Pasatiempo is a gem of a course. If you want to experience an expert design at a public course, go here. Designed by Alister MacKenzie, you can get a glimpse of what makes his courses so great. Many of us will never find our way onto Augusta, Cypress Point, or Crystal Downs, but Pasatiempo provides an accessible look at his style. However, do not go there with the wrong expectations. There is not the dramatic scenery of Cypress or the seclusion of Augusta. It is a course that is surrounded by housing developments, that are often right up against the course (the house MacKenzie lived in actually still sits adjacent to the sixth fairway). If it were not for this feature, I imagine the course would be knocking on the door of the top ten public tracks in the country. So, if you want a real golf course, go to Pasatiempo. If you want pretty pictures, go to Spanish Bay (to be fair, I have not played Spanish Bay and have only heard from others that the only thing that makes it noteworthy is its vistas). Though, Pasatiempo does give you a few glimpses of the ocean--particularly on one and twelve (which are among the highest points on the course).
As I have said in other posts, one of my favorite features of a course is when its difficulty does not come from being excessively long or narrow, but from punishing those shots that are out of position--whether it be with perfectly placed fairway bunkers or making it difficult to hit a green from the wrong side of the fairway. In this way, Pasatiempo reminded me of Cypress. It is not difficult to shoot your average score, as there are few opportunities for truly large numbers, but it is hard to have an exceptionally good score here.
The defining feature of the course is certainly its bunkering and green complexes. The bunkering provides the course with both its beauty and its protection. As for the greens, some are challenging and others are downright crazy. The 13th is a Y-shaped green and if you are on the wrong side of the Y, you will be left chipping off the green's surface and over the bunker to reach the flag. The 16th is likely the greatest elevation change I have ever seen on a green--the front of the green has to be 15-20 feet below the top of the green (with the green having three tiers). The other defining feature of the course is its five par threes (including the eighteenth hole). They are among the best holes on the course. In fact, if I had to list the best holes, I think the five par threes would be in the top seven holes (with 10 and 13 being the others cracking the top seven).
Much is said about the fact that the course ends on a par three--not a surprise when you consider Mackenzie's disregard of traditional layouts with Cypress having back-to-back par fives and par threes. Nothing wrong with taking what the land gives you. Personally, I love a course that ends on a par three. For the average golfer, your best scoring opportunity may be on a par three that is not wildly hard. If having a bit of competition with your playing partners, this could allow a match to be decided with a good score, rather than it puttering out because someone made a 7 on the par four eighteenth hole. I can see this not being true for professionals- make them hit two great golf shots to get on the green- but I am not going to be a professional any time soon.
Overall, the course plays 6500 yards with a slope rating of 143, but is a par 70, so, to compare it to a par 72, think about it as 6700-6800 or so.
Now, onto some individual holes.
The first three holes are ready to eat you alive. My host told me to just survive those, and then things calm down a bit until the first few holes on the back. I bogeyed the first three, which was not the worst thing in the world. I was on route to an opening nine 44 and closing nine 40 (I was really disappointed that I did not break 40 because I made a dumb bogey on 17).
The first is a 457 yard downhill par four. The immense amount of monsoon-esque rain the course received before I played it led drives to barely roll out, which did not help with a yardage that, on normal days, already posed a decent challenge to me. Even if you can carry it 250 down this hill, you will be left with 210 to a green well guarded by bunkers.
***On all of my reviews, you can now click on the first image to see a slideshow of all images on the page.
First tee below.
The second is no joke either measuring in at 437 yards with a fairway that slopes strongly from right to left towards some heavy rough and a fairway bunker. Though, the fairway is quite wide, so aim a bit right and let it bounce back left. Again, especially on a wet day, you will be left with a long iron or fairway wood into a green that is difficult to hit. Though the green is protected well on its left side, the green slopes from right to left, so if you aim for the right of the green you should get an assist back to the left.
Approach to second green.
In my opinion, the third was among the hardest on the course-a 213 yard uphill par four surrounded by bunkers. It reminded me a bit of the 7th at Cypress (though that hole is significantly easier given it is shorter). In line with one of MacKenzie's rules, the hole requires a bit of a heroic carry to hit (and hold) the green with a long iron or fairway wood, but there is a bailout option for the shorter hitter--just leave it short left and a bogey will be easy and a par is a possibility (just like 16 at Cypress).
The course is supposed to start easing up at the fourth--a 378 yard par four. Instead, I find really the only hazard that can mess up your tee ball--a tree on the right. The difficulty of the hole can be greatly affected by the pin location. The right side of the green is protected by deep bunkers, so a back right pin location (as was the case on the day I played) can cause you to easily find danger.
The fifth is another solid par three measuring 190 yards. Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of this one. Though easier than the third because it is shorter, it is still completely protected on all sides by bunkers.
The sixth was a tough hole, but not all that interesting--a 567 yard par five. It is long and narrow with out of bounds to the left and trees to the right. Well placed first and second shots are necessary and wayward ones can cost you a bunch of strokes. And, though the green is again surrounded by bunkers, you should have a short iron into the green, thus mitigating the intimidation factor. The key here really is the drive. A drive in the fairway will set you up nicely for a layup shot and then a wedge.
Sitting on the left side of the fairway is the home MacKenzie lived in and a plaque on the cart path commemorates it.
Approach to sixth green.
"It is the successful negotiation of difficulties, or what appears to be such, which gives rise to pleasurable excitement and makes a hole interesting."
I really enjoyed the seventh hole--a short par four at 348 yards that is a good risk reward hole with the tee shot. It is a narrow fairway with trees lining both sides. Hitting a driver obviously increases the chance of missing the fairway, but, if you do hit the fairway with the drive, it will help immensely on the uphill second shot to a green that is again surrounded by bunkers.
Seventh tee shot.
Approach to seven.
The eighth--a downhill 176 yard par three--is among my favorite holes on the course. Though easier than the first two par threes on this side, the green is among the hardest on the course with its severe slope. From what my playing partners told me, being above the hole in dry, summer conditions often means that you will be putting from off the front of the green with your second putt.
As I am writing this review, I am realizing that the only two holes on the front that are underwhelming are six and nine. The ninth (the easiest on the course) is a short (but uphill) par five measuring 500 yards with a very wide fairway. I made an ugly par after hitting a tree with my drive, laying up, pulling the approach left, but then making a very good up and down. But, if you are not a moron like me, an average drive and a seven iron should leave you with a wedge into the green. Though, the green is no easy task, especially when the pin is back left--as it was the day we played.
The tenth--a 440 yard dogleg left par four--is another one of my favorites. The drive has to carry a ravine (according to Pasatiempo's website, the carry is 189 yards), leaving a downhill second shot with a fairway wood or long iron. The 189 yard carry is a bit atypical of MacKenize as he does not like having long carries with no bailout option, though 189 yards is not a terribly long carry (unlike the 220ish carry required on the 16th at Cypress). The second shot then has to avoid a long stretch of bunkers on the left side of the green (which starts about 40 yards short of the green and continues all the way up to the green). If you want to avoid a huge number, you can always hit a bit of a layup on your second shot and leave yourself with a 30-40 yard pitch, which would make it less likely that you would hit the bunkers.
Approach to tenth green.
The eleventh--a deceptively short par four at 392 yards--is another tough hole. The front nine opens with three very difficult holes and the back opens with two hard ones as well. I stupidly did not understand the layout of the hole when teeing off. The hole doglegs left with a ravine running on the left side of where your tee shot should be. The second shot then goes over this ravine to a green sitting atop a hill. I did not realize the ravine was reachable, though, with a second look, it clearly is. The green is another source of hardship as it is steeply sloped from back to front, so putts above the hole will be problematic.
Approach over the ravine to eleven.
The twelfth--a downhill 373 yard par four-- is a bit of a respite after 10 and 11. The drive can't go left or you will be blocked out of a good approach shot. The green is also no easy matter as any shot short will be swallowed up by a nasty ravine/valley (though playable from there) or deep bunkers. Unfortunately, I have no picture of this hole, as I was too busy searching for the ball that I hit to the left side of the fairway.....
The thirteenth may be my favorite on the course--a 531 yard par five (the only par five on the back). It would be an understatement to say that the bunkering surrounds the green because the horseshoe bunkering starts about 40 yards short of the green. And be sure to hit the correct portion of the Y-shaped green. Find yourself on the upper left of the Y with a pin on the upper right of the Y and you will have to chip over a bunker to find the pin. Between the green shape and one of the best bunkering complexes I have seen, I do think this was my favorite hole.
Approach to thirteen.
I am not sure how I feel about the fourteenth hole. The fairway is quite wide, but the left side of the fairway is a huge swale (though still fairway). You can certainly play the ball from the swale, but you might have a stance where the ball is three feet above your feet. Obviously, uneven fairway lies are part of the game, but this swale felt a bit too penal to me for a shot that hits the fairway. Though, I suppose, you should simply know not to hit it over there, and, if you do, you run the risk of getting a bad lie.
A nice example of the beautiful bunkering on the course here at fourteen green.
The fifteenth was another great par three at 141 yards. Hitting it the wrong distance with your short iron can lead to a big number given the depth of the bunkers and undulating green. But, if you hit a good one from the tee, it is among the easier holes on the course.
The sixteenth--a 387 yard par four--was just totally crazy sauce. Apparently, this was MacKenzie's favorite par four, which is impossible to believe when one compares it to 9, 14, or 17 at Cypress or 11 at Augusta. The tee shot is blind and requires precision as left leads to a ravine and right is out of bounds. But the insanity of the hole ensues with the three tiered green. Perhaps I am creating a myth in my head, but my memory leads me to believe that the bottom of the green is 20 feet below the highest portion of the green. If you hit the third tier of this green when the pin is on the bottom tier, I cannot imagine hoping for anything other than not putting it into the bunkers short of the green. This is not a knock on this hole, it was fun and unique--just kind of nuts.
Approach to sixteen--one of the most intimidating I have encountered.
I thought the seventeenth hole was kind of lackluster-- an uphill 371 yard par four with a wide fairway and one greenside bunker. Not every hole can be perfect.
As I say above, I love the fact that the course ends on a par three--169 yards downhill. And it is no easy hole. The green is wildly sloped, there are bunkers behind, and a hazard in front. It is a great hole to decide a match on--a good shot is rewarded and you can certainly have a chance at birdie or par, but a bad shot can lead to disaster. I wouldn't be opposed to all courses ending with a great par three. On that note, lets start them all with a fairly straightforward par four to ease you into the round (see the first at Dormie, Cypress, and Ballybunion as good examples) and a gem of a par three to end the round.
It often happens that after writing a review my thoughts on the course come into clearer focus. I already knew that I thoroughly enjoyed this course, but writing the review made me realize the dearth of weak holes on the course. If I had to name them, they would be 6, 9, and 17 (as to 14, I am just not a huge fan, but I can see a valid basis for disagreement). The others are all wonderful golf holes. And I am delighted that there are five par threes on the course because they are all fantastic. Can't wait to get back here, and I owe a debt of gratitude to my gracious host who put together a fun foursome. If you are heading out to San Francisco or Monterey, it is certainly worth the short drive (about an hour from each location). Make a day of it and combine it with some of the great stuff to do in Santa Cruz!