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 about the beauty of the location as have been used to describe the course itself. Seth Reynor was originally drafted in to design Cypress Point but sadly he died before its completion so Dr Alister MacKenzie, perhaps the world’s greatest ever architect, stepped in to complete the job during the “Roaring Twenties”.
“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.
If you’ve played Cypress Point, we’d be most grateful if you’d write a review for us and let others know how you managed to get a game and also how you coped with the tee shot on 16.
7th September 2011 - 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.”
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.
I recently got the opportunity to play Cypress Point, and the course lived up to every expectation that I had knowing it was regarded as the best course in the world.
The first tee shot was one of the most intimidating shots of my life as the tee box is right next to the clubhouse and all of the members waiting to tee off, as well as the caddies all watch. The tee shot goes over a hedge that protects the road in front of the tee box, so a mishit could lead to an embarrassing moment to start the round. After the first shot the 1st hole plays as one of the hardest holes on the course as it is one of the longer par 4s on the course and as you approach the green there is a large uphill. The green is massive and has a large back to front slope so if you find yourself far from the pin, it makes for a difficult two putt.
After the first hole, you make your way towards and then through the California pines. My favorite holes in this stretch were the 2nd and the 5th, the two par 5s. The 2nd hole provides a fun tee shot as there is a bunker that protects the start of the fairway which you can carry as much or as little of as you want. The second shot is also tricky as there are two bunkers that make accuracy critical otherwise you will find yourself hitting your approach shot from a bunker. I found myself in one of the bunkers with my second on the second day, and I had to struggle to make a bogey.
The 5th hole is one of the most unique holes that I have ever played as it has two large uphill slopes, one about 175 yards from the hole and one that elevates the green. The hole is not extremely difficult, but if you don't get your second shot up the first hill, the big number comes into play.
Some of the other notable other holes in the front 9 were the 7th, a par 3 over the 6th green where if you don't hit your tee shot on or around the green, an up and down is nearly impossible. The 8th hole is notable because I thought it was the hardest hole on the course with the blind tee shot and the green is protected by a bunker and an errant shot to the left almost certainly will result in an unplayable.
I also loved the 12th and 13th holes with their elevated tees providing stunning views of the course and distant views of the ocean. After walking off the 14th green, you cross a street and then go along a path, which provided a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean as you approach the 15th tee. The first day I played, it was so foggy that you could barely see the green from the tee. This made for a very interesting shot, and I hit it long into the back bunker and made a bogey. On the 16th, I had to hit it to the right as I could not carry it to the green, and hit a solid shot and had a 50 yard chip in. I made a fairly average bogey with a chip and two putts.
The 17th tee is probably the coolest tee in golf as it has the best view of the Ocean on the course and you can see the beautiful 17th hole as well as the 16th. The trees in the middle of the fairway make the approach shot very tricky as it can be an obstacle to carry your approach shot over and sometimes cover your view of the pin. As for the 18th, I actually loved it. I would not agree with the statement that Cypress is the best 17 hole course in the world. The tee shot is very tricky as you must carry a tree, and an errant shot to the right likely means punching out and trying to hit your third shot to the green.
Overall, Cypress for sure held up as the best course in the world. It was in pristine shape, and every single hole was unique and fantastic in its own way.
Cypress Point is a special day and, for me, the epitome of golf course design. The course is all of strategic, challenging, thrilling, fun, playable, and memorable. Dr. MacKenzie’s distinct bunkering and camouflage elements are spellbinding. Following the good Doctor’s guiding principles, the course is attractive to look at all the way around. The place would be a great walk even if there were no golf course there. And then you cross the street, walk under the canopy of trees and the 8th wonder of the golfing world unfolds before your eyes on 15 and 16. To top it off, the place has a cool vibe. Overall, a transcendental experience. For yours truly, it gets no better where the surf meets the turf. - Jake Starr
5 years ago, I broke off my engagement for a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to play Cypress Point…best decision I ever made. Not to mention the best day of golf I’ve ever had on what for me is the #1 course in the world. A chance to revisit this wonderful place I really couldn’t have dreamed up, yet there I was on another absolutely perfect October day. Warm with a light breeze and beautiful sunshine. What I really noticed this time around was how much of the course I missed in the first go. Most likely due to being so overwhelmed at the experience. The greens were running pretty fast this time given we played a morning round and that emphasized the danger of ending up above the hole. A mistake I would make a few times in the beginning of the round which makes for quite a few sideways putts to try and let them trickle down to the hole without rolling right off the green.
At Cypress Point it always seems to be the ocean holes that receive all the love but the fact is it’s not always being placed as the #1 or #2 course in the world simply because of these holes. At Cypress Point there are 18 wonderful golf holes that are totally different and make the very best possible use of a great property. Every hole is completely unique, the first 6 winding their way up into the coastal pine forest followed by 6 holes running through the dunes and finally the last 6 holes where ocean views and drama reign supreme. There is a wonderful mix of short and long holes, reachable par 5’s and heroic carries that always offer a safer way to play for lesser, shorter or senior players. Yes, there is no doubt in my mind that Cypress Point is the ultimate members course and this additional fact is for me what makes it the best course in the world – the best of Alister MacKenzie on the ultimate property for golf.
There can be no greater experience in golf than a round at Cypress Point on a perfect day (or perhaps any day for that matter).
The Cypress Point Club, located down the road from Pebble Beach, is the best golf course in the world. An Alister MacKenzie masterpiece, it has an unbeatable combination of factors that make it the best. This includes the genius of the routing, the uniqueness of the cypress trees, the artfulness of the bunkers, the bright-white sand, the color of the water in the bay, the ingeniousness of how MacKenzie camouflaged the traps, and the unbeatable views.
Herbert Warren Wind wrote about Cypress Point when they hosted the Walker Cup in 1981: “It should be emphasized that Cypress Point possesses a diversity of terrain possibly unmatched by any other course. It offers not only an unforgettable stretch of cliff-lined holes but some excellent orthodox seaside holes, a few stunning dune-land holes and an arresting sequence of holes that climb inland into hilly terrain, their fairways cut through a forest of Monterey pines. Back in 1929, Bobby Jones, who had come to California to play in the U. S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, found the time to get in two rounds at the newly-opened Cypress Point layout. Asked what he thought of the two courses, Jones, with his usual acumen and diplomacy, replied, ‘Pebble Beach is more difficult, but Cypress Point is more fun.’”
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
During May 2011 I had the luck of being invited to play Cypress with 3 friends, unaccompanied. We had a blast and it will always be one of my best golfing experiences. 5 exact years later, during a trip to Pebble Beach with 44 customers I had the chance to play it again, with my friend Lucas and very kind Member Gary. 5 years ago I was already there and just had to drive 10mins from the Hotel, this time it was totally different and I arrived just in time to tee off with no time for lunch or even hitting a couple of balls.
On May 19th I departed from Buenos Aires to San Francisco via Miami, My plane was scheduled to arrive to SFO 10:30am but it was delayed and arrived 11:15am. Once I got the rental car and put the course on the GPS, the arrival time was 1:45pm which was 15 mins after my tee time!!! I took it calmly and speeding just a little bit managed to arrive 1:28pm, just with enough time to change my shoes and hit a couple of putters before the round started. Lucas and Gary were already there and 1:40 the round started. It was a very different round from 2011, on a sunny and windy day, but with the experience of Gary having one story after another about the history of the course. It was a miracle but after that long trip, driver and PW to 2 feet for birdie on 1. The rest of the round was good but not the putting, a very decent 77 goes as a nice memory of the golf. But the most important part of the story is the details and stories Cypress gives you in a 3h15mins round of golf (yes, that was our pace of play!).
On #2 Gary told us the story about the guy living there who was offered an obscene amount of money for his house and simply said “No, this is my home and I plan to live here the rest of my life”. On #4 I told Lucas the detail of the bunkers: if you look back from the green you will not see the bunkers and not even have a clue where they stand, it is one of the secrets of Mackenzie´s work which he learned during the war.
Walking #5 I learned something I missed in 2011: that year we played all 18 without a single byte of food, but this time Gary showed us where this little house is standing between 6th tee and 10th green where you can grab fruit, cookies, drinks, water and chips. You just grab what you need and take it with you, nobody stops and is one of the secrets of such a fast and nice pace of play.
During the play of #10 he told us the story about the Club Championship. Cypress doesn’t have actual Tournaments and the Club Championship is played in a very particular way: On a weekend in September they play 18 holes on a Saturday and after that the best 16 play one more round to define the 4 qualified for the semis. On Sunday they play all 4 together but each match is played separate. Once they finish the 2 winners match their scorecards to see who is the Club Champion, so you really are playing 3 matches at the time. After that a Barbecue is celebrated in the barn at the left of #11. Relaxed, enjoyable, without drama, that is how golf is supposed to be for amateurs!
When we came to #15 Gary told me and showed me the original tee for the hole, which is left of the current one and shorter. It was changed because it didn´t have such nice views, but it is still there and every now and then it is used.
Finally the moment came: tee shot at #16. Again a bad swing as in 2011 but again it landed safe over the water, this time it was a bogey. Lucas hit a perfect driver to the green but couldn’t 2-putt from 15mts. It is weird, you dream all the night with the shot and when there you get so adrenalinic that you can’t hit it nice! In 2011 I had a mulligan, this time it was not possible.
The round came to an end and I have to say that despite being very fast, we enjoyed it a lot. After that we took some time at the Proshop and to walk around the Club House taking pictures of the fantastic terrace they have at the left of #18.
A great experience and I am grateful of having been able to do it for a second time. Maybe next time I take less pictures and can focus on playing golf!
After final confirmation that we were all set to go, we set off from Monterey early morning down 17 Mile Drive, one of the most scenic drives in the world. You can see the 1st hole, 2nd tee shot, 13th green and 14th tee shot from the road, and if you peek through the trees, you can catch a glimpse of the 15th green. These views certainly got us in the mood! One factor of the club is that the only sign for the course is on the turning – the famous sign saying ‘Cypress Point Members Only’, which gives you an idea on the intentions of the club. This is a place which prefers to remain anonymous and available for its members and guests only … members of the public are turned away if they don’t have permission. It’s what makes it so special to play, but also what makes it so frustrating for the majority of golfers who dream of playing here.
The 1st tee is little more than 3 or 4 paces from the pro shop & locker rooms, so you usually have an audience of around 15-20 people watching your first tee shot, which has to carry over the main road and over a hedge down to the wide fairway below. Caddies are compulsory and one is assigned to 2 bags. Our caddie on the day had been there for 25 years and proved invaluable in giving directions and lines, plus he was extremely friendly and relayed various stories of years gone by, which only added to the experience.
The course itself is as strategic as they come. Bunkers always appear where you don’t want them, the greens are lightning quick and have severe slopes, especially on the shorter par 4’s, and the fairways are extremely generous … you won’t lose many balls on the first 14 holes at least. It’s all about the angles into the green on the 2nd shot, and Alister MacKenzie was a master in making the greens look further away and smaller than they actually are. Also, the flagsticks are slightly smaller than normal, which only adds to the ‘distant’ nature of the approach shots. You find yourself aiming away from the flags and into the wider parts of the greens, especially when the pins are tucked away. It’s easy to make par but very difficult to make birdie, something that has always been said about one of his other courses, Augusta National.
After a cracking 1st hole, where you drive down into the wide fairway with the edge of the Pacific in view, and a nasty green that slopes heavily from back to front (stay short of the flag), you head into the woods on the 2nd, the longest hole on the course and a difficult carry over a sandy canyon. After a decent par 3 3rd hole, the course really starts with the 4th, where the tee shot tries to push you towards the trees on the right, leaving you blocked out with your approach to the green, which is also sloped back to front. Any downhill putt on these greens must be treated with extreme caution, as the ball never seems to stop rolling … I barely breathed on a 20 footer at 4 and it ran 10 feet by. The 5th is a par 5 uphill in the thick of the woods (and the furthest point from the clubhouse) with loads of bunkers everywhere, the 6th is a reachable par 5 and the 7th is a short par 3 into the dunes surrounded by sand. All very nice holes, but you feel like you’re waiting to see what the course has to offer at this point.
So you stand on the 8th tee, looking back towards the clubhouse, and all you can see is sand and a tiny sliver of fairway on the left. This is one of the great par 4’s in golf, 330 yards uphill, a sharp dog-leg left to right with sandy waste area to the right. Miss it right and you can only hack back to the fairway, miss it left and you have a long shot to an uphill green with a huge step in it. The flag was back left at the top of the slope, with about 15 feet of landing area, one of the narrowest parts to a green I have seen. There were deep bunkers short and bushes (& more sand) over the back, with a huge drop off to the left … in other words, if you don’t hit a perfect shot, you’re making 5 or 6 at best. My caddie told me to play for the front right of the green, and after talking myself out of going for the flag, I did as I was told, made a good 2-putt up the green from 40 feet, and was the only person walking off with less than a 6. Brilliant hole.
The 9th is another short par 4, only 300 yards off the back tees and usually into the wind, and although I hit a driver just short and got up & down for a 3 (my only birdie of the day), this is another cracker of a short hole. The widest part of the fairway is around 180-200 yards from the tee, the fairways is completely surrounded by sand, some of it deep, and the green is again heavily sloped from back to front – anything past the flag will run off the front of the green and about 30 yards down the fairway. 10 and 11 give you a bit of a respite, 10 is a short par 5 with a wide fairway and a decent-sized green, 11 has a large bunker in the middle of the fairway but you have room to the left to hit round and there are no horrors on the green itself.
The 12th, after hitting your tee shot towards the clubhouse once again, bends sharply right, and it’s now that you start hitting back towards the Pacific and heading back towards civilisation, and the course steps up another gear again. The 2nd shot is on an upslope to a narrow green, and again, you don’t want to miss it left or right, but leaving it short is ok. The 13th is a brilliant hole, with at least a 50/60 yard wide fairway, but you need to hit it down the right, and of course that is where all the trouble is. The green is again small, which it should be for a shortish par 4, and close to the Pacific, so you can hear the seals barking away, and the road, so you can see all the cars with their drivers looking at you, thinking ‘lucky b*****d’! The 14th tee is above the 13th green and the road, with the 1st fairway to your left … miss it right and you are blocked out by the trees, miss it left and you have no shot. The 2nd shot has no margin for error – the green is in a private glade surrounded entirely by bushes and trees, so even though you are right by the main road, you feel totally secluded and private … one of the best spots on the course.
Now for one of the best walks in golf – crossing the road from the 14th green past the ‘Private Keep Out’ signs and the fencing, and up to the 15th tee. A lot is said about the 16th, but this was my favourite shot on the course – around 140 yards to a narrow green surrounded by sand and the Pacific on the right. The wind seems to pick up here as well – we played 14 in a light breeze, and 15 into a 20-25mph wind! There is some space on the left if you miss the green, but the chip is down the green and tough to stop. Once leaving the green, you walk through various trees for 100 yards before you hit the 16th tee and one of the most famous views in golf. At 231 yards off the back tees, and with a small green, Pacific Ocean left and right, and a huge bunker over the back, you have 2 options – take a 7 or 8 iron and play for the fairway down the left near the tree, or hit a 3 wood (or driver) and hope for the best. I somehow managed to hit my best 3 wood of the holiday onto the back of the green and 2 putted for a 3, and it is a great hole, but in my opinion it’s a bit too difficult … it’s either green or oblivion, unless you play it as a par 4. But what a feeling to stand there on the tee … you feel genuinely speechless looking at the green, having looked at it countless times online or in magazines, and it looks better in real life (and the green looks smaller!).
The best view of all is on the 17th tee – you look back down the 16th and part of the 15th to your left, and ahead of you is the fairway and cypress trees in the middle, with the ocean and rocks to your right. The hole itself is tough – you have to either hit it left of the trees, which is a big hit off the back tees, or you lay up around 40-50 yards short of them, leaving around 170 yards for your 2nd shot either over the trees or around them to the green. Again, anything right is into the Pacific. And if you over-compensate to the left, there are low-lying trees and bushes waiting for you, so you can only chip out to the fairway. Into the wind, this is a really tough hole. And you finish on 18 – loads of people don’t like it, and I can see why … you have to hit over a tree with your tee shot, but no more than 200 yards, leaving yourself the best angle to the green. Anything left is blocked out by the trees encroaching just short of the green, anything right leaves you with no shot but a chip out. And the 2nd shot is very much uphill to another narrow green with a steep slope back to front, so you can’t see where your ball ends up. It feels completely different to the rest of the course, and although it’s a good golf hole in its own right, it feels like an after-thought to what has gone on before.
In terms of cost for playing here, it cost me around $250, this includes green fee, caddie fee and tip … compared to the cost at Pebble Beach, it’s a bargain! It’s a truly special place, where you feel privileged to be there, and we didn’t really want to leave at the end. A busy day there is 8-10 groups on the course, so you have no-one in front of you and no-one pressuring you from behind, leaving you free to concentrate on your game and enjoying the scenery. The course was in immaculate condition, with hardly a blade of grass out of place, the houses surrounding the course are all at a discreet distance away, so it’s almost impossible to hit out of bounds, and the elevation changes are gentle apart from the 1st and 18th.
In terms of spectacular coastline golf, Pebble Beach has the better stretch of holes (4-10 & 18) in my opinion, but Cypress Point gives you a much more rich & rewarding golfing experience. Every shot, every putt, demands your total attention. I feel truly fortunate to play here and I sincerely hope many more readers of this site get the chance to play, because it really is an experience like no other.
Alister MacKenzie, one of golf’s great architects, designed Cypress Point in 1928. Even though it breaks many of the basic tenets of golf course design – the first hole plays across a road I’m sure didn’t exist in 1928, and there are two back-to-back par 5’s on the front nine and two back-to-back par 3’s on the back nine – Cypress Point ranks consistently in the Top 5 of every golf publication’s top courses list. Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Monterey Peninsula is the most felicitous meeting of land and sea in creation.” Its emerald-green fairways wind through the rugged hills and dunes of the Monterey Peninsula lined with beautiful pine and cypress trees. Many deer and elk call these fairways and greens home. There are three par 5’s on the front nine and all are risky, though not long. Holes 8 and 9 are on everyone’s list of great par 4’s. Number 8 is a 345-yard, 90-degree dogleg right, cut through the rolling dunes to a plateau green. Number 9 is less than 300 yards, but 300 of the most challenging yards in golf, especially when the wind is blowing, as it usually is. Larry Berle.