Muni Mission Interviews Ken Harrington

Over the final weeks of 2018, I’ll be publishing a series of club member interviews. After asking many club members if they’d like to volunteer to be interviewed, Ken Harrington was first to respond - adding another first place finish to his already highly decorated playing career. Ken is a friend, a golf mentor, and a nutty professor, both on the golf course and off. Ken needs no real introduction in this intimate golf circle that we are all a part of, but if I were to announce him on the first tee, it would go something like this: “Now on the tee, from San Francisco, California, 10-time Club Champion, Course Record Holder, honorable club member, and perpetual supporter, Ken…HARRington.” Read on to hear about Harrington’s favorite hole at Lincoln Park, as well as his least favorite, some of his course strategies, and why he thinks that there’s no other muni quite like our Lincoln.

Muni Mission: How long have you been playing golf at Lincoln Park Golf Course?

Harrington: 45 years.

Muni Mission: Over that time, what has changed most, if anything at all, about the golf course?

Harrington: The condition has remained about the same - the course has never been in great shape. However, there have been three relatively major structural changes. There used to be a second bunker short of the green on #5. It was positioned short of the existing bunker but it stuck out a few yards more, so a shot that came up short could roll backwards and catch this bunker, leaving a terrifying long bunker shot that required 20 yards of carry over the existing bunker. It was quite penal because a poor second shot brought 7 or 8 into play (on the scorecard). Additionally, it provided an excellent aesthetic view from the tee, like a “church pew” look.

Secondly, there was a bunker on the front/left of hole #9, and it was long and slender. Also, given the steep slope it was on, and the generally unkempt nature of that particular bunker, any ball finding this hazard tended to roll backwards near the bottom of the trap, leaving a brutal long bunker shot to the existing green. The fee for finding this sand hazard was at least 5.

Lastly, Hole #16 had a beautiful pot bunker 30 yards short of the green on the left-hand side of the fairway, sort of near where the cart path begins heading to #17. If you did find this pot hole, any score was possible. But the best part was the amazing perspective it gave from the tee. It was visible thus added terror, but gave great site lines and illusion, a masterpiece of sorts.

I was sad when they took these three hazards out. I forget when this transpired - maybe mid-1980’s.

MM: What is your favorite hole to play at Lincoln Park GC?

Harrington: You may think I’m crazy, but my favorite hole to play is the 1st. It’s such a diabolical hole! It demands a well placed drive and perfect second shot, otherwise 5 or 6 is easily made to begin your round. I’ve always loved this aspect of our Lincoln. In the 2008 Twelve-Man Playoff against Contra Costa CC, Mr. Naoto De Silva made a natural 3 on this hole to beat their pro and send us to the finals at Poppy Hills. I was his partner that day, and I’l always remember that clutch birdie and that it happened on #1.

MM: Your least favorite hole to play at Lincoln Park GC?

Harrington: Under pressure my least favorite hole to play is the 3rd. I must admit in my younger days I made my share of triple bogeys. But it’s a great hole as there is ocean right and assorted demons to the left. John Susko always told me to hit a punch-draw low 5-iron, and to this day that’ smy shot when the heat is on. I’ve aced this hole once - back-left pin - and I used a 5-iron.

MM: We know you share the course record at Lincoln Park Golf Course. You shot a 60 nearly 30 years ago - an incredible feat given all the nuances and unpredictable elements at Lincoln Park. I’m sure you’ve recollected this round many times, but one thing that stands out in my mind, is that you made pars on the 10th and 11th holes during this round. For those that are familiar with our golf course, what would you say makes these holes difficult, despite how they appear on the scorecard?

Harrington: When I shot 60, holes 2 and 12 were switched from their current routing (so the course was par 33-35, instead of 34-34). I opened the round with five pars in a row, which was quite good by any standard. After birdies on 6, 7, and 9 to shoot three under par 30 on the front, I failed to birdie holes #10 and #11. The tenth is always harder than it looks because taking a run at the green brings the left trees into play, and laying up leaves a short wedge from a tight muddy lie. Coupled with the fact that I had birdied 6,7, and 9, making another birdie at #10 proved too difficult (pressure?). #11 is another great risk/reward hole, and on that day I could not get up and down from the thin downhill lie that houses most tee shots. The difficult lie accompanied with the geometry of the 2nd shot makes this hole much harder than the yardage reads. I’m proud of the birdies I made at 12, 13, 15, 16, and 18 to shoot 60, it was a fabulous finish to say the least. I almost aced 16 with a 4-wood, made a 15-foot par putt at 17, and an ‘across-the-green’ 45-footer at 18. Crazy. 60 scored for all 18 holes, ball down, back tees.

MM: What do you wish was different about Lincoln Park GC?

Harrington: Like most of us, I wish it was in better shape. If the greens could be made slick and quick, many holes would require a different set of strategies.

MM: To me, Lincoln Park Golf Course is very unique and unlike any other municipal golf course out there. To someone that has never been to San Francisco, what elements at Lincoln Park give it a unique Bay Area vibe?

Harrington: From most every hole you can see the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco Bay, or the City itself. The views are legendary and hard to top. I’ve never seen a course that has ‘seaside ocean energy’ amongst trees, with city views. There is nothing like our Lincoln.

MM: What can the Lincoln Park Golf Club do to attract new players?

Harrington: This is a tough one. In the 1970’s we had 153 members, and it’s been dwindling for the past 40 years. Many of our city’s golfers prefer Harding or Presidio - the conditions at Lincoln along with the executive par 68 often act as deterrents. Naoto has done an outstanding job as President - I’m sure all avenues have been investigated. You’d need 100% cooperation from the pro shop along with someone hanging out at the course on weekend mornings to greet and meet golfers. I’m not sure what else can be done. All of us that have been long time members always ask our friends and co-workers to join, and this is the main reason we are still valid with 65 members.

MM: In general, I feel that many golfers don’t drink enough water or consume enough food/snacks while they play 18 holes. Do you have a favorite food item to carry with you in your golf bag?

Harrington: I always carry water, one banana, and one power bar. Sometimes a hard boiled egg.

MM: What characteristic do you have that serves you best on the golf course during a competitive round? Can you give us your most treasured piece of advice that you take with you each time you play golf?

Harrington: Under the gun I think positively and remain serene. Focus, calmness, proper breathing, and I never quit. Also, I play smart. I’m not going to beat myself or hit balls off the course. Keep it in play and let my short game speak. Every time I tee it up, I always think about the possibilities - the good things that can happen. Also from tight muddy lies within 50 yards of the green, I’ve developed a technique whereby I ‘cover’ these pitches quite well (I avoid chunking them). This is key to playing Lincoln well. If you let the muddy lies get in your head, the ‘scary man’ can start caddying for you.