Every true golfer would love to play Cypress Point, but the reality of the matter is that unless you are in the know, only a lucky few will ever get the chance to tee it up on the 1st. Folklore has it that J.F. Kennedy was once refused entry to the restaurant and, with only 250 members, mere mortals find it hard to get a game.
Cypress Point Club is set at the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains on the very tip of the Monterey Peninsula and the cliff top terrain is varied and thrilling. Almost as many superlatives have been used to describe the beauty of the location as the course itself.
Masa Nishijima, co-author of Tom Doak’s Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, commented as follows: “Seth Raynor was under contract to do the course, but Raynor passed away in 1926 before the start of construction, and Robert Hunter managed to convince the client to let Dr. MacKenzie have a look at the course when he made his first visit to California later that year.”
“The best 17-hole course in the world” is how Cypress Point has been described. The closing hole is considered by some to be little more than a route back to the clubhouse and perhaps the 16th hole is a weakness too, especially if you can’t carry the ball more than 200 yards into the prevailing wind. The Pacific is the ultimate water hazard on this 231-yard one-shot hole. It’s considered the best golf hole in the world or the worst if you dump your third tee shot into the sea.
David commented on our Cypress Point article. We feel his points are valid and worthy of sharing:
“While most of your course intros seem ok, this one is really off. It was one guy, Jimmy Demaret that called Cypress Point the best 17-hole course he's ever played. He was a great pro, but not an expert in golf course architecture by any means. Granted the 18th might be a little strange, but it's a great hole in its own right. At most courses maybe even their signature hole. A blind tee shot over Cypress Trees to a narrow fairway the dog legs steep up a hill to a green sloping form back to front with a huge cypress tree blocking out the entire left side of the green requiring a perfect drive to have a chance at the green with a shaped approach from an uneven lie. Land it too deep above the hole and you’re faced with a treacherous putt, miss right while shaping your shot and you are in one of the bunkers guarding the green. Does that sound at all like a weak hole?
Also the 16th is not properly described. In typical MacKenzie fashion this hole can be played many ways. He always leaves a way for weaker golfers. The 16th is no different. If the carry is impossible for your ability level you can play left requiring a carry of around or less than 100 yards to a partially hidden fairway and play this hole as a par 4. Any level can do this. I watched a 92 year old man par the hole with no problem in that fashion. So I'd argue this is not my opinion even, it's just plain fact which makes the intro you have incorrect and a bit unfair to Cypress Point and to MacKenzie.”
While a lot has been written about Cypress Point, and I of course pondered writing this review long before striking my first tee shot, I headed to the parking lot truly speechless. Much to my chagrin I looked down at my scorecard to find no more holes to fill in walking off 18, but upon turning it to the backside I found a quote from Alistair Mackenzie: “I do not expect anyone will ever have the opportunity of constructing another course like Cypress Point, as I do not suppose anywhere in the world is there such a gorgeous combination of rocky coast, sand dunes, and woods and cypress trees”. The last addition to that quote which makes Cypress one of if not the best course in the world is that nobody will ever have the design calibar of Marian Hollins, Alistair Mackenzie, and Seth Raynor ever again.
The Raynor routing is little different from today, with the only major differences being in the Northern dune section, where 6 would have played as a long par three and 7 playing up to the current 8th green. Additionally, a par 3 along 17 mile drive would have been included between the current 13th and 14th, and the famous 16th would have been played as a cape style par four. This was intended to be preserved by Mackenzie, but was changed when Marian Hollins disproved his worry of the hole’s difficulty by knocking a drive onto the future greensite.
The club is held in the top echelon in American golf but runs a much lower profile than some of its prestigious and pretentious neighbors atop course rankings. The facilities on site are miniscule, with the pro shop being no more than 300 or so square feet and the locker room containing a small number of wooden boxes, each carrying two or three names of business tycoons, celebrities or politicans.
The course begins with a downhill tee shot over 17 mile drive to a severely sloped green perfectly placed in the dunes. As you walk through the gate crossing the road you begin to understand how lucky you are to be one of the few who get to enjoy this walk (a quote plagiarized from the plaque on 17 tee).
While the 3 oceanside holes rightly garner the publicity they deserve the magic of Cypress Point lies in the routing of the prior holes. After all, there are dozens of courses along the Pacific with oceanside holes, Pebble having three times as many holes along the ocean as Cypress, and yet CPC is a vastly superior golf course.
The par 5’s are among, if not the best in the world. The tee shot at the second is played diagonally over a massive ridge, allowing for a risk reward shot right out of the gate. The fifth plays over dramatically undulating land framed by heavy trees and strategically placed bunkers to a green so severe that you may very well putt it 30 yards off the green. The sixth heads back towards the ocean to a sweeping fairway and a green guarded below a dune.
The second part of this magnificent routing can be seen in the finish of the outward nine. The seventh is a reverse redan placed perfectly on the side of a sand ridge. The eighth plays back over this ridge on a blind tee shot, where hugging the dune as aggressively as possible is the only way to have a good angle into the wild four tiered green. The ninth heads back downhill and begs the player to attempt to drive the green, but missing on the wrong side of the heavily sloped green can lead to carnage.
After walking past gnarled cypress trees on the unique fourteenth, a numbing thought crossed my mind. I was reminded that even though I had just played 14 of the best, most strategic holes in golf, on the other side of 17 mile drive. Every step of the walk up to 15 tee felt like slow motion, as my eyes were treated to the most beautiful view in golf. The two par threes in my sightline: the fifteenth and sixteenth, show the irrelevance of the term “par”, as they are alike only as they are labeled par threes on the scorecard. 15 requires a simple wedge to a boomerang green giving the player a great look at birdie. Walking confidently off this green towards the 16th, my heart began to pound harder, as I knew that what would face me in some twenty steps is the most difficult shot in all of golf. 16 is honestly not a hole anyone would make today, and if the Clambake were still played at Cypress, I would bet money that spoiled tour players would moan about it as being unfair. But it’s a firm test, 230 yards into the wind to a green guarded by cliffs on both sides, unlike any shot you’ll ever hit, and surely one you’ll remember for life. The 17th plays towards Pebble Beach on a diagonal line to a unique fairway with a massive cypress in the middle. The dogleg itself was the template for the 13th at Augusta and demands a tee shot challenging the cliff.
Many people disparage the 18th as a sour end to a perfect day, however, I believe that this claim is vastly incorrect based on two reasons. First, you have to acknowledge that you just played three of the undisputed greatest holes in the world. Obviously, turning away from the ocean knowing that you’ve just completed a once-in-a-lifetime journey to a place you always dreamt of is disappointing. However, you can’t allow this bias to interfere with a rational analysis of the hole. Second, those who complain about the hole lack an understanding of the architecture of it. It’s true to the penal school of design, demanding the player to hit a long iron off the tee over a tree to a narrow landing area. The nature of this tee shot combined with provides a great way to close matches on a great day, playing to a beautiful greensite framed by Mackenzie bunkers.
Walking off 18 is truly disappointing, not because of the quality of hole just played, but just because of how close you are to the first tee, and knowing that the experience you have long dreamt of is behind you. There is no doubt in my mind that Cypress Point has to be in any conversation regarding the greatest course in the world, the routing offers a unique challenge, breathtaking views and a whole lot of fun.
It's such a privilege just be on the property, let alone play the course. My second time playing on a perfect day in December.
Privileged to play CPC but unfortunately it was only a couple of days after deep coring and sanding of the greens so they were nearly unplayable. I was surprised just how good the inland holes were and it definitely wasn’t a waiting game to get to the 14th tee. Sadly Cypress Point isn’t perfection due to a weak finishing hole, for me Pine Valley is number one as there’s not a mediocre hole on the property. It’s a first world argument though.
Recently I was fortunate to receive the invite to play Cypress. Needless to say I was pretty excited and it lived up to expectations.
A few points noted during play:
- Routing - What a neat routing Cypress has. The round takes you across multiple landscapes - from cypress groves to Monterey pines to dunes to rugged cliffside ocean. MacKenzie uses the central dune magnificently. Never is the green to tee walk long, except where it should be. The long walk from 14 green to 15 is one of the best transitions in golf. It creates a tremendous sense of anticipation. You stroll through the cypress trees then cross 17 mile drive. The sound of the crashing waves becomes louder. Finally you round the bend and see the beautiful 15th hole, with bunkering even better than you imagined.
- Tie-ins - the melding of the course and the natural environment is so well done. Everything seems at one with the landscape and feels natural. The course is very well manicured but it still melds well with the rugged nature of the property.
- Green complexes - they sit so well into their natural environments. Cypress has some of the most interesting green complexes I have ever played. I do think the greens were running too fast for the slopes. It could be due to the time of year when our caddies said the course is at its firmest. I don’t believe MacKenzie would have not designed such slopes for greens running 12 on the stimp.
- Turf - the turf is firm underfoot and plays firm and fast. A run up shot is eminently possible at CP. It's as close to perfection as you can get on a non-links course.
Holes I most enjoyed are: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17. You really could list them all. The green complex on 1 is really good. The tie-ins on 3 are really well done. 5 is a beautiful three shot hole with layered bunkering. 8-9 on the central dune are are some of the most unique holes you’ll ever play. 11 with its central hazard is a challenging yet fun long par 4 into the prevailing wind. The artistic bunkering on 13 has to be seen in person. Everyone knows about the finishing four holes so no point in elaborating on them. 6 balls truly undersells the magnificence of Cypress Point. It’s a special experience.
My only wish is that more golfers could experience it to see just how good golf architecture can be. MacKenzie was a genius and Cypress is an extra level above the other excellent MacKenzie courses I've played. 6 balls is underselling this course. Cypress Point is proof of how good golf can be. I feel privileged to have played there. October, 2020
The greens were in terrible shape. I am sure it was quite temporary and everything is back in order now. Could be the best course I have ever played. The last four holes are perhaps the best in all of golf.
"The last four holes are perhaps the best in all of golf." Seriously? Much has been rightly written on the merits of the 15th thru the 17th. The 18th is hardly worthy of global acclaim. Nothing sum this up better than the quote from Jimmy Demarest about Cypress Point -- "was the best 17-hole course he had played." I don't know of any person who would include the 18th at the same level as the three holes that precede it. If I'm wrong -- then likely those who see it the same way as you -- can weigh in with their rationale.
M James Ward, I must confess I haven't played the course (I'm a mere mortal...) but as you can see in the end of the intro, this statement by this 'great pro but not an architecture expert' can in fact divide opinions and should not be considered an undeniable truth. I can only dream about following up on this comment with my own thoughts one day after having played CP!
I found your comments to be interesting if somewhat misplaced. You frankly admit you've never been to Cypress Point so therefore you have no way in personally knowing if the original statement about the final four holes being "the best in all of golf" is remotely accurate.
I, along with others on this site and no doubt elsewhere -- have played the course on more than one occasion.
You do call into question my referencing comments from Jimmy Demaret (three-time Masters champ I might add). OK -- fair enough. How about the comments of Tom Doak -- an active architect of the first order -- how would you assess his credentials?
In his original Confidential Guide book he sad the following :
"... even though the 18th hole is about as anti-climatic as the credit reel of a movie."
The 18th is not as bad as the harshest of critics would state, however, the original stated assertion that the 18th is in the same league with the preceding three holes is simply preposterous.
M. James - In my view your “I’ve played it several times and you haven’t” argument/comment is interesting but I feel somewhat misplaced.
After all, Kurt’s played the course too - and it reads to me that, rather than disagreeing with you, Maarten was merely drawing attention to the fact that in the above course intro, “David” gives a reasonable account of why he feels 18 at CP is a good hole.
Therefore it’s not an undeniable truth that it is a bad hole (i.e. Maarten’s comment is fair) - even if it’s not at the same level as the 3 that precede it
The Monterey Peninsula in California is home to many wonderful golf courses, including the renowned Pebble Beach almost next door on the rugged Monterey coastline. But whereas Pebble Beach is a public course, and home to many events including the US Open, Cypress Point remains a very private and exclusive club.
It is a charming combination of exclusivity, the most spectacular of sites, and wonderful design. McKenzie is famous for his bunkering, and Cypress Point has sandy hazards at every turn- strategically positioned, with wonderful wild shaping, and at times providing a level of intimidation. In my view the bunkering defines the course at Cypress as much as the spectacular setting...
Our day started with an oddity! Our host proceeded to hit his opening tee shot into a hedge crossing the fairway- what a disappointing start to a day with such promise! No matter, he quickly declared 'breakfast ball', pulled out a new ball and parred the hole.. That was an education for the uninitiated, and something we have seen many times since with our friends from the states.
After the first hole the course turns inland through pine forests, and the bunkering is sublime.. My memory of holes 4 & 5 is dominated by acres of sand- strategically placed, artfully designed and totally 'in synch' with the surroundings. There are some wonderful runs of holes here- I particularly I liked the back to back shorter par four 8th and 9th holes.
And I think that the run of the 15th, 16th, and 17th is the most exciting golf I have ever played. When you walk from 14 green to 15 tee along the coast you turn the bend and the sound hits you in the solar plexus- a cacophony of waves hitting the rocks, the calls of the wild- seals and sea birds... and then you turn again and confront the most beautiful short par 3 possible. Overwhelmed you putt out on 15 and proceed around the point.
You need to adjust again to the sound of the pounding sea overpowered by the pounding of your heart as you approach the most famous par 3 in the world - the par 3 200metre 16th hole with ocean carry from tee to green. It is a tad overwhelming!.. but completely awesome!
The seventeenth tee sits on a point nearly surrounded by ocean. Your tee shot must carry the ocean and coastal rocks which run at a diagonal to your line of play. Of course the safe line away from the sea requires less carry but leaves a longer approach over a pine tree, whereas a longer or more daring tee shot hugging the coastline will leave a shorter approach from a better angle. You choose!
The closing hole is nice, but is perhaps the weakest hole on the course- an uphill par 4 through the trees. Originally MacKenzie had suggested the tee be positioned on a rock off the coast (which was to be reached by a swing bridge). Now that would have been a memorable finish!
CPC has that perfect combination of great strategic design, wonderful variety of golfing terrain (through sand dunes, pine forest, and along the coast), and gorgeous ocean backdrops
In my opinion it ranks with Pine Valley as the best two courses in the world- but CPC is the one I would play over and over- it is just that good.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Cypress Point is the perfect golf course. Every hole is memorable each improving slightly from the previous and cumulating at the 17th. Like most of the top courses, the greens at Cypress Point are unique to the course. Amazing MacKenzie greens. Multi-tiered, multi breakers and massive fun! I wish I could be more articulate but Honestly the course left me speechless. If you can only play one round this is it!!
i am sitting here by MYSELF,socially distancing, living vicariously through your review. Put a good word in for me, I am ready, willing and able.
Good health to all
When you can play badly and walk off and have had fun then that is a brilliant course. CP must be one of the best places to be a Member on the planet. Definitely a Top 10. The 10th and 18th let it down badly but there is no purer start on the planet than the first 6 holes. And 13-17 simply amazing. Shot value, shot choice and the journey from sand to forest to sea is amazing.
The quote from Bobby Jones when assessing the character of Pebble Beach and Cypress Point is the most accurate and cryptic of them all. Jones stated Pebble was "more difficult" but Cypress was "more fun." That is the core of what makes Cypress Point so enchanting.
For me -- Cypress is the quintessential member's course. The reputation of the layout embodies the central philosophy of Alister MacKenzie from start to finish. The intersection with Mother Nature is also central to the round of golf and the good Doctor was wise enough to not attempt any heavy handed insertions.
The nuts and bolts of the course have been accurately mentioned by earlier reviewers. To give the course the maximum six stars is truly short-changing this work of art. I've been quite fortunate to have played the course in different times of the year with varying degrees of weather -- from ample blue sky with light winds to more challenging with high winds and a spritzing of off and on rain showers.
Although most golfers are thoroughly aware of the final few holes along the Pacific, it is the interior holes which are quite extraordinary. The land for these holes provides a range of different "looks." MacKenzie weaved a brilliant array of different holes. There are moments where the bold play is invited but at no time is the course a one-way oriented venture. There are clear choices -- strategies to be constantly weighed.
The location of the course is clearly one of the most powerful features. I have always opined that land is no less than 60% of the equation when weighing the merits of any course. While not all grand locations will yield an equally grand course, I do believe when you have great land and can intersect that with a riveting routing you have the formula for a tour de force result. That is what Cypress Point has in spades.
There are a number of all-world holes. I have always liked the nature of the short par-4's at the 8th and 9th respectively. They are simply spellbinding for their innate beauty and they are also within the domain of most golfers.
The layout possesses a wonderful array of different two-shot holes. The opening hole is often not mentioned but it's a fine starting hole. The qualities of the 11th and 12th in succession are quite demanding when played into the wind coming off the Pacific. I believe the 14th is usually forgotten given the run of holes to follow. The par-4 isn't long -- just under 400 yards -- but it yields to nothing but first rate executions.
The genius of MacKenzie hits an even higher note with what three of the final four holes provide. The 15th plays roughly 135 yards but it takes a special effort to nestle an approach near to the hole. The virtues of the 16th are beyond my ability to form words to sufficiently highlight what is present.
I can remember vividly my first time and I was utterly mesmerized. The pounding of the waves along the shore -- the yelping of the sea lions basking in the sun along the rocks and the green stationed on the other side with the Pacific Ocean standing in one's way in much the same manner as a sentinel on guard. There is a bailout area to the left for those who cannot summon the guts to fire across and attempt to reach the holy grail of a putting surface. But, anyone who comes to Cypress Point had best give it a try -- you can never be sure if your visit will permit and encore situation. What's amazing about the hole is that the legendary Bing Crosby made a hole-in-one here -- one of only two ever to do so.
Without questions, the 16th demonstrates the validity of the long par-3 in golf. There's an escape route but anyone taking on the carry and exiting with a par can rightly say you've been "blessed by an even higher authority."
The 17th provides visual stimuli in harmony with the 16th. When you stand on the rearmost tea box you see the wondrous intersection of land and water. The par-4 is beautifully framed with a cluster of cypress trees in the drive zone and they can insert themselves for those failing to respect their location -- both from the tee and with the approach.
The concluding hole at Cypress Point has been bandied about by many, many people with camps of supporters and detractors in equal measure. Jimmy Demarest, the famed golfer and holder of three Masters titles, said Cypress Point is the best 17-hole course in the world. Clearly, the Texan was speaking with the 18th in mind.
The hole is not an easy one per se, but after such a string of stellar holes it would be near impossible to do so with a finishing one that works its direction away from the water and near to the clubhouse.
Frank "Sandy" Tatum, the former USGA president and long time member called Cypress Point "the Sistine Chapel in golf" and there really is no better correlation. Cypress Point shows that the "fun" dimension is what makes golf so grand a game. The juxtaposition with Pebble Beach so nearby makes for a dynamic duo of the highest order.
Cypress Point is akin to what Orson Welles created with the cinema giant, "Citizen Kane." Like the movie -- every frame of Cypress Point is accounted for by MacKenzie. Those who have the opportunity to play this masterpiece will never forget one's time there.
by M. James Ward
It's almost 20 years to the day since I last played Cypress Point. This review sums up my feelings, but few commentators say things so succinctly as Tom Doak, who wrote the following in his Little Red Book.
Why Cypress Point is so Good
Nearly everyone walks off the 18th at Cypress Point thinking he left some shots out there. That's the reason it's such a good course, whether or not long hitters think it's too short. And more importantly, it drives home the point that a course does not have to be super-hard to leave you with the feeling you could have done better.
For many score is way too important -- they can't understand that most people are out there to have fun, and that fun can be more about the beauty of Nature, than about your score.
This review really seems to capture the spirit of the place. I have been questing to play CPC for many a year and the reason is that the course seems to blend strategy and scenery into a fun golf experience that few other courses can come close to matching. This review only make me want to play there more, great job MJW!
I've been fortunate to have played Cypress Point a few times back in the early nineties. I've got a couple of friends who are members there and they're both very generous characters who often brought guests there. The first time we played there was the best, as I always welcome "weather" when playing on the peninsula. It was a typically foggy/misty/rainy day with a little wind and the course was playing its best that day. We were having a grand time and by about the 14th hole, it was raining for real, but it was nowhere near unplayable. We hardly noticed though, and our game continued on. On fifteen, our host says, "how's everyone doing? Should we pack it in?" I said, "what!? Pack it in!? What are you talking about "pack it in!?". He says, "yeah, the caddies are done...they're going in". I'd say that was about the most shocked moment of my life. That's right, the caddies were done. We cajoled them into continuing until 16, where they dropped our bags and headed in. I was a "professional" caddy only 10 years earlier and if I'd ever pulled that stunt, I'd have been banned for life. But, there it was, and our caddies were gone. So much for the ultra rich treating the "help" poorly. BTW, it was still the best day of golf ever. BTW, in those days, guests weren't allowed to purchase anything in the pro shop....no hats, towels...nothing...members only. A book of matches was about all you could take with you.