where they will have only a wedge to the green. If your drive does not reach the bottom, you may face a difficult stance for your second shot. The fairway is crowned, so any tee ball hit slightly left or right will kick into the rough. There are four bunkers (one left, three right) that you must negotiate off the tee, and another four await you around t he green. The green is banked back to front and there are three noticeable levels once you get there. How to play it: Straight shooting is the order of the day on this hole. Some players lay up to get a flatter lie for their second shot, but many players hit driver hoping to reach the bottom and a short approach. Stay short of the hole and make sure you are on the right level or else you will be scratching your head before and after you putt.
Riverbed – Par 5, 532 yards: A classic finish played through an old riverbed. The tee shot is downhill, and two bunkers guard the landing area. The fairway bends gently to the right and culminates in an uphill walk toward the clubhouse. Bunkers protect the green front right and on the left side, and two men acing cypress trees have limbs that will reach out and grab your golf ball if you give them half a chance. How to play it: Longer hitters (and few members!) can reach this green in two shots. Avoid the fairway bunkers off the tee and keep the second shot i n the fairway. Spinning the ball off the short grass is a must if you want to get your third shot close for a makeable birdie putt. The uphill approach shot plays longer than it looks. The green slopes back to front and the same rule applies here as else where at Lake Merced: stay below the hole.