"Good golfers consider the second nine holes at Pasatiempo the finest in existence. The short holes are especially good, and I think the 16th hole is the best two-shot hole I know." -- Dr. Alister MacKenzie
SANTA CRUZ, Calif. -- Purists know about Pasatiempo Golf Club, the iconic classic designed by legendary golf course architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who lived in a modest house just left of the sixth fairway.
But to the casual golfer who doesn't study golf history, Pasatiempo can be an unknown gem. Simply, it is one of the finest layouts ever.
When the golf course officially opened on Sept. 8, 1929, Bobby Jones was there. His 75 was 10 strokes better than anyone else.
"The story I've heard," said starter Travis Leo, "is that Jones played in the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach looking for his third straight trophy but was defeated in his first match. He was steaming. Later that day Marion Hollins, who developed Pasatiempo, approached him at Cypress Point and invited him to play in the grand opening."
Hollins, the U.S. Women's Amateur champion in 1921, had worked for Samuel F.B. Morse at the Pebble Beach Company, developed Cypress Point and hired MacKenzie for Pasatiempo. The timeline is historical -- after Pasatiempo came Augusta National Golf Club, spearheaded by MacKenzie and Jones.
Legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice, who played on Pasatiempo's opening day, may have been one of the first to write about Hollins teeing up a shot that would become the stunning 16th at Cypress Point.
"She worked hand in hand with Dr. MacKenzie at Cypress Point," said Bob Beck, a Pasatiempo historian, "and he gave her full credit for the design of the world-famous 16th hole, stating that she teed up a ball, drove it 219 yards across the roaring ocean, and said put the green there."
Like many classics built just before the Great Depression, many of Pasatiempo's dramatic design aspects had been erased in favor of easier maintenance. But vintage photos helped Tom Doak of Renaissance Golf restore the course (2005-2007) to the way MacKenzie intended.
Today, Pasatiempo may be the longest 6,521-yard, par-70 course you will ever play because of the uphill holes and heavy, Pacific Ocean air.
Dave Riney, who lives in nearby Salinas, played Pasatiempo for the second time recently.
"I had forgotten how long and tough the opening holes are, and most consider the back nine some of the toughest holes ever," said Riney. "The greens are as tricky and contoured as they come, and I was just glad a member was playing with us to give us some tips.
"The course is inland a bit, but there are some beautiful views of Monterey Bay. The course was in really good condition considering the continuous rain it received the whole week prior to playing. The customer service was great, and I will definitely return to test my skills again."
The third hole at Pasatiempo, a 235-yard par 3, is downright harsh. First, it is long. Second, the shot requires a fade to an elevated, heavily bunkered green that sits oblong, requiring absolute precision and a perfect flight pattern. Best advice for novices? Play short of the green.
Scary describes the approach at No. 11, a 392-yard par 4. It demands a long drive, then a shot over a barranca to your left. Slice it and the ravine snares it.
How about Dr. MacKenzie's favorite? The 16th hole is 387 yards, but it is blind and awkward, moving left from the tee over a high mound. If you nail the drive you are looking at a three-tiered green that looks impossible to hold, and you might have a side-hill lie.
The finale is fun and one of the few great courses that end with a par 3, at 173 yards. Take a 4- or 5-iron depending on the wind, but you must nail it because there's a huge ravine carry. If you leave it above the hole, take a big breath and tap it lightly because it's a fast putt.
Said PGA Tour player Chip Beck: "I've never enjoyed a course as much. Pasatiempo has the best-bunkered greens I have ever played. I had it under 10 feet on 10 and 11 and never touched the hole."
LPGA Hall of Famer Juli Inkster grew up across the street from the club and says it is the sternest test of golf she has ever encountered.
"I'm grateful for all the experiences I gained here because, in comparison, most courses are a piece of cake," Inkster said.
If there is a downside to Pasatiempo, it's the tiny range surrounded by nets and a shuttle ride away.
The new luxurious Hilton Santa Cruz hotel (Tel. 831-440-1000) has it all. There are 156 rooms and 18 huge suites only minutes from scenic Highway 1, the world-famous Santa Cruz Boardwalk and beaches, where surfing competitions in the U.S. were born. Enjoy complimentary wi-fi and suites that even have a refrigerator, microwave, coffeemaker and spacious work area.
March 15, 2011