Wednesday 14 November 2012

Pasatiempo Golf Club

My last blog entry dealt with the negative side effects of designing longer golf courses to keep up with the progress in equipment technology.  New golf courses throughout the 1990's and 2000's opened playing to previously unheard of lengths, pushing and then exceeding 7,500 yards in some instances.  This post will focus on the Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, California designed by Dr. Alister Mackenzie and opened in 1929.  The golf course is generally regarded as being a very difficult test.  Today, the golf course stretches to a maximum of 6,615 yards, however, during the 2012 Western Intercollegiate (NCAA) golf tournament, the field averaged 75.19 strokes on the par 70 course.

While down the coast visiting the Cypress Point Club under construction, Marion Hollins, who was impressed by what she saw, hired Dr. Alister Mackenzie to design a golf course for her Pasatiempo development.  Mackenzie spent more time on-site here than at his many other masterworks and lived in a house on the 6th fairway at Pasatiempo after the course was completed.  Mackenzie describes the back nine as the best he ever designed, and is an excellently routed set of holes with most requiring players to successfully negotiate the network of swales and barrancas that greatly influence strategy.  Another positive aspect of the routing is the use of uphill drives and/or tee shots landing into upslopes, both of which make the golf course play longer than that listed on the scorecard.  Elite players in the modern era can often carry these slopes, but they are kept in check by some of the most severe and cunningly contoured greens found anywhere on earth, with five greens featuring 7 feet of back to front fall.  Call them Augusta National on steroids!!  Add firm and fast conditions to these greens and we can understand the formula for making short courses relevant to the modern game without resorting to additional back tees and major architectural face-lifts.

The major drawback to the golf course is the encroachment of both trees and the adjacent residential development.  When the golf course opened there were very few trees on the front nine, but with the addition of a driving range which squeezed the course further, and increased traffic on the course, trees were planted along both sides of the fairways for safety.  This has limited some of the strategic elements Mackenzie incorporated into his design.  The residential component of the community is packed in close to the golf corridors, and in a few spots, golfers will be more concerned about breaking windows than challenging bunkers.  Finally, the only issue I had with the routing was that four of five par 3's play in the same direction rather than forcing golfers to contend with varying wind directions.  That being said, these golf holes are solid, and the overall narrowness of the property dictated this scenario to some degree. 

Recognizing the architectural significance of the golf course, the club underwent a comprehensive restoration between 1996-2007 under the guidance of Tom Doak.  These pictures were taken in April of 2003, before the bulk of the restoration was completed and do not do justice to what exists today.  Since my visit, many lost Mackenzie bunkers, and green shapes were added and restored respectively, while the remaining bunkers were re-built.  Thankfully, a few trees have come down while others have been trimmed back to limit their influence on the game, allowing the course to play more as Mackenzie intended.

The first tee provides a wonderful view of the Pacific Ocean in the distance and the angled green asks that first stroke to play down the left side for a better angle of approach.

The approach into No. 2 can carry the greenside bunkers left or use the slopes to the right of the green to feed the ball onto the putting surface.

No. 3 is 217 yards and uphill, laying up is a viable option for securing a four.

The green at No. 4 is very deep, requiring an accurately judged approach.

No. 5 is a well-protected and uniquely shaped target.

One of several 'Mackenzie tongues' at Pasatiempo, here at the back of No. 6 green providing a difficult pin with little room for error.

The green at No. 7 gets progressively narrower at the back.

Selective tree clearing behind No. 8 provides a nice long view to the next hole and clubhouse.

The short par-5 9th provides an opportunity for a birdie, but out-of-bounds runs tightly down the left side and the approach is uphill.

No. 10 features a barranca as a beautiful natural hazard which is visually more intimidating than the actual 150-yard carry.
The downhill approach into No. 10 is dominated by a heavily bunkered swale.

No. 11 is a deceptively long 391 yards with both drive and approach playing steeply uphill, the latter crossing the barranca which separates the 11th and 12th holes.

The short approach into No. 12, another heavily contoured Mackenzie green.

No. 13 features a set of bunkers 40-50 yards short of the green, complicating long approach shots.  The green also has 'Mackenzie tongues' back left and right to stiffen the challenge when necessary.

Swales criss-cross in the fairway at No. 14, providing awkward lies.

At 141 yards, No. 15 offers one of the few scoring opportunities on the back nine.

The brilliant 16th is most likely less than driver from the tee and plays to a hog's back fairway whose slope can push misses right further off-line.

The green at No. 16 is a heavily contoured, three-tier affair placing a premium on distance control for the approach.

No. 17 illustrates a common theme at Pasatiempo, landing zones where the tee ball lands into an upslope, limiting roll and making the course play longer than the yardage listed on the scorecard.

The golf course finishes with a one-shotter at No. 18, playing from an elevated tee across a barranca.

While the Monterrey Peninsula beckons many golfers travelling to California, those that choose to skip Pasatiempo while driving from San Francisco to play Pebble Beach are missing out.  Thankfully, this architectural wonder is accessible to the public on a limited basis owing to the club's status as a semi-private golf club.  I can assure anybody heeding this recommendation that they will not be disappointed.  How good is it?  The great amateur Bobby Jones, playing in an exhibition match to officially open the course was so impressed, he commissioned Mackenzie shortly thereafter to design the Augusta National Club.  


  1. Love the pictures and comments. Great review, TK!

  2. Mark,

    Thanks. I can say the very same in regards to the numerous photo tours you have posted on GCA. You've had a remarkable run the last few years, and seen a wide range of architectural work. Hopefully the stars will align and I'll be able to see more of the great world of golf architecture in the near future.