6,521 yards, 143 Slope from the Gold tees

Course:  Pasatiempo has been on my very short list for years.  Nestled in the hills of Santa Cruz, CA and designed by none other than Alistair MacKenzie, I probably ranked it higher on my to play list than Pebble or Torrey or Kiawah or TPC Sawgrass.  There are many reasons for my semi infatuation with the course.  It could be I wanted to experience one of MacKenzie’s better designs, with some likening it to Augusta; it could be the sheer design of the course, riddled with bunkers, severe visuals and a superior use of elevation changes; or it could be the radiant beauty of the place.  The course has quite a history and is deemed the good doctor’s most rugged site.  MacKenzie moved to the course permanently, with his house off the Sixth fairway.  He also proclaimed the Sixteenth, “the best two shot hole I know.”  To recap, this is the guy who designed Augusta and he’s saying that about this course.  At any rate, I was out west and found an ultra cheap flight to San Jose that would let me spend the entire day at the course, so I was able to meet up with one of my best friends from college and spent the day in paradise.

Alistair MacKenzie set forth 13 principles of golf course architecture that are laid out in a display case in the clubhouse and are also in the yardage book they give you.  They are:

– The course should have beautiful surroundings;

– The course, if possible, should be arranged in two loops of nine holes;

– There should be a large proportion of of good two-shot holes, and at least four one-shot holes;

– There should be little walking between the greens and tees;

– Every hole should be different in character;

– There should be a minimum of blindness for the approach shots;

– There should be infinite variety in the strokes required to play the various holes….(with every club utilized);

– There should be a complete absence of the annoyance and irritation caused by the necessity of searching for lost balls;

– The course should be so interesting that even the scratch player is constantly stimulated to improve his game;

– The course should be so arranged that (all levels of players can) enjoy the round in spite of … piling up a big score;

– The course should be equally good during the winter and summer, the texture of the greens and fairways should be perfect and the approaches should have the same consistency as the greens;

– There should be a sufficient number of heroic carries; and

– The greens and fairways should be sufficiently undulating.

These principles are pretty good to live (or design) by.  The courses I enjoy employ almost all of them, and I look for many of these factors when I play a course for the first time.  Better yet, Pasatiempo crystallizes each of these principles and demonstrates how splendid a golf course can be through intricate design.

Pasatiempo is generally a course that features a vivid display of bunkers, forced carries, elevation changes and undulating, nay, rippling, greens that some how remain subtle and are subject to significant interpretation.  Every hole is its own personification and as you move along the course, it’s tough not to brim with excitement to see what spectacular challenge awaits for the next shot.

If we’re being honest, one of my main feelings immediately after the round was, disappointment.  It took a while to sort out.  Yeah I was disappointed in how I played (although not surprised).  Yeah I felt a little jipped at the Fourteenth, when my belted drive bounced along the fairway, only to disappear and end up in a sunken nook, hidden from the tee.  But I wasn’t disappointed by the design, or beauty, or any of it.  No, I was simply disappointed that I would only be able to play this masterpiece once, knowing full well that it could be played and studied multiple times over, offering a new and different experience each time.  Alas, as soon as I was done with the round, I immediately went back in and asked about a replay rate, trying to figure out how to make it work but full well knowing there was no way it could have happened.  And although all good things must come to an end, it was a glorious day and of all places to spend the day golfing and hanging out, you couldn’t do much better.

And it really was, a glorious day.  It began extremely early, as the first one at the airport in the morning, before staff, before any other traveler, was me, with two hours of sleep under my belt and more curious what the plane was going to look like for the ultra short flight over the Sierra Nevada mountains and into the Silicon Valley.  And the flight was glorious, a clear and scenic morn, watching the sun rise against the snow capped Sierra Nevada range flying west until we reached the ocean, then descending in the valley until landing.  And the drive was glorious, along the scenic Route 17, which snakes and climbs the coastal mountains before the slow drop to the ocean takes place, with towering cypress trees littering the horizon, until finally getting to the course and being the first and only one on the range, taking in the scenery, the sounds, the aura.  Then seeing one of my good friends, haven’t seen him in years, and getting to catch up on life, all while making our way through storied land.  Indeed, it was a day all of us seek out, then look back on with the grandest of memories, even if pars were hard to come by and there were too many missed 5 foot putts I care to remember.  And as I caught myself almost revolting from getting in the car and leaving, the wheels were already in motion, when, when, oh when, would I get to this place again.

Sunrise against the Sierra Nevada range

As my friend and I sat perched at the First tee, with neary a soul behind us and the course to ourselves, surrounded by a revered design in a sublime setting that novels have been dedicated to describing, we were just excited to play some golf.

The First is a 440 yard par 4 (from the White tees).  The tee shot is elevated and to an ample fairway below, but things get real real quick with the approach shot.  Bunkers guard both sides of the green while trees crowd in to force you to carry the bunkers.  There is a narrow opening to the green if you want to try and use it, but it looked to me like an aerial shot was best here.  I hit a great 8 iron in to the green, which bounced a couple times and just when I thought I had a nice short putt coming up, saw the ball keep rolling off the left side of the green.  This would be a theme during the round for sure.

The First

Approach shot territory

The green.  You can see how subtle yet significant the slope off to the left is

The Second is a 420 par 4.  The tee shot is pretty much completely blind, as the the fairway descends below a ridge in front of the tee, leaving only a peek of the very left side of the fairway.  The fairway slopes from right to left and a straight tee shot is the best.  Another really tough approach shot here, as the green sits on a side slope, with bunkers on the high and low side.  The green is very deep, which I was grateful for when I hit another great approach only to watch it keep rolling to the back side, forcing me to putt the length of the green back to the hole.  Two tough scoring holes right out of the gate.

The Second

Approach shot territory

The football field that acts as the green for this hole

The Third is a 195 yard par 3.  Visually, this hole looks like the bunkers cover every square inch, as the green tilts so you can’t see how big it is from the tee.  An intimidating shot for sure that calls for a longer club, but wow what a site.  I aimed at one of the bunkers on the left, thinking it would come back on to the green, but I guess I hit it too well because it made a b line for the bunker and I was left with an awkward downhill bunker shot.  Probably my favorite par 3 on the course though.

The Third

A closer look

The Fourth is a 358 yard par 4.  The tee shot is elevated and generous while the approach shot is also nice enough, provided you don’t hit it into one of the insanely deep bunkers surrounding the green.  This hole seems to be the first to ease up just a little, but the tiers of the green and bunkers are enough to still make it challenging.

The Fourth

Approach shot territory

The Fifth is a 174 yard par 3.  The green is likewise hidden by the ridges and bunkers here and you must carry a barranca and a few bunkers to get to the green, but it’s a little shorter than the Third and there’s even a nice bail out area short of the pin that leaves you with a nasty long uphill putt.  These par 3’s demand execution, but leave outs so long as you’re willing to take the consequences.

The Fifth

Just short of the green

The Sixth is a 516 par 5.  We start to transition a bit as the trees begin to narrow the fairways.  The tee shot is blind for the most part because it’s uphill and you’re essentially hitting over its crest.  Trees line the right side of the fairway while bunkers intersperse the left.  The approach is another must hit GIR, as bunkers protect virtually every inch of the sides of the green.  It should be a relatively good hole to score on, so long as you don’t get caught up in the trees or bunkers.

The Sixth

A look at the bunkers that appear on the left side

Approach shot territory

A look back at the fairway from the green.  The slope of the fairway becomes a lot more obvious.  MacKenzie, and this course is in particular, is known for a lot of camouflaged features of the course, that only start becoming visible when looking at the holes from different angles

The Seventh is a 335 par 4.  The course has now transformed some what, as cypress trees line each side of the fairway, leaving a fairly narrow chute to the green.  The green appeared to undulate a little more than the other significantly undulating greens as well.  The hole is short enough that you can decide to play a long iron, hybrid or fairway wood in hopes of keeping the ball in the fairway.

The Seventh

Moving down the fairway, where bunkers protect the green await

The Eighth is a 162 yard par 3.  It’s a somewhat refreshingly easier hole, but the thing the below photo doesn’t show that well is the severe slope of the green, which runs from back to front.  So even hitting the green means you will have to work for that par.  Trees and bunkers guard the green as well.

The Eighth

The Ninth is a 473 yard par 4.  This hole brings you out of the trees a little, as the hole dog legs right slightly, then runs uphill to the green, which is set to the left, behind a massive bunker complex that fronts the left side of the green, leaving the right side available to run the ball on the green.  The green is gigantic and a sea of undulations, so even hitting the green on the right with the pin on the left side leave with you the arduous task of getting over to the other side.  The clubhouse is above, with its patrons watching your approach shots intently.  It finishes off the front nine well.

The Ninth

Approach shot territory

Another look; the green is hidden for the most part, one of the very few semi blind approach shots on the course

Generally, the front nine loops the bottom half of the property, closest to the ocean.  Bunkers and cypress trees are the main features here, combined with slopes and undulations that reveal themselves to you over lots of time.  There were no weak holes.  The par 3’s and a couple of the par 4’s (9, 2) are world class while the others are excellent.   Ranking them, I’d go 3, 9, 2, 6, 7, 5, 8, 4, 1.

On the way to the back nine, you drive by one of the best halfway houses I’ve come across.  You don’t even have to get out of your cart and it is stocked with everything you’d want.  I wish I got a better photo of it.  They had the old school Coors cans, so what better way to celebrate an old school course than toasting with one?

The halfway house
The old school Coors can is a must

The back nine starts with the 440 yard Tenth.  The tee shot is quite intimidating because there is a significant barranca slam canyon you must carry to get to the fairway.  The rugged appearance is something.  From there, the fairway descends to a green on a hill side that runs right to left, with deep bunkers carved into the low side of the green.  I found it to be an incredible two shotter, demanding two good shots that were so much fun to watch fall into this landscape.

The Tenth

Pretty cool bridge to get to the fairway

Approach shot territory

There are some gorgeous houses overlooking the course.  Here is one of them

Another look at the green
Something new I’m trying; panoramic views.  This is of the Tenth and the adjacent drive

And here is from the tee area

The Eleventh is a 379 yard par 4.  It places a lot longer that this yardage and I found it to be the most difficult hole on the course.  The entire hole plays uphill and you need every inch of your tee shot and an FIR is a must here, as your second shot is all uphill with a forced carry over an arroyo that runs the direction of hole, meaning you need a healthy carry to the green.  There are bunkers protecting the high and low side of the green as well, so in addition to a strong carry from a precise and long tee shot, your approach has to hit the severely sloping and undulating green without suffering any bad bounces or rolls.  It’s a beast.

The Eleventh

Going up the fairway to the arroyo

At the end of the fairway before the forced carry to the green, where the bunkers and an awesome house taunt you from above

The Twelfth is a 373 yard par 4.  Similar stated distance on the scored card, but this hole plays downhill, so you’re playing different clubs for your second and possibly your tee shot as well.  The tee shot is at the highest point of the course, which then dog legs slightly to the left around a stretch of trees and there’s a gully between the fairway and green you cannot see, which I fell victim to after thinking I hit a great approach shot just short of the green.

The Twelfth

The row of trees on the left side of the hole.  I really liked how these defined much of the course

Approach shot territory.  Tough to see the gully from here

Now you can see it

The Thirteenth is a 485 yard par 5.  The tee shot is fairly straight forward; you have a lone bunker to contend with on the left and really nothing on the right until you get to houses, which are set pretty far back.  The hole then gradually descends and arches left to one of the more impressive green complexes on the course in my opinion.  It’s like a nuclear bunker bomb went off, they are every where.  Really, there is no escape.  Hit the green or you’re in a bunker.  I hit one of the best second shots of the day, which landed short, of course in a bunker.  But I will say I loved the type of sand in the bunkers.  I found it pretty easy to get out of.  There are a couple oak trees hanging over this green, and it was easily one of the more peaceful and secluded areas of the course.  Putting out on this hole and taking it all in; it was definitely one of those moments that keep me loving the hell out of this game.  I’m in a spectacular setting with a great friend and am able to enjoy everything about it.

The Thirteenth

More of the gorgeous houses you encounter

Second shot territory

Approach shot territory, into bunkers plus infinity

The Fourteenth is a 384 yard par 4.  Boy oh boy, I think my spirit was crushed during the tee shot of this hole.  I finally see a nice open fairway and MURDER my tee shot, watching it cannon ball to the hole, bouncing and rolling on the fairway, when all of a sudden, it just disappeared.  Huh, maybe it went so far I just can’t see it any more, right?  I drive up and um, oh, there’s a huge trench I have to contend with.  Couldn’t see it from the tee, but was then faced with a side hill lie to a green that is tucked in behind a couple trees and a bunker.  When I mentioned the tee shot at the pro shop, they all nodded, either to appease me or (hopefully) because they’ve all been there at some point.

The Fourteenth

The offending trench

Not as inviting as the fairway, which I thought I was on

Looking back from the green.  Much more distinct contours than when looking at the hole from the tee

The Fifteenth is a 120 yard par 3.  A perfect example of making a short par 3 interesting and challenging all at once.  The green is a narrow but long strip than runs at an angle from 2:00 to 7:00.  Multiple bunkers protect the short side while a long trench bunker protects the far side of the green while trees frame the hole nicely.  I ended up in the trench bunker and had a nice out for a manageable par putt, that I promptly missed.  Ugh I want that putt back.

The Fifteenth

The Sixteenth is a 365 yard par 4.  This is Alistair MacKenzie’s, “best two shot hole I know.”  And it is very tough to disagree with him.  The tee shot is a forced carry over a barranca to a fairway that crests then immediately turns left and goes down hill to a gully before rising in dramatic fashion to the green, which is one of the most severe back to front slopes on the course.  Photos simply don’t do the green justice.  The green feels like a wall in front of you, which must be completely conquered for a chance at par.  After another awesome tee shot, my friend mis hit his but was still in good position for his approach.  From 170 out, he hit a towering 7 iron to 3 feet of the pin and knocked down the birdie putt.  It was incredible to watch.  I could have sat there and hit approach shots to that green forever.

The Sixteenth

Approach shot territory.  The green is much more raised and intimidating in person

The Seventeenth is a 363 yard par 4.  The fairway crests and falls yet again, leaving a semi blind tee shot.  The green is set on a side hill and slopes from left to right.  If the Sixteenth is the crescendo, the Seventeenth begins the gradual floating down to the fun Eighteenth, before the inevitable, and sudden, end of the round.

The Seventeenth

Going down the fairway

The prominent tree on the left side of the fairway

Looking back from the green

The Eighteenth ends the round with a 143 yard par 3.  You must carry the deep ravine you encountered on the Tenth to a green that slopes from left to right, which of course is protected on all sides by rugged bunkers.  It’s an intimidating shot and ends the round on the right note; exciting yet forcing you to execute.

The Eighteenth

I found the back nine to be a little more jaw dropping and requiring a lot more of those heroic shots MacKenzie refers to in his principles.  They come at the right spot during the round and give you the chance to come away with a terrific story, like my friend.  Unfortunately, I think part of my disappointment stemmed from not really having an incredible shot like that when the situation called for it; I can only boast about my drives, short game and a handful of approach shots.  Ranking the back nine is admittedly tough, because many of the holes are better than the best holes of a lot of courses I know.  But I’d go 16, 10, 13, 11, 15, 18, 14, 12, 17.

Generally, Pasatiempo is one of those courses you should play if you find yourself within a two hour radius.  The brilliant use of the land, the visuals MacKenzie was able to bring out to heighten the playing experience and the complexity of the design (which I can only assume reveals itself over time, rewarding repeat play with many new and different plays) make this course one of the best I’ve ever played.  It is simply too exciting to ignore while you’re playing it, becoming the centerpiece of what you’re doing, as should rightly be the case.  As I said before, my only disappointment is not being able to get more of this place but for now, I will simply hold on to those spectacular moments I can remember of the place and make my way there once again, when I find the dictates of life have brought me to this glorious place for another go around.

The question everyone is probably asking (actually, no one except me); does this course de throne Yale as my favorite ever?  I don’t know.  Yale had a little more panache and uniqueness; I saw and enjoyed holes at Yale you simply don’t see anything remotely similar anything else.  I loved it.  Pasatiempo on the other hand, was a little more exact, challenging yet held the potential for excitement and thrill.  And their greens is infinitely better.  They really are different for me and it’s tough to rank one over the other.  This type of decision is why many feel ranking courses is an act of futility in the first place and I really see this as a 1A/1B thing, depending on my mood.  Officially though, I think I’d give the nod to Yale, only because I’m a sucker for quirkiness and tend to favor Raynor’s style a lot.  Still though, it was stirring playing Pasatiempo and think it should probably receive even more accolades then it currently enjoys.

More photos

Looking at the Eighteenth

Looking at the First from the putting green

Looking at the First tee, with the clubhouse in the background
Another look at the Eighteenth

And the First tee

Gripes:  The practice areas are some what contrived.  The driving range is below the first hole, but you need to take a shuttle down to it, only to take it back to start the round.  I’d like to see something a little seamless.  The green fee is very steep.  Worth it, but you can probably buy a new driver instead of playing here.  I found the staff friendly, but some of the pro shop managers seemed tolerant at best of non members for whatever reason.  All of these are minor, however; this place is top notch regardless of any blemishes.

Bar/grill:  Wonderful set up.  A wrap around balcony that overlooks the First and Eighteenth and a very spacious indoor area, with leather couches, one of the larger televisions I’ve seen, and a display of MacKenzie’s architectural principles.

Clubhouse:  Very well equipped with the latest and greatest.

Practice area:  Range, putting green and short game area.  Range could be better but is adequate.

Getting there:  About 90 minutes south of San Francisco and 40 minutes south of San Jose.  I came from San Jose on Route 17 I believe.  Very scenic drive.

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