The fact that Marion Hollins’ vision of Pasatiempo as a rival resort to North Carolina’s golfing paradise, Pinehurst, was never fully realised has created an unmissable opportunity for discerning golfers. For less than half the price of a round at Pebble Beach and without the requirement to stay in a spa hotel, anybody can play the course described by Dr Alister Mackenzie as his best.
The accessibility and friendly welcome of Pasatiempo is not detrimental to the standard of the course. Having played here in July, I experienced pristine fairways leading to firm, fast and true greens. In keeping with other Mackenzie layouts, the course tests every shot in a golfer’s repertoire: Sprawling bunkers deceive the eye’s estimation of distance from the tee, while deep barrancas force considered shot selection and fairway undulations present uphill, downhill and sidehill stances on most holes.
The first two holes look like generous par-4s, with wide and straight fairways playing downhill to inviting greens. However, the trickery of McKenzie’s bunker placement on both, disguises the true length of these 440 and 420-yard tests. This theme continues on to the 200-yard par-3 3rd hole, where a cross-bunker 80 yards short of the green creates the illusion of a par-4. That being said, it is perhaps fitting that the perched location of the putting surface and the extent of sand around it mean that for most mid-handicap players, a bogey is the most likely outcome. A fair two-shot par-4 and a 180-yard par-3 then lead to the uphill par-5 6th hole. The fairway tightens about halfway to the hole, where a row of old houses take the place of trees on the left side. Take the time to walk along the path here and you’ll find a modest white house with green window shutters. A plaque outside reads: ‘Home of the Famous Golf Course Architect: Dr Alister Mackenzie’, marking the place where the man behind Cypress Point, Augusta National and yes, Pasatiempo, spent the last four years of his life. A birdie on the 6th took on extra special meaning for me.
The deepest bunkers on the course protect the par-4 7th but a decent short-iron approach should set most players up for par, before the 170-yard 8th plays back downhill to a green sloping front to back, with a slope on the front left side poised to kick anything landing a fraction short. The front nine closes with a par-5 back up to the clubhouse which plays longer than its 480 yards and presents a tricky approach over three hefty greenside bunkers.
Pasatiempo’s back nine is definitely the strongest half of the course, with more dramatic undulations and deep barrancas. After the long par-4 10th, the first and most severe of these ravines runs along the left side of the 11th fairway, before cutting across diagonally, 160 yards short of the green. The uphill slope exaggerates the threat of the barranca and adds tension to an otherwise relatively routine shot. Number 12 then plays parallel back alongside the 11th, but with the same monstrous trench cutting tighter in front of the green. The key feature of the par-5 13th is a lengthy false front before a y-shaped green, with bunkers set five paces away from the green to present especially testing escape shots.
A short par-3 at number 15 is sandwiched by two outstanding par-4s at 14 and 16. The former plays over severe undulations, with two prominent gullies meeting at driver length forcing tee shots to aim for the extreme left or right thirds of the fairway. Each route presents different challenges for the approach shot to the elongated green, while playing from the floor of the gullies will inevitably demand a short-iron shot that risks falling short. McKenzie described the 16th hole as his ‘perfect par-4’ and on first impression it seems a surprising claim, as the blind tee-shot is very uncharacteristic of his work. After climbing over the crest of the hill to the landing area though, it quickly becomes apparent that you are facing a jaw-dropping mid-iron shot to a masterful green. From a sidehill lie, the downhill approach will need to carry a cross-gully and the most expansive bunker on the course, before settling on one of three distinct tiers on the putting surface. With this multitude of trials to endure on the way to the green, a challenging two-putt is almost inevitable. The par-4 17th plays back uphill to a green protected only by a sharp drop-off to the right. It serves as a gentle prelude to the dramatic closing par-3. With a 160-yard tee shot over a wasteland chasm to a wide green, protected by a steep ridge and pairs of bunkers in front and behind; the drama created by the picture postcard 18th seems a fitting way to end a thrilling round. -DW
Date: July 09, 2010