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.”
For me Cypress Point is the most expensive course I’ve ever played and yet the green fee was free. The caddy fee was $150 (my half, he had two bags, no problem), however, in order to accept the invite I had to change my plane ticket back to Amsterdam where I live, it wasn’t changeable, $1500 later I had a new return ticket a day later. On top of that I didn’t properly request permission from my now ex-fiancée before booking my trip, a fit was raised, there was no understanding and as a result no more relationship. Sad but true, I bet there isn’t a single golfer reading this that wouldn’t of understood how special this opportunity was and granted at least a hint of understanding. Thanks guys! Honestly, I’ll happily break off the next wedding as well if she won’t understand the need for me to accept the Augusta/Pine Valley invites if and when they come. I mean I would clearly understand the multiple long weekend shopping trips to Milan as a matter of exchange.
I attended a member/guest day, starting with drinks and lunch, our game and then cocktails after we finished. Expecting a good sized group I was rather shocked that there were a total of three guests (2 golfers) and 5 members that attended. Three of which my host had invited just to join for lunch because he had a guest from overseas. What an honor! Among them were a famous golf historian and wonderful gentleman and ex Cypress Point pro who shares the course record of 63 with Ben Hogan. At 41 years old I was the baby of the group, my host was 92 years young at time. The rich history and stories were flowing throughout, I just sat back and soaked it all up from gentlemen that had experienced it all first hand.
As prep for my round I had read ”The Match” by Mark Frost which depicts one of the most important golf matches of all time between pros, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan against amateurs Harvey Ward and Ken Venturi which takes place at Cypress Point. A must read for golf fans. The round itself, well Cypress Point is amazing, the course plays much like the reading of a great novel that builds slowly to an amazing climax, the first 6 holes winding their way through the coastal pine forest with the next 6 holes running through the dunes only to reach an amazing climax unique in the golf world with the last holes all running near or along the ocean. We had a perfect day, beautiful blue skies and a light 1-2 club breeze blowing.
Upon reaching the 15th hole I was already in awe and while as previously mentioned it was but a short iron. I believe I hit a 9 myself on the day into the wind. It’s the most beautiful golf hole I’ve ever seen. The 16th makes your heart beat in your throat, hitting straight into the wind. It was arguably a driver on our day, 231 yds plus a 2 club breeze into your face. I chose a 3 wood and decided to give it a bit more. Unlike the chaps below that all seem to hit the ball to a tap in distance on this tough hole I pulled mine left, tough to control the adrenaline rush. Luckily for me the ice plant stopped it from going off the cliff to the left of the green. I chunked it out and escaped with a bogey. My provisional ended on the front right side of the green. All the gentlemen I played with also made bogeys by taking McKenzie’s alternative route to the left which allows you to play the hole as a par 4 with only a 100 yard carry to a partially blind fairway.
It was however on the 17th tee box that I was struck by the hand of golf enlightenment and had an emotional moment I am sure will not soon be equaled. Standing on the tee box perched atop the rock outcropping surrounded by the Pacific with waves crashing all around and sea lions barking a group of whales breached off to our right and it hit me that was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in all my travels. A truly emotional moment, I hung back from the group to take it all in, every one to the man understood and claimed to be honored with my reaction, after all that may well be the desired effect of this masterpiece and as MacKenzie stated there will never be a another course graced with the magical natural surroundings with which he had to work with.
An amazing round of golf for me is much more than playing well on a nice course, I shot a 79 on the day which wasn’t great and even missed my put to win our match on the last hole, tough with tears in your eyes I must admit. At Cypress Point it was the total experience, the camaraderie, the history, the beauty, the course itself, the service and welcome, my game on the day and the emotional impact that made this the greatest round of golf in my life.
Some days later and after knowing my schedule for the show, I emailed Marie with possible dates to play CP and just a couple of hours later I got the confirmation for a fourball on May 23rd! What is even better is that I could invite some friends to share the unique experience. So I got in contact with Alberto Agrest, a lifetime friend living in NY and who invited me to play Winged Foot and National Links of America some years ago and also told him to invite his 17 year old son Tommy, who is also a scratch golfer. Juan Pablo De Bary, golfing mate from Buenos Aires, completed the fourball. Just as an addition, we played all together Black Horse, Pasatiempo and Spyglass as well, not a bad golfing trip at all!!!!
The night before I was so anxious I could hardly sleep thinking all the time on the moment we arrived to tee 16th, the most famous spot on the Golf Course. We arrived very early to Cypress, around 7:15am and after some short warming up at the putting green and changing shoes at the locker room, we started the adventure of playing an authentic jewel. The Club House is charming and simple, as well as the small proshop in which you can find a big variety of stuff to buy as a lifetime memory from your visit to this golfing meca. The course is a masterpiece in every aspect: design, shape, variety, landscaping, views … everything gets together to make your round a big star in your golfing life.
The course can be divided into 4 parts: the first 6 holes in which you play inside the forest, but where you find lots of different challenges as the 2nd shot on par 5 5th, the tee shot on par 5 2nd or tee shot to par 3 7th in which you have to be really very precise. The second part is when you first play towards the sea at tee 8th and tee 9th, two really very interesting tee shots and even harder approaches, then you have easy par 5 10th as an impasse to 4 consecutive par 4s where you can destroy your round. Actually I gave it all between 11 and 13: after a slow start I birdied 9th and 10th to stand 1 over par at tee 11th and then my caddie Marty said “Here is where the golf course begins” and he was right as I gave 7 shots on those 3 holes!!
In this spot Marty my caddie told me the best story of the day: young Andy Bean was 7 under (32 on front nine plus eagle on 10) on the AT&T Pro-am on a day of very strong wind we he was told to try not to spoil his round in the wind, “I saw it all” was his answer. The story ends with a 13 over 48 on the back nine including that eagle, amazing!!!! Something similar happened to me and it was really disappointing as I dreamed to score a good round, but sometimes this happens. After two good shots and a narrow birdie miss on 14th we followed to the last, best and nicest part of the course.
The walk to tee 15th is adrenalinic, once you climb those last steps you stand in the all life dreamed spot in golf. Those 4 last holes are not only nice but also challenging and in different way: 15th is a short iron but surroundings can really distract you (hit the green and 2 putts for par), 16th is the bravest carry I have ever faced (together with 13th hole at Punta Espada in Cap Cana) where I narrowly missed the green but up and down for par (I also hit a mulligan and got it towards 20 feet from the pin), then 17th is a panoramic but not that tough drive (driver, 58° and 2 putts for par) and finally 18th a very nice tee box by the sea heading to a very nice uphill par 4 with a very elevated green, another par for the nicest walk I ever made playing golf.
What else can I say? I keep as a memory the scorecard, yardage book, the club rules, the invitation letter and some stuff bought at the small and charming proshop. If you are ever lucky to play this course, try not to get too distracted with the atmosphere and views, try to play golf!!! When I got some concentration I hit really good shots, but every now and then distraction and too many pictures cost me a lot of strokes. If it happens that I am invited again, I will not take my camera, and I will try only to hit a couple of decent golf shots and not to lose focus. An unforgettable golf round, a lifetime achievement, the chance of breathing the truest possible golf experience, the chance to watch a masterpiece in design, the opportunity to be an elite golfer for one day, to listen to the best golfing stories in the last century … CYPRESS POINT IS ALL THAT TOGETHER!!!
Like many before and many to follow, I gifted the Pacific yet another ball after it cannoned off the cliff face, just a couple of feet below the green. Despite my heroic attempt failing, this was the most exhilarating and fulfilling experience of my golfing life. Of course it’s not a purist’s par 3, as you need to be a long-hitter and a straight long-hitter at that, just to have a chance of making the green in regulation. The 16th is pure fantasy and the feeling as I emerged from the cluster of Cypress trees to see the most glorious sight in golf will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Make no mistake though, the holes leading up to and following the fabled par 3, are far from a support act. In my opinion, this is the most perfect golf course on earth, with eighteen beautifully-crafted holes forming Alister Mackenzie’s most thrilling progression of twists and turns. Unlike many of its neighbours, Cypress Point does not boast a palatial clubhouse. It is a relatively small building with its locker room appearing unchanged in a hundred years and a tiny pro shop, with odds and ends of club merchandise crammed-in on rails and tables. Whilst guests are not allowed in the clubhouse without being accompanied by a member, I found all of the staff and caddies to be incredibly friendly and welcoming. Their guidance was crucial at the 1st tee, where a six-foot hedge stands between you and the fairway. Only after emerging from behind this obstacle does it truly feel like you are on the course.
The par 4 1st serves as a gentle introduction before McKenzie tests you with the longest hole on the course, a tricky par 5 which climbs steadily away from the ocean and towards the forest. The 3rd is a relatively straightforward par 3, requiring a decent mid to high iron shot to avoid a series of sprawling bunkers, which will punish anything falling short and right. Following a tight tee-shot on the par 4 4th hole, you journey into the forest and face a tricky uphill approach into an undulating green. It feels like a different course here, as the tall Monterey Pines grow denser and narrow the fairways on surely the best back-to-back par 5s to be found anywhere. The 5th hole perfectly divides each one of your shots to the green with three distinct plateaus, separated by steep uphill climbs and classic McKenzie bunker complexes. Number six curves gently to the left and swoops softly down back towards the dunes, with a long and narrow bunker cleverly-positioned behind the green to deter longer hitters blasting a 3-wood at the pin. These par 5s are designed to be played as such and with steady, straight shots, I managed to play them in regulation. The tree-lined fairways and measured terrain changes test your accuracy before progressing onto the dunes, where the par 3 7th leads onto a ledge, from which you hit a blind tee shot on the dog-leg 8th over a monstrous dune. It is not necessary to shape your shot left to right here, but simply to take a line from the caddie and hit a straight drive which will set you up for a short iron or wedge up to the T-shaped green.
The 9th tee provides one of the great vistas of Cypress point, looking over the picturesque bunkering around the 13th green with the Pacific Ocean in the background. 9, 10 and 11 all present choices on line and length to be made from the tee, but the way in which the holes lie mean you can map out your route to the green, without any blind shots to contend with. McKenzie’s philosophy on minimising blind shots is then displayed alongside his belief that a course should utilise natural beauty, as the 12th and 13th feature remarkable examples of bunkers blending seamlessly into sand dunes.
Cue scene change again, as you leave the dunes behind and begin the stunning sequence of ocean holes. A wide open fairway on 14 invites you to open your shoulders before steering your approach shot through a narrow gap in the Cypress trees to a small green which slopes significantly back to front. Now onto the most idyllic and thrilling three-hole progression in the world, due in large part to the incredible scenery, dramatic cliffs and invigorating ocean breeze. The way in which McKenzie utilised the jagged coastline here though is nothing short of genius. Only Amen Corner at Augusta National can come anywhere close to the notoriety of this trio. With back-to-back par 3s at 15 and 16, you are challenged by tee shots over gushing waves and families of seals on the rocks below, but also by undulating greens and intricate bunkers which drain balls from the edge of the putting surface.
Despite being the shortest hole on the course with the highest stroke index, I would argue that the 15th is far from the easiest. A short and high flight is required to battle with the ocean wind off the tee and no less than eight bunkers surround Cypress Point’s smallest green. It presents a totally different set of challenges to the 16th, which requires a solid fairway wood or even driver, for most amateurs to consider getting close to the green. The 17th then gives no respite as it demands yet another tee shot across the ocean to a fairway aligned tightly with the cliff-top. However, the biggest hazard here is a clump of trees which break up the direct route to the green. They force a choice of playing safely around to the left, or flirting with another steep drop into the water by cutting the corner from the right of the fairway. Whilst my approach came up short of the green here, I was saved from losing another ball by a greenside bunker with a thirty-foot drop from its back lip onto the rocks below.
Before playing Cypress Point, I had seen the 18th described as little more than a walk back to the clubhouse and the one weakness in McKenzie’s masterpiece. I beg to differ, as it is perhaps only because of the dramatic progression leading up to the final hole that a golfer leaves slightly disappointed with the finale. The 18th actually requires precise placement off the tee, where a drive to the left half of the fairway will set up a straight shot up through the tight chute of tall Cypress trees to the green. After watching my trademark fade/slice return on this hole though, I was left with no line to the green and had to play sideways before making my approach. The final green slopes consistently back to front and sits in the shadow of the understated green and white clubhouse. Faced with a long putt here, I pictured Ben Hogan draining his lengthy birdie effort in 1956, when he set the course record of 63 which still stands today. Try telling the ‘Hawk’ that the 18th is a stroll back to the clubhouse!
Granted, the vast majority of golfers will only ever dream of playing Cypress Point. I count myself as immensely privileged to have been invited through the gates to experience the majesty of Monterey’s crown jewel. The vivid detail I have recounted in this review bears testament to the elation and excitement on every hole. Cypress Point filled me with a sense of awe that I am sure no other golf course on earth could match.