San Francisco is the center of the golf universe this week, but the PGA's prestigious Presidents Cup is an international event. It is the event locals have been looking forward to ever since Harding Park was rebuilt.

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In the past 15 years the U.S. team has done pretty well compared to the Ryder Cup. Since the tournament started in 1994, the United States has won every year, except for 1998.

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You can tell a lot about the size of an event by the size of its opening ceremonies and Wednesday's ceremony did not disappoint. The eight visiting nations are Argentina, Australia, Colombia, Fiji, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, and South Korea. The eight foreign flags represented the 12 best golfers from those countries who will take on the best Americans starting on Thursday.

The cup is presidential in other ways, not just in name, but this year it is being played on a course named after former President Warren Harding and was presided by President George Herbert Walker Bush.

"This is a name dropper's paradise and I'm the number one, number two maybe, name dropper in our family and you get around these guys and it's heaven, it's real heaven. So, I'll be out there tomorrow, rooting, wearing my cane, and just thinking how good life is, counting my blessings every day to be an American, and counting my blessings to have this love of golf in my heart and to see it played so beautifully by all those guys up here today. Thank you all very much," said President Bush.

Anyone who has moved along with the gallery at Harding Park the past two days, already knew the difference between formal opening ceremonies, and the value of practice, practice, practice.

When one spectator was asked if he had the choice between getting close to the match or getting close to President Clinton which one would he go for, he said he would take the match.

On Wednesday there was another rare opportunity for Northern Californians to practically rub shoulders with golf's elite. During the practice days, spectators could get a better chance to get close to the golfers and take pictures. Other locals said it wasn't so crowded and you can park.

Those who parked themselves at the driving range got an eyeful, not just Tiger Woods, but the rest of the best players in the world. Every two years, they challenge the best Americans at this event which began in 1994.

To have it out west, at Harding Park, a recently restored municipal course that anyone can play, is a dream come true for locals.

"Harding Park says anything is possible. This is a monument to what government can do for its people," says golf historian Bo Links.

Though this weekend, the rest of the world will see a slightly different version. Not all matches in this format will go 18 holes, and the 18th with it's lake and danger, is the most famous hole here. However, this week, it becomes the 15th hole.

"I think it is a great idea because it brings the hole into match play," says Mike Parnow, from Santa Rosa.

"It should play a critical part in every match," said pro golfer Justin Leonard.

They say that if a person stands in the right place long enough, the world will pass by. This week, that place would be Harding Park.

"Just think of it as if you're running the 100 yard dash in a national meet compared to the Olympics. This is the Olympics of golf," says Links.

The city of San Francisco estimates the tournament will bring in $70 million in for the city. It cost $23 million to renovate Harding Park just six years ago.

In those eight other countries where people will be watching this event, there's a possible 360 million eyes that will be looking at Harding Park.

LINK: Presidents Cup Web site

Northern California Golf Guide with Wayne Freedman

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