In the photos, the golfers wear knitted blazers, long skirts and panama hats, threads that now look retro, and for good reason.
The snapshots show members of the Harding Park Women’s Golf Club in the early years of its organization, which was a long time ago.
Among the oldest institutions of its kind in California, the club was founded in the 1930s, shortly after Harding’s opening. For generations, it endured, its members holding their designated rounds on weekdays in the San Francisco muni they called home. They saw Harding through the wake of the Depression and his glory years of the post-war era when the course hosted a regular Tour stop. They continued to play through desolate stretches in the 1980s and 1990s, when conditions became so scruffy it was hard to tell the fairways from the rough ones.
Over time, the club’s membership dwindled. But the group held on until the early years, when Harding closed for major renovations, destined to once again become a tournament-worthy track. With the course under construction, the women’s club members began playing elsewhere. When Harding reopened, with a modest fee increase for residents, few chose to return.
In 2003, the women’s club was disbanded and for nearly 20 years it was largely forgotten. But now, like Harding himself, he has been reborn.
Credit for its 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 picked up a stick at age 12, when her father took her to the driving range. Achatz liked it, but she was wary of the demographics of all the guys. Golf, she thought, wasn’t quite right for her.
Life went on. Achatz moved to New York, graduated from college and embarked on a career in the fashion business. Athletic and outdoorsy, she enjoyed a variety of sports. But golf only appeared once in a while, when her friends invited her to play. Once again, she felt the tug and hesitation.
“The fields were so beautiful and I loved being there,” says Achatz. “But it also seemed like a partnership of brothers. I just thought it would be weird for me to go out alone.”
After the 9/11 attacks, Achatz moved to San Francisco, taking care of his job and his friends, all the while thinking that maybe one day, one day, he would give golf another try. When Covid hit, his motivation reached a tipping point. Achatz booked a lesson at Presidio Golf Club, a public-access course in the heart of the city. As she learned to swing, Ella Achatz also learned that she was not alone. The Presidio was home to a women’s club, players of all levels, in it for community rather than competition.
Achatz signed up and, raise your hand if you could see it coming, fell in love with the fresh air, the companionship, the challenge: the happy gate from drugs to golf addiction.
it was official. Golf became his thing.
Soon, Achatz made a wish list of other local courses. Harding was excited about it, though he worried that the demands of him might be too much. Her new golf buddies from Presidio helped her get over that hurdle, hopping around town to guide her first round on the intimidating muni.
“They made me feel very comfortable,” says Achatz. “And they helped me understand that it didn’t matter what you shot, as long as you understood the etiquette.”
Around the same time, Achatz attended his first LPGA event, the Mediheal Championship, at nearby Lake Merced Golf Club. There, he crossed paths with Tom Smith, Harding’s general manager. The two began to talk. When Achatz mentioned his dual interests in golf and fashion, Smith pulled up photos on his phone, black-and-white images from the 1930s that he had first seen in a scrapbook at his workplace: portraits of members of Harding Park Women’s Golf. Club, dressed in their Babe Didrikson Zaharias era rags.
Achatz loved 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 course development and property manager for the San Francisco Department of Parks and Recreation, Achatz spent the next several months working to make that happen. In late 2021, the city-sanctioned Harding Park Women’s Golf Club was re-established under the umbrella of the Northern California Golf Association. Last February, Achatz opened the doors for enrollment. Overnight, 50 women signed up. Based on early feedback, Achatz projects the number will rise to more than 100 by the end of the year.
The strong response reflects a broader trend: During golf’s recent boom, girls and women have become the fastest growing sector of the game. It also speaks to the wide demographic reach of golf. The club’s new membership runs the gamut in age, background and ability, from Nicole Holm, a 28-year-old former high school golfer turned public health researcher, to 80-year-old Jane Grimm, who works as a sculptor. her but she also knows how to shape shots.
“Other than playing with my sister, I can’t remember the last time I showed up on a course and ended up playing with another golfer,” says Holm. “That’s what makes this 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 night rounds of nine holes in the picturesque back of Harding. But Achatz and his cohort have bigger ambitions. Along with monthly 18-hole outings, plans are in the works for educational clinics; Toptracer league play; online happy hour questions and answers; mixed-gender events with a group of brothers, the Harding Park Golf Club, which is open to all but whose active members are all men.
The list goes on.
“We are open to all ideas,” says Achatz.
The women’s club costs $105 per year to join and another $49 to establish and maintain an official handicap. It is not that a score is required. The members mainly compete against themselves. The motto of the group is camaraderie. Post-round cocktails are also valued.
Like the enduring spirit, the dress code is laid back, though retro threads can earn you style points. It is, after all, a historical club, updated, where everything old is new again.