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.
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.
This is exactly what everyone’s perfect idea of a golf course should be. It commands your attention immediately with a demanding first hole and does not let up. The first thing you will realize is that great shots will be rewarded handsomely and poor shots will be severely punished. It’s truly a thinking mans course as you have to constantly imagine how to best set up your next shot. With a variety of options and strategies to score well, this course will suit all different games, as long as you bring your absolute best that day. The back nine is inspired in its design and routing. Beautiful vistas combined with jaw dropping bunkering will leave you wondering why anyone wastes time at that silly Pebble Beach course down the road. You could play here day after day for years and not ever get sick of it. When it comes to the history, few places can rival what Pasatiempo has. A look from the sixth fairway will produce the house where Dr. McKenzie spent most of his time designing the revered Augusta National. The feeling you get walking down certain holes (3, 10, 11, 14, and 16 to be specific) is pure magic as the course so many of us get a brief glimpse of on television seems much more imaginable than it did mere hours before. This is truly a masterpiece, a criminally underrated hidden gem due to it’s neighbors, and one of the best days of golf anyone can be so fortunate to experience.
I've been fortunate enough to play Pasatiempo dozens of times over the last several years, and it's one of those courses that you really need to play multiple times to get a full appreciation for it. It's also one of those courses that is more fun the more you play it, and it never gets old. The first time I played Pasa I was a little in awe of the course - you just don't play very many courses like Pasatiempo. From the variety of holes, to the elevation changes, to the bunkering, to the green complexes, it's just a very unique golf experience.
One thing I realized is that you can't play Pasatiempo without a strategy, and expect to play well. The key to scoring here is having the right angles into greens, knowing where the tiers to the greens are, and knowing that you HAVE to keep the ball below the hole on most greens - especially when they're fast. Hitting some fairways are more important than others - #1, #7 and #13 come to mind for various reasons. The general rule of thumb on most of the driving holes is that you can't miss left.
There's a great variety to the Par 3's in particular - ranging between short holes like the 15th to the long par 3 3rd hole, and everything in between.
My favorite hole is probably the par 4 16th. It reminds me of a par 4 version of 13 at Augusta. If you're able to hit a draw off the tee that flies about 250 yards, you'll have a wedge left to a very difficult 3 tiered green, where you have to be precise if you want to score well. If you're on the wrong tier, you can 3-4 putt pretty easily. Just a great challenge from the drive, to the 2nd shot to the green - you can't fall asleep on any of them.
It's a unique/memorable golf experience - every hole has character, and you'll probably remember every hole and every shot on each hole. A must play, no question.
Pasatiempo was the unexpected star of my trip to Monterey earlier this year. A MacKenzie gem. He actually lived on the course at the end of his life. Feels like stepping back in time. Golf course is as good as Pebble. It’s just not on the ocean. An absolute must play.
If you are visiting the area, Pasatiempo is a must. A true MacKenzie masterpiece. Diabolical and mesmerizing greens that will test any golfer. The bunkering on number 3 will stop you in your tracks. Holes 10 and 11 are two of the most difficult back to back holes out there. 16 green is a masterpiece. Stunning barrencas. Incredible bunkering. Majestic. A bucket list course no doubt.
Pasatiempo's bunkering and greens are world class, there is no doubt. The genius of MacKenzie (helped along by Doak's restoration) is on full display when you play the course.
While the front 9 is solid and even a little reminiscent of the recently renovated Cal Club, the back 9 is where it is at. Favorites there have to include the fantastic 10th which tempts players to hit the green but hitting a worm-burner down the right might give you a better option. The 14th hole has a fantastic swale running as a ribbon down the left side. The 15th is as pretty a par 3 as you will see in North America. Finally, the 16th is utterly staggering once you crest the hill and see the audacity of the 16th green and bunker complexes.
Do I wish houses weren't built so close to the fairways at Pasa (nor the 17 freeway)? Could there be a bit of tree thinning especially on 11 and 12? Sure, these are quibbles but minor ones at that. If you are a fan of MacKenzie but can't score an invite to Cypress, Augusta or Crystal (and who can?) then this is definitely the course to check out.