20 Clubhouse Road,
California (CA) 95060,
- +1 831 459 9155
2 miles N of Santa Cruz
Welcome - contact in advance
Pasatiempo was the vision of expert horsewoman, lady golfer and entrepreneur Marion Hollins – the only woman in America with a men’s polo handicap. The great Alister MacKenzie designed the course and it opened for play in 1929 with a mixed exhibition foursome between Marion Hollins, Bobby Jones, Glenna Collett and Cyril Tolley.
The course is set on the rolling southern hills near Monterey Bay and it’s these slopes that provide much of the Pasatiempo drama. Pasatiempo has a number of Spanish meanings including, “hobby”, “pastime” or a “relaxed passage of time.” Certainly the front nine is a relaxed affair that offers straight tree-lined fairways, but the back nine is a monumental challenge with deep intimidating ravines – known as barrancas in Spanish – which cut across the fairways and greens.
In the early 1990s, club historian Robert Beck discovered many old course photographs and so Pasatiempo embarked on a lengthy restoration programme. The club entrusted Tom Doak with the task. Doak is an admirer of MacKenzie’s work and was therefore the perfect man for the job. The restoration of Pasatiempo completed in 2007 and Doak commented as follows:
“The restoration project was unusual in that we did the work over a period of years in order to keep the course in play throughout. We had the challenge of working with several green committees through the process, but their vision was always clear and consistent — to restore MacKenzie's design as closely as possible. Moreover, I would like to thank the three men who were a part of the project from beginning to end — club historian Bob Beck, who kept digging throughout the project for more photos to help us get things right; superintendent Dean Gump, who kept us organized and got us whatever we needed; and my lead associate Jim Urbina, who managed to keep finding time to get back to Pasatiempo in between building some great new courses for us. Dr. MacKenzie would be proud of them all.”
Undeniably, Pasatiempo is an entertaining course that holds the attention from the opening drive to the last putt. This semi-private club is one of the greatest public access courses in America and, in this day of so many closed and private Top 100 Golf Clubs, we raise our glasses to Pasatiempo.
Perhaps the most underrated classic course in the USA.
Set upon a spectacular and rollicking piece of land it is unusual in a number of ways. Alister Mackenzie's home is of course on the 6th hole, nearer the green, a nondescript domicile that now bears a plaque to go with the chickenwire fence.
One can see how much golf in USA has changed since the opening of this course. 6, 7, & 8 suffer from the old time Old Course-inspired concept of shared fairways being separated for legal purposes. The 7th is all too narrow, but the USA being a suit happy locale, the mindless planting of now massive trees was a necessity as well as the unsightly driving range fence on the 6th.
Far fewer golfers played in the 1920's than do today, in fact my first visit to Pasatiempo in the mid-1970's found the seventh choked by the trees that were then in1970's style full out bush style with nary a trim. Bottom boughs brushed the ground and it was terribly narrow with said boughs nearly touching the fairway edges. The previous par 5 6th still is narrow as well, but I do have a tendency to point out negatives - the things that keep golf courses short of perfection, but one must imagine how it once was rather than how it is now. Golf has changed and this section was poorly planned without any anticipation of how the game would be played nearly 100 years on.
Five wonderful Par 3's on property range from borderline unreachable 3rd set on the side of a hill to a near flip-wedge at the 15th. Some reviewers will criticize the Par 3 18th as it makes for an unconventional finisher, but it is preferable to todays preferred 900 yard one Par five with water, bunkers trees and stone outcroppings of misery.
Pasatiempo possesses simply great green complexes and ground contours with overall brilliant use of a great piece of land.
I'll add only the green of the lovely 4th, Par 4 ad the highest recommendation to go play this underrated course.
I could not wait to play my first Alastair Mackenzie golf course and Pasatiempo did not disappoint. The first thing that stood out is the difficulty of the par 3’s, although we played in 20-30 mile an hour winds. I felt like they made you use every club in the bag ranging from 220 to 140 yards. The next thing that stood out was the amazing green complexes. I recommend getting a caddie as you had better know where you need to put the ball as it is very much a 2nd shot golf course. It puts course management at a premium as you need to decide where the best place to leave yourself is without the ball still rolling off the green. I felt that these green complexes were more difficult than Donald Ross designs. The only green that I felt was completely unfair was #5. There was only like 2 spots the hole could go. My dad hit an awesome bunker shot to 2 feet to the back pin with just a tiny bit of spin, but it tricked back and ended up 40 feet away.
There was not a weak hole on this course. Even the short holes demand command of your ball because of the greens.
There was a great mix of topography as even the flat holes seemed sloped.
This was probably the best public course that I have ever played.
I highly recommend playing this great track but you better bring your A game.
Auto correct got me on “Alister”
I couldn't have liked Pasatiempo any more than I did. What an incredible golf course. It's certainly one of the tougher tracks I've encountered. It's not Bethpage Black tough but you have to hit it to the spots with the right angles to score or you're in trouble. It's not a place you want to be missing on the short side or above the hole. The standout holes for me were
#3: It's all about options here. I played the back tees and (stupidly) hit driver and was a yard from running out into nothingness at the right edge of the fairway. I don't remember a deeper green on the course (maybe #17?). My buddy two putt from the very back of the green to the front hole and it probably took 7-8 seconds for the putt to get to the hole.
#4: The hole was in the back right and let me tell you, DO NOT miss right. I didn't (I missed short left haha). One of the toughest par 3's I've ever played. Straight uphill into an ocean breeze and the swail in the middle of the green absolutely repels shots.
#9: It's just a gorgeous golf hole and with a hard left pin, it's dumb to go at the green. Lay up to your favorite distance short right and miss the 6 footer for birdie like I did.
#11: I feel like there's a lot of holes built after Pasa that took inspiration from this hole. It plays slightly easier than it looks and you can feed the ball in from the left side of the green to most hole locations. It's the #1 handicap hole but I really thought 14 was harder unless you hit a huge drive there.
#16: I'd read a lot about this hole but it didn't prepare me for the green. Do. Not. Miss. Short.
#18: People don't like par 3 finishers but this one is absolutely world class. I'm excited to play Garden City to see if #18 is better there. Be tough to beat this one.
One of the more fun days I've ever had playing golf. I'll be back for sure. The range is a little weird in that you're hitting straight uphill into a breeze and can't dial in your distances with the heavy air but it's a minor complaint. Staff were excited to have us and playing companions were excellent.
Most times with a golf course as good as Pasatiempo, I'd say it deserves a higher ranking, but seeing the list of juggernauts that precedes it, maybe not? Nonetheless, Pasatiempo is a gift to the golfing community that a golf course with such history and architectural merit is open to the public. With that being said, make a point to play it. Loop it into your next Pebble trip. Santa Cruz is a cool little town to boot.
Pasatiempo is a semi-private golf course about 43 miles north of the Monterey Penninsula (Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove and Grand Cypress). This is a friendly, but serious golf club, replete with grill and wedding and meeting space. Alistair McKenzie noted this to be his best layout, and his residence sits alongside the sixth hole.
He truly took what the native land offered, and a Steve Doak, 2007 reconditioning, has brought the course closer to its imaginer's portrait.
We used every single club in our bag.
Ben Hogan referred to the second and third holes as the two finest back to back par fours in golf.
What is most pleasing is that the greens and bunkers requiring intelligent shot making, and make for great matches.
The Western States Collegiate calls this home, and boast Duffy Waldorf as one of its champions.
The Western Intercollegiate is now fully covered by the Golf Channel, and well it should.
I spent close to nine (9) days here in August, 2021.
Just the most glorious unpretentious top 100 courses you can play that I have come across.
This is truly an absurd golf course that I wish every golfer would get the opportunity to play. Based off the eye test and what I've heard, I have surmised that the most similar greens to Augusta that the public can play are at Pasa. You have no choice but to take what the course gives you, because if you are on the wrong side of a slope, good luck. The course is tight in spots and is pretty short in length, but birdies are still extremely hard to come by. The layout is hilly filled with some natural hazards framed by beautiful Mackenzie bunkering. The elevation change in some of these greens is more than 15 ft back to front, causing a poor chip or even putt to drift off the green. Every shot is nervy as a slightly off line shot is at the mercy of the undulated slopes that seem to repel your ball away from your hole or manage to short side you in a spot where bogey is inevitable. While the sloping of the greens are currently a bit much and are simply unfair at times, they are a marvel to look at and would be awesome for someone who would be able to see the many locations these large and crazy greens have. The picturesque bunkering also adds to the beauty of the land. What keeps this course from being one of the worlds best is the holes that feel cramped with purposely odd greens to counteract the less desirable land, such as Holes 6, 9, 14, and 17. Overall, this is a museum that provides a round that requires you to increasingly precise the closer you get to the hole.
For a man with design credits of Augusta National and Royal Melbourne on his CV it seems strange to even contemplate there could be something better lurking in his back catalogue of work. But hidden amongst the cypress trees and tall pines in the hills above Santa Cruz, California lies Dr Alister Mackenzie’s greatest triumph. That isn’t my opinion but that of the man himself and his decision to live out his later years overlooking the 6th fairway here is testament to that theory.
Pasatiempo Golf Club isn’t a complete secret. In fact it always features as one of America’s Top 100 Golf Courses in many polls, often in the top echelons. However it keeps a low profile like the man who was its mastermind. Mackenzie had a method for golf course design, a thirteen point checklist that made up his special mix; his Coca Cola formula. Unlike Coke’s secret recipe however, Mackenzie was proud to share his design framework. So much so, it sits on the wall of the clubhouse for visitors to marvel at. Pasatiempo ticks every one of his boxes. Looking down his list I love every point, but there are two in particular that really apply to Pasatiempo and take this already excellent golf course and move it into the golfing aristocracy.
Point number seven; ‘There should be a complete absence of the annoyance and irritation caused by the necessity of searching for lost golf balls’. Not only do I love this concept in its entirety, but having played the course, you can only marvel at its brilliant simplicity. Yes there are places a ball may be lost, but looking for a ball in those places would almost certainly end in disappointment (The ravines on the 11th and 18th spring to mind). The course doesn’t need knee deep rough everywhere to make it difficult. Nor does it need countless ponds and pools to swallow up your ball (there are no obvious ponds on the course). Mackenzie’s weapon of destruction is subtlety of green design and apocalyptic green-side bunkering that require a marksman’s accuracy to navigate effectively.
Point number eight; ‘The course should be so interesting that even the scratch player is constantly stimulated to improve his game’. Never have I played a course that needed such accuracy in virtually every shot and mastering this courses subtleties would take more than one lifetime. The margins are fine and the punishments can be severe. For instance, the approach to the Par 3 5th is uphill and measures 190 yards, no mean feat on any course. I hit my best shot of the day there, a firmly struck 5 iron that pitched in the centre of the green about a third into its depth. Still, I conspired to make a double-bogey having watched my ball wander agonisingly back towards me and off the slippery green before rounding a bunker and leaving me staring at a 40 yard pitch across a gaping sandy abyss; most amateur golfers worst nightmare (mine included). There are few freebies here and every putt, chip and drive has to favour a side and avoid a trap. There’s always a place to miss and a place not to miss, but due to Mackenzie’s proficiency in disguise, not all of those places are immediately obvious.
Trying to pick particular highlights of the course is like to asking me to pick my favourite member of England’s World Cup winning football team. Every shot is like every player; iconic, memorable and not easily forgotten. If pressed I would say the tee shot on the 1st would feature in the majority of people’s tales in the pub. A straight drive away from its lofty position aside the clubhouse down towards the curving Monterey coastline, usually either shrouded in swirling sea mist or sparkling in bright Californian sunshine. Then there is the approach to the 16th green, famous for its severity of back to front slope as well as its many tiers. I would liken that approach to trying to land a 150 yard shot on a particular step of a grand staircase with failure the likely outcome. Finally, the last shot of the day into the 18th is pure theatre. The majority of this Par 3 spans the width of a seemingly bottomless gorge and if the ball successfully makes the crossing, it is welcomed into an extraordinary amphitheatre of brightly coloured vegetation and bunkers befitting of a major championship winners presentation.
Some things come and go with the trends of the day but Pasatiempo will always be there. Always relevant, always iconic and hopefully always in the highest echelons of courses everybody can go and play. Even with the changing decades, country club culture is vibrant and many of the worlds best courses are closed to people not in the know. Dr Mackenzie I am sure would be happy that his course is able to be enjoyed by all and I hope this post inspires you to go and play one of the worlds best publicly accessible gems.
Dr MacKenzie is recognised as being a master of strategic design. His green complexes and bunkering are the focus, offering a variety of challenges to approach different pin positions.
Play Royal Melbourne or Augusta National and you will soon recognise that positioning off the tee is paramount in playing those approaches.
While the fairways at Pasatiempo are not as wide as the likes of Royal Melbourne, the same principles apply- the angle of approach will determine the difficulty of getting home..
The first thing that struck me about Pasatiempo was the hilly nature of the site. The round starts with the first hole heading straight down the hill and of course you must make your way back up as the round progresses.
The next thing that struck me was the spectacular white sand bunkers- they certainly add to the drama and lift the look of the course.
Perhaps my expectations were too high, but the front nine underwhelmed me a little. I thought it was good golf, but not world class.
The back nine steps it up with a variety of unique holes in undulating terrain- the barrancas, blind shots and superb green complexes combined with gorgeous bunkering make the back nine a real adventure
I would recommend the back nine to any golfer!
Notable holes include:
- hole 3, a long par 3 with spectacular bunkering
- hole 6, where everybody has to take a snap of MacKenzie's home!
- hole 11, a long par 4 with approach over a barranca
- hole 15, a pretty par 3
- hole 16, perhaps the signature hole at Pasatiempo is a strong par 4 with a blind tee shot and a unique three tier green complex with wonderful bunkering
- hole 18, a dramatic par 3 over a barranca to finish
Pasatiempo has long been in the mix in any discussions about the best courses in the USA, and the world. Whilst I don't rate it in such rarified air, it is a very good course.
Students of the game will play enjoy seeing another quality MacKenzie design, and seeing his final home on the 6th hole
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
This is a fantastic course and an even better walk. Pasatiempo is everything I want in a golf club; it is walkable, challenging yet scoreable, and requires good strategy. I also applaud the club for remaining accessible to the public by offering a limited amount of public tee times.
There are no weak holes on the property but the highlight of the course is how Mackenzie uses the barranca on the back nine. You play over, around, alongside, and through the barranca during the back nine.
3 - A long that par 3 that looks like a par 4 from tee due to way Mackenzie uses his bunkering to create deception.
11 - A long par 4 that plays very uphill but deceives the golfer. Your second shot plays over the barranca to a well-protected green. It is difficult to get the ball all the way back to the hole.
16 - Mackenzie calls this hole the "best two shot hole in golf". The tee shot is blind and plays to a crowned fairway but is followed by a second shot to one of the most memorable greens I've played. The green has three dramatic tiers and the pin position changes how the hole plays every day.
Pasatiempo is a very good course. My expectations were very high going into the course and I was quite disappointed after the front nine. The holes on the front nine are good, not spectacular. The greens on the front nine are world class though. The back nine has much more memorable and unique holes and lives up to the reputation.