In the photographs, the golfers are wearing knit blazers, long skirts and panama-style caps – yarns that now look retro, and no wonder.
The snapshots depict members of the Harding Park Women’s Golf Club in the early years of their organization, long ago.
Among the oldest such institutions in California, the club was founded in the 1930s, shortly after Harding opened. For generations it lasted, its members keeping their weekday tours on the San Francisco muni they called home. They saw Harding through the wake of the Depression and his post-war glory years when the course hosted a regular Tour stage. They continued to play on desolate stretches into the 80s and 90s, when conditions got so bad it was hard to tell the fairways from the rough.
Over time, club membership dwindled. But the group held on until the early 1990s, when Harding closed for major renovations, intended to once again become a tournament-worthy track. With the course under construction, members of the women’s club took to playing elsewhere. When Harding reopened, with a modest rate hike for residents, few chose to return.
In 2003, the women’s club dissolved and for almost 20 years it fell into oblivion. But now, like Harding himself, he is reborn.
Credit for her revival goes to Lily Achatz, a Bay Area native and unlikely champion of the women’s game. Growing up in the 80s, Achatz didn’t play golf. She first learned a club at age 12, when her father took her to the driving range. Achatz liked him but was wary of all the guy demographics. Golf, she thought, wasn’t quite for her.
Life went on. Achatz moved to New York, graduated from college, embarked on a career in the fashion industry. Athletic and an outdoor enthusiast, she practiced a range of sports. But golf only appeared occasionally, when friends invited her to play. Again, she felt the attraction – and hesitation.
“The courses were so beautiful and I loved being there,” Achatz says. “But it also felt like such a society of brothers. I just thought it would be weird for me to go out alone.
After the September 11 attacks, Achatz moved to San Francisco, tending to her job and her friends, while thinking that maybe one day, one day she would give golf another chance. When Covid hit, his motivation hit a tipping point. Achatz booked a lesson at the Presidio Golf Club, a public course in the heart of the city. As she learned to swing, Achatz also learned that she wasn’t alone. The Presidio housed a women’s club, players of all levels, there for the community more than for the competition.
Achatz signed up and – raise your hand if you could see this coming – was struck by the fresh air, the camaraderie, the challenge: the happy gateway to golf addiction.
It was official. Golf has become his thing.
Soon Achatz made a wish list of other local courses. Harding’s eyes were full, though she feared his demands were too high. Her new Presidio golf friends helped her overcome this hurdle, hopping across town to guide her first round to the intimidating muni.
“They made me feel so comfortable,” Achatz says. “And they helped me understand that it doesn’t matter what you shoot, as long as you understand the etiquette.”
Around the same time, Achatz attended his first LPGA event, the Mediheal Championship, at nearby Lake Merced Golf Club. There, she crosses paths with Tom Smith, the managing director of Harding. The two spoke to each other. When Achatz mentioned his dual interest in golf and fashion, Smith pulled out photos on his phone, black-and-white images from the 1930s he had first seen in a scrapbook at his workplace: portraits of members of the Harding Park Women’s Golf Club, dressed in their Babe Didrikson Zaharias-era duds.
Achatz liked clothes. But something else was even more appealing: the idea of bringing the club back.
With the help of Smith and Lyn Nelson, director of golf development and property manager for the San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks, Achatz spent the next few months doing everything possible to make this happen. In late 2021, the Harding Park Women’s Golf Club was reinstated, city-sanctioned and under the auspices of the Northern California Golf Association. Last February, Achatz opened the registration doors. Overnight, 50 women signed up. Based on early feedback, Achatz expects the number to grow to over 100 by the end of the year.
The robust response reflects a larger trend: in the recent golf boom, girls and women have become the fastest growing sector of the game. It also speaks to the broad demographic reach of golf. The new members of the club run the gamut of age, background and ability, from Nicole Holm, a 28-year-old former golfer turned public health researcher, to Jane Grimm, 80, who works as a sculptor. but also knows how to shape shots.
“Besides playing with my sister, I can’t remember the last time I showed up at a course and ended up playing with another female golfer,” says Holm. “That’s what makes it so special – having a community of women who love the game as much as I do.”
In the two months since its relaunch, the club has met regularly for nine-hole twilight rounds on Harding’s scenic fullback. But Achatz and his cohort have bigger ambitions. In addition to monthly 18-hole outings, plans are underway for educational clinics; Toptracer league game; online happy hour Q&A; mixed events with siblings, the Harding Park Golf Club, open to all but whose active members are all men.
The list continues.
“We are open to all ideas,” says Achatz.
The women’s club costs $105 a year to join and an additional $49 to establish and maintain an official handicap. Not that pointing is necessary. The members mainly compete against themselves. The motto of the group is camaraderie. Post-round cocktails are also popular.
Like the respectful spirit, the dress code is relaxed, though throwback yarns can earn you style points. This is, after all, a historic, updated club where everything old is new again.