Pasatiempo Golf Club
CA, USA

If Alister MacKenzie were alive today, he would still live at Pasatiempo. Nothing has transpired there in the past 70 years that would have made him move (other than during the bleak period around WWII). Yes, the use of a chainsaw would do wonders, but overall, the course remains as he intended: open to the public and a challenge for the very best.

Imagine MacKenzie’s excitement when he first saw the property: gently rolling hills bisected in spots by sandy ravines, a large barranca and a stream. Stately oaks dotted the landscape, and there were views from the course out to the shimmering blue Monterey Bay. In addition, MacKenzie would be working for Marion Hollins and her only mission statement to him was to build a course equal to any in the country – and she had the money to help.

The tricky one shot 5th

The tricky one shot 5th

The only facet of the development of Pasatiempo that might disappoint Mackenzie and Ms. Hollins today would be the proximity of some of the homes to the field of play. In a few cases, out of bounds stakes encroach to within 15 yards of the edge of the fairway. Rarely does a player feel that he can open his shoulders; the player is always just holding something back as on so many swings as a double bogey (or property damage) awaits poor execution. Perhaps as a result, the long, rather straight par five holes seem the only unappealing holes on the course: the 6th with OB very close down the left, the uphill slog of the 9th (albeit with perhaps the most frightening green on the course) and the 13th with OB down the right.
And yet ¦ think about the rest of the course. The one shot holes are of great variety from the finely judged pitch of the 15th to the full-bloodied thump required at the 3rd hole. In addition, the two shot holes taken as a collection are superb and for difficulty, exceed those at MacKenzie’s Monterey masterpiece.
Interestingly enough, two of the author’s favourite par fours weren’t designed that way to begin with. Originally, MacKenzie designed the 2nd and 10th holes as par fives. However, when their respective tees were moved across the road, they became tough half-par holes.
These difficult par fours are well complimented by holes under 400 yards of unusual quality: the beautiful 4th from its elevated tee, the 11th and 12th holes and of course the famous 16th hole.
Each hole is different, even similarly length holes like the 2nd and 10th. The 2nd green is slender but a full 34 yards in depth with three bunkers around it. The 10th green is bunkerless and squatter, being more wide (26 yards) than deep (a mere 23 yards). Mackenzie successfully punctuates each hole at Pasatiempo with its own unique challenge. These greens have withstood the test of time and remain vastly unchanged; golfers should make every effort to see them.
Holes to Note:
5th hole, 190 yards: Another in a long line of examples where MacKenzie created a unique green. A tongue comes out from the right front side to greet the golfer. Just past the left hand bunker, the green mushrooms out before tapering away back left. The golfer is smart to just aim at the dead middle of the green. Recovery from any of the five surrounding bunkers is tough work indeed. This green remains identical to the way MacKenzie sketched it in 1928.
11th hole, 385 yards: Is this hard hole or what? It is a great example of how to lay out a hole uphill. The fairway is bisected at the 280 yard mark by an arroyo. The golfer’s line of vision is thus nicely broken from what would otherwise have the appearance of a hike up a hill. The green naturally follows the contours of the land and is brutally quick from back to front. (Side note: on opening day September 8, 1929, Bobby Jones smashed a draw off the tee into the 12th fairway, thus considerably easing the requirements of the approach. Today, trees prohibit such a bold tact).
The tough uphill 11th

The tough uphill 11th

12th hole, 375 yards: All together a more cheerful sight from the tee than its two predecessors, this hole parallels the 11th back down the hill. The tee shot very much has an elevated feel to it, much more so than the approach to the 11th. The golfer thus begins to appreciate why his approach shot fell so far short on the 11th. The intricate rolls to this green are another Mackenzie masterpiece.

14th hole, 425 yards: This hole has received recognition to be included in the world’s best eighteen holes, leaving the authors somewhat puzzled. A valley seems to arbitrarily meander through the left side of the fairway and rough. This is unfortunately the preferred side of the fairway as the green is set at a 45 degree angle going away from the golfer to the right and has a long serpentine bunker down its right side. A high fade is the ideal approach.

The great short 15th hole.

The great short 15th hole.

15th hole, 145 yards: A delightful change of pace hole between two tough par four holes. A ravine and stream front the green and loop along its left side. A bunker pinches in the front half of the green. Interestingly enough for a short hole, the green is the third deepest on the back nine. Plenty of three putts ruin the score here.
The mammoth, and highly original, 16th green.

The mammoth, and highly original, 16th green.

16th hole, 395 yards: Inland golf’s answer to the 8th hole at Pebble. People read so much about this hole being MacKenzie’s favourite hole in golf that they can be justifiably disappointed on the tee, just as with the 8th at Pebble (whose green, incidentally, is MacKenzie’s work). The tee shot is a blind shot over a ridge yet cannot be treated lightly. The player is tempted to play down the right side since that side looks less threatening, but after having just played from the nearby 15th tee, the observant player will have noticed the sharp slope in the right side of the fairway that will send ‘safe’ tee shots considerably farther from the hole. A prime example of a blind shot that works quite well as the player has the landing area before reaching the tee. However, any disappointment from the tee is quickly forgotten when the golfer passes over the brow of the hill. Ahead of him some 180 yards is a monstrously big green, placed on the far side of a ravine. The green is in three sections, with a dramatic false front as the first, a middle shelf that has a spine in its left third, and finally the back portion. A judicious tree cutting program has opened the green back up and three bunkers set it off. The hole packs a lot of excitement for a hole under 400 yards, a Mackenzie trademark to be sure.

The par three finisher.

The par three finisher.

18th hole, 175 yards: Like the Cascades, Garden City and Congressional, this classic course ends with a par three. The ravine isn’t the real problem for the better golfer; the wicked left to right and back to front cant of the green is. Worse than a three putt can occur (in a friendly match, one author missed the green and made 4 to win the hole from his opponent who had found the green from the tee). Like the par three holes at Pine Valley, the hole was even more dramatic in the early days when the ravine was more sandy in nature and the trees didn’t serve to frame the hole. Regardless, it remains the finest finishing par three of which the authors are aware.

In recent times, Pasatiempo Golf Club has undertaken a bunker restoration and a much needed tree removal program. Visually, the white sand against the dark fir trees is quite striking. Even though the course is far more verdant and less sandy (the par three 3rd hole once had 13 bunkers on it), Marion Hollins would be proud of the appearance of the course today. She loved trees and the logo with a man underneath a tree ‘passing the time’ would please her. She and her dog Carlos would still enjoy their walks across the property as much as they did sixty years ago.

This view of the 1st in 2001 shows how  trees had obscured too much of the design.

This view of the 1st in 2001 shows how trees had obscured too much of the design.

Just as golfers try to return to Pebble Beach every few years, so should they here. Any traveller from the San Francisco airport who hurries past this course to Spyglass Hill or Spanish Bay ought to think twice. Once on the inviting first tee in front of the Hollins house looking out toward the bay and its sailboats, he will know he has chosen wisely.

The End