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.
In 1993, Pasatiempo was rated No. 100 on the list. Would it still be on next year, or the next? I wondered. Was it worth the chance that it might drop off? An unusual combination of public and private, it’s not cheap to join but allows public play. It’s located in Santa Cruz, California, about 50 miles up the coast from the more famous Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Cypress Point. I was in the vicinity, so I decided to play it. Am I glad I did! I’ve been back twice and would play it again in an instant.
Holes Number 1 and 2 work their way downhill toward the pacific, framing the ocean with Cypress trees the entire way…
As you walk up the 6th fairway, approximately 100 yards from the green, you see the home in which MacKenzie once lived, a fitting shrine for the world’s greatest golf course architect. Number 16 was MacKenzie’s favorite hole in golf, which is saying something since he designed some of the most famous par 3’s in existence. “The 16th green is a garden spot,” he once said. “After playing a drive over the point of the hill, you hesitate to spoil the delightful quiet of this grassy velvet nestling in the trees. It is indeed a beautiful par 4.”
None of the other courses MacKenzie designed are public. So if you get a chance to play Pasatiempo, don’t hesitate! Larry Berle.
We arrived early in the morning and when got into The Club House you already feel there is something special about it, you can see pictures, drawings, souvenirs, history about not only the course but also about Dr Mackenzie as well. And a lot about LPGA Star Juli Inkster who won 7 Career Majors and is the Club Pro! After warming up, we started the game to the first two downhill par 4s, which are wide and generous, but with very tricky greens, the breaks of the putting surfaces are very tough to find. It is fair to say that greens were in superb shape and rolling at a speed of at least 10ft in the Stimpmeter. The first true test came on 3rd, a 235yds par 3 into the wind and uphill, with a very narrow entrance and plenty of bunkers. Although all of us 4 are scratch golfers, only one could score bogey, the other 3 made double bogey!!! Then we came to the very special place of the course, par 5 hole 6 where Dr Mackenzie’s house is located. It is a very simple building but it really shows how simple and special he was. What will make it even better is that I scored my only birdie after drive, drive and a lob wedge towards 20 inches from the hole.
Tee number 10 is where the golf courses starts, and what is even better is that it is not a long course, but yes a very strategic one, and there is were I failed scoring 5 consecutive bogeys from 10 to 14. Although Allister says par 4 16th is the best “two shot hole” he ever designed, I believe 11 and 12 should get some credit as well. All together these back 9 give you the best golfing experience you can imagine. And the best comes the last for that dramatic par 3 18th, where you need a yes-or-yes 160yds carry, if you miss start to count in double bogey again. But job is not finished if you hit the green, as you will find a very tricky one: I had a 10 footer for birdie and could not make it in 5 tries, you could not believe how big the break was. And after golf a huge burger at the Club House ended a perfect day: amigos if you love Augusta, you need to visit Pasatiempo at least once!!!
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