The U.S. Armed Forces operates a number of golf facilities on its bases, which often fall under the popular radar. The Bayonet Course at Fort Ord, however, was so well-received that the military brass agreed to build a second 18-hole loop, known as the Black Horse Course. Eventually the base was closed and, fortunately, the courses were sold to the local governments and remain open to the general public to this day.
Black Horse was not originally designed by a well-regarded architect, but in fact General Edwin Carnes, who counted “head golf course designer” among his roles while serving as the Commanding General on site. The more recent renovations, which brought the course to more than 7,000 yards, were carried out by the more experienced Gene Bates. Although many of the bunkers are new, the course’s most popular feature — the views across Monterey Bay — have been there since the course was first laid out.
The Black Horse Course was named after the 11th Cavalry Regiment, nicknamed “Black Horse,” which was stationed in the area from 1919 through 1940.
I'll preface by saying that I'm a member of this course and I chose to play Black Horse 4/5 times over Bayonet. While Bayonet is a tight, tree-lined course, Black Horse is much more open... That said it's not necessarily easier. While the wider fairways and more open waste areas give you a better chance to scramble around, they green complexes on Black Horse are much more complex than that of Bayonet and offers more a fun and fair test for both low and high handicap players. Every green has multiple tiers and ledges that, depending on where the pin is placed, will dictate where the smart play is. Often times the best play at Black Horse is to aim straight for the pin, while other times you will want to leave the ball short to prevent a slippery downhill putt that can easily roll off of the green. While Bayonet seems to get more recognition, Black Horse is by far the better course in my opinion. For the daily golfer, morning tee times can be pricey and for the price that is charged the course really should be in better condition, as there are several holes where the rough is less than ideal, however the greens are always in great shape and the fairways are perfectly playable. Bunkers have very little sand that is usually packed tightly, which takes some adjusting to. The course is walk-able but be prepared for several steep hills and a couple of long transitions where you have a 1-2 minute walk to the next hole.
There are number of splendid holes at Black Horse. Unfortunately, too many of them are too far away from the preceding hole. I followed the cart path for 210 yards from the 3rd green to the 4th tee. That was a quick stroll compared to the 370 yard hike to the 6th tee. The trek to the 8th tee outdid both of those: 340 yards. I should have known I was about to play a course designed for carts when I spied the immaculately kept concrete cart path by the first tee. So if a walk in the park is your objective, it’ll be more like a forced march. I did not love the conditioning in November 2019. There were far too many open divots. Three of them gathered in my shots.
But those are my only laments. Fairway bunkers abound and they provide the golfer with numerous strategic challenges, both off the tee and on the second shot on the par 5s. The par 5 12th is a perfect example. Here a bunker at the corner of the dogleg asks the player how much to bite off with the tee shot to have a chance to reach the green in two. The approach shot is most open from the left, where a kickpad can propel balls onto the green, but a fairway bunker on the left challenges getting home in two.
Greens are heavily contoured, requiring great imagination to keep from facing long second putts. The contouring can be a bit repetitive as a number of greens (five by my count) feature a ridge dividing the front and back.
Built on a hillside, the course provides lovely views of Monterey Bay from many holes. The flip side is that over half the greens are elevated, and four more are bunkered in front, causing Black Horse to play longer than the yardage on the scorecard.