Pebble Beach conjures up an image in the mind but we suspect only a few people out there will know much about the private Monterey Peninsula Country Club which is also located close to 17-Mile Drive. There are two courses at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, Dunes and Shore. The Dunes layout is the layout that once received the accolades but the Shore course is now considered the better of the two by those in the know.
Originally designed by Bob Baldock back in 1962 and host to the Bing Crosby Pro-Am in 1965 and 1966, the Shore course was always a decent track and it even made 13th in CA State in Golf Digest’s 1997-98 awards. But that was before the late Mike Strantz was commissioned to restore the course. All 18 holes were re-routed alongside the largest removal of non-indigenous vegetation that the West Coast had ever seen.
In 2004, the Strantz restoration was complete and the result has been said to represent “as close to pure artistry as he ever achieved on a golf course”. The fairways pitch and roll in a similar manner to a true seaside links but the magic is really the way in which the course blends into the topography. This is golf ‘au naturale’ and perhaps the finest architectural swan song.
In 2010, the Shore layout returned to the rotation of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (the successor to the Bing Crosby Pro-Am) and has become a firm favourite course for many Tour players.
Having driven around 17 Mile Drive many times, I have often looked longingly across the rolling fairways of MPCC. In spring 2021, I was lucky enough to actually get the opportunity to go one step further and play the Shore course and I am pleased to report that it exceeded expectations.
The layout, as the name would suggest, resides in the main, in full view of the Pacific Ocean, with only holes 1-4 and 17-18 acting as connectors to get the players back to the clubhouse away from the shore. That being said, those holes lack nothing in quality, in fact holes 2 and 17 were two of my favourite holes on the course.
As you leave the 4th green, the sense of anticipation grows as you see the coastline unrestricted for the first time. What follows is quite honestly the most wonderful stretch of golf holes I have played in the United States. Characterful, testing without feeling overly onerous and all while finding your eyes wandering towards the ocean at every other glance.
The course was originally laid out in 1962, but it is Mike Strantz’s work in the early 2000’s that is credited with really bringing this course to life. Strantz apparently took time to survey the land from one of the highest points on the course, the rocky outcrop beside the 16th tee with the intention of best understanding and using the land and its natural undulations. Having sadly died in 2005, a year after the completion of his works, it seems fitting to think of the awe inspiring legacy he has left here on one his last pieces of work.
Having only played the course once, I’d have to say the finished article is a true seaside masterpiece. A note on the course conditions; they were in short, truly immaculate. There is no other way of describing them, particularly the greens. Being from the U.K. but having played a fair number of quality courses in the USA and South America, these are some of the fastest aggressively sloping greens I have ever battled with. To put this into perspective, I played Pebble Beach over the same weekend and these greens were superior in just about every area (understanding Pebble has to protect their greens to a degree due to the amount of traffic they receive).
As usual, it is so hard to pick favourite holes, but the run 6 thru 9 has a bit of everything. A wonderful risk reward par 5, two taxing par 3’s and the stroke index 1 8th hole which is a real pearler of a dog leg out to the far reaches of the course. Looking across to the Dunes course from the 8th green elicits feelings of great admiration for this expanse of land, both at MPCC and the wider Monterey Peninsula. There really can be no finer golfing stretch anywhere in the world than this ocean lined corner of California.
As I am rating more courses on the Monterey Peninsula I realize that its pretty tough to imagine MPCC then leaving, but if you include the Dunes I see this being a Top 5 36 Hole Facility in the U.S. The golf around there is that good. For the course, I really enjoyed being able to see a Mike Strantz in person. Contrary to Pebble, I don't think the near the Ocean are better than the ones further inland. The visual elements, especially on the Par 3's, fit my eye very well and all seemed pretty unique. The greens are good but aren't particularly imaginative and decently simple to navigate. Clear strategic elements all over the course, but there isn't a hole to really point out in particular. The forgiving fairways allow the tour players to have unrestricted wedges/short irons in all-day, but in my opinion perfect for the average to great golfer.
I am a real fan of Mike Stranz's work. I first became aware of him with his design at Tobacco Road near Pinehurst - one of THE most fun courses I have ever played.
Unfortunately Mike Stranz died of tongue cancer and MPCC Shore course was his last project -but he leaves a legacy of spectacular, artistic golf courses.
Playing The Shore course for me was a real treat. The Shore course starts quietly with some elegant holes through the pine trees and housing estate heading toward the renowned Monterey coastline.
By hole 5 the ocean is in view, and you can hear the seals, birds and rolling surf. And this is where the Stranz influence really kicks in with a cluster of holes sculpted by a real artist.
Stranz uses dramatic bunkering to complement the rocky outcrops, cypress pines and huge marine backdrop...
MPCC is a private club, and a relatively busy one.
The course is not a championship course nor a resort course- as such it is not unnecessarily tricked up in any way.
It is challenging, strategic, gorgeously visual, and although the greens have plenty of movement and interest they are capable of being entirely fair to regular club competition players.
Unusually the configuration is five par 5's, five par 3's and eight par 4's. The par 3's were all completely different in look and feel- with up and downhill shots in different terrain, and different lengths. I thought they were particularly good.
Notable holes include:
- hole 5, a short beautifully bunkered par 4 with ocean backdrop
- hole 6, a strong uphill par 5 with green nestled in the rocks (see pic mid page)
- hole 7, a longish uphill par 3 to a tabletop green
- hole 8, a long par 4 to the sea- the hardest hole on the course
- hole 11, a remarkable par 3 with elevated tee nestled in the boulders. The view is sublime to a green which is shallow and wide and a tough target to hit!
- hole 12, a strong par 5 along the coast
- hole 13, an attractive, well bunkered par 4 running parallel to the beach
- hole 15, a nice par and the last coastal hole. It has a spectacular skyline green..
There were so many good holes I would hate to name a favourite - perhaps the long par 4, 15th with skyline green, or maybe the par 5, 6th with it's green sitting in a rocky promontory, or perhaps the dramatic eleventh?
Needless to say I rate MPCC Shore course highly, and enjoyed my day.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.