Pat Steffes is the Head Professional at Lake Merced Golf Club and a longtime friend and supporter of H&B. We recently spent some time with Pat to explore the new Gil Hanse renovation and learn more about his path to this iconic spot in the Bay Area.
Thanks for joining us today and having us out to Lake Merced. Can you share some background on your career?
For sure. I'm the head golf professional at Lake Merced Golf Club. I've been here for a little over 2.5 years. Prior to that, I was at nearby Burlingame Country Club and was at Milwaukee Country Club before that for about six years.
How did you originally get into the game?
It started way back playing as a kid just like most kids, and then I just sort of really developed a passion for it and took it more seriously in high school. I got pretty good and started working at a local golf course as a bag boy where I began to think about making it my future. From there, I headed to Ferris State University and enrolled in the PGM program.
What made you move west?
Coming out to California was for my wife's job. She was in med school and residency in Milwaukee and then she matched out here for a fellowship, but it was a choice we kind of made together. Making the move from Wisconsin to the Bay Area was a big one, and it has turned out great for both of us and our family.
How would you describe the Bay Area golf scene?
The Bay Area has probably the best golf anywhere that I’ve seen. As far as private clubs go, we have some of the best. San Francisco Golf Club, Cal Club, Olympic Club and now Lake Merced is on the map with the new restoration. On the public side of the spectrum, we have TPC Harding Park and Presidio, which are must-plays as well. We’re so lucky here with a number of great spots within a short drive, including everything south of us on the Monterey Peninsula.
Speaking of the Bay Area, let’s chat about the rather unique weather.
The weather here is different to say the least. We can sell winter hats every day of the year but then we get beautiful days like today where we can be in short sleeves. Overall though, layering is king. Multiple layering options are something you need to have on you at all times because it can be 70 degrees and then 55 and foggy just two hours later. We’re just a stone’s throw from the ocean and the fog rolls in quickly, which makes having something that's warm, lightweight, and versatile a huge factor out here.
Congratulations on Lake Merced’s recent restoration! Can you give us some details regarding the work that Gil Hanse and his team have done?
Thanks, it has been an amazing experience to watch Lake Merced transform over the last 11 or so months. We were so fortunate to have Gil Hanse come in and restore the property. It’s actually his first work in Northern California, which is pretty special. He and his team have been great to work with and they understood exactly what we were looking to create.
The impetus was to return Lake Merced back to the old MacKenzie style golf course it once was. We lost property back in 1965 when they built Hwy 280, so Gil came in and kind of fit the puzzle pieces together to restore the original design by focusing on all the little features and fitting them into place.
Our goal was to bring back the original holes, and we ended up having to completely rebuild a few areas to make the routing flow. We’ve added some great holes in the corner of the property, relocated our practice facility, and now we finish on our old 9th hole. It's been a total and complete facelift. If you've played here before, you would not recognize the club and the course.
One of the defining features that Gil worked on was the bunkering. The cloud shaped bunkers with their undefined edges and sprawling nature create a visually appealing look that flows perfectly with our land and cypress trees. We found historic aerial photos from the ‘30’s, and Gil was able to use these as reference when routing the “new” original layout.
The green sites were also a big focus during the restoration. They’re very unique, and if you’ve ever played any MacKenzie courses you know the greens are a big defense. Gil did an incredible job of recreating the green shapes and features, which has transformed the entire strategy of the course.
In the past you just needed to find the fairway, and if you didn’t you were punching out. The old greens were all pushed up and lacking shot versatility and overall character, so he was able to level out the greens and give the player more options. The creativity of shot making that has been opened up has been very cool to see and is probably my favorite aspect of the redesign. You now have three shots you can hit into basically any green. You can bump it, you can fly it, or you can use some slopes.
Do you and the membership have a favorite hole or spot on the property?
My favorite hole out here would probably be 12. It’s the most epic shot you get to hit on the golf course with a dramatic downhill approach into a great punch bowl. It's a really fun shot to see in the air, and there’s also a number of ways to shape it in there. From 12, you head into our iconic par 3 13th which has a great look and incredible bunkering. This is one hole that Gil restored exactly as it was in the original design, and it has such an aesthetically pleasing look.
We noticed the branding of the club is all very natural, using wood elements for the tee markers, rakes, and flag sticks. What was that design process like?
With the golf course undergoing all of the restoration work, we had the unique opportunity which most clubs don’t, to completely reinvigorate the club’s 100-year history.
I took this chance to change and update some of the little things. New flags, sticks, tee markers, and rakes were all sourced from cypress trees on property and handmade locally in the Bay Area. It’s a nod to the history of the club that also repurposes materials from the course.
You were one of our first supporters and an early adopter of H&B here in California. Can you chat about your history with the brand and why it is a good fit for your shop?
The first time I saw the product was during my time at Burlingame Country Club, and I just loved the look and feel. I think we were one of the first accounts in the state to carry it, and I haven’t looked back since. It was pretty much just polo shirts back in the early days, so it has been fun to watch the product offerings grow into more layers, bottoms, and accessories.
When I made the move over to Lake Merced, H&B was one of the first brands we added to the shop. I want to offer products and brands that will obviously sell, and I know that everything H&B makes is going to be really solid. We have members of all ages and the brand just checks all the boxes for everyone. The combination of a timeless classic look with a modern fit is why it works so well. H&B does a great job introducing new colors and styles each season, which gives us a fresh look every time we put it on the floor.
Have you embraced social media and other digital strategies to help provide value to your members?
We started a merchandise-specific Instagram @lakemercedgolfshop to give our members an inside look at what the shop is carrying. It has been great to utilize this marketing channel to build buzz around new product arrivals and even generate ideas and member feedback.
How would you describe your day-to-day?
The normal day-to-day here is typical of any private club. Currently, we don’t have a merchandiser on staff, so the assistant professional staff and I handle any and all golf shop-related activities.
We do a lot of teaching and have a very lesson-motivated and high golf IQ membership, which is great especially with our new driving range and short game area. On the tournament front, we have a robust schedule like most clubs and we’re managing all of those from setup to breakdown.
Our end goal is to make sure we’re putting out the best product from the moment you arrive to when you’ve completed your visit. During my time at Milwaukee Country Club, I learned that everyone on the team is an integral member and needs to work together to make it happen.
What are you looking for in your golf apparel?
Versatility, fabric quality, and comfort are what I focus on. I am also looking for the perfect fit, which makes the entire experience of a particular garment that much better. Something that is breathable and stretches is crucial while playing too.
The last thing I want to think about is being uncomfortable or whether my shirts/layers are fitting incorrectly. I love when the gear I’m wearing moves with my swing and I can wear that same piece out to dinner. The Ward Sweater is a good example. A perfect piece that transitions perfectly to any off-course activities.