It wouldn't be that outlandish to say that Pasatiempo is the most wonderfully designed public golf course in the entire country. Everyone has their own opinions, but Pasatiempo makes you push aside your loyalties to your favorite spots. The ambience and aesthetic of the grounds are understated, stylish, serene, and filled with interesting details. From the perfectly integrated homes, to the original Alister MacKenzie drawings in the clubhouse, to the glimpse of the 18th green near the back parking lot, you are captivated from the moment you arrive. And possibly best of all (for me, at least), the logo rules. The levels of golfiness on the property are off the charts. And for those of you that need a refresher on what "golfiness" means...well, there is no real definition, but you know when you see it (that little punch hook 8 iron into the wind executed perfectly, that bump and run you pulled off that nobody else in your foursome considered an option, most wedge shots hit by Naoto de Silva, or maybe that seemingly plain navy blue cotton polo shirt that has a very sneaky little Pinehurst logo on the chest pocket?) Personally, I made the trip with good friend Jon Stein of The Black Hall Club, in Old Lyme, CT. His generosity that day will not be forgotten, nor will the generosity, support and love of both Di and Higgins, as they sent us on our way.
Since we knew we would walk our 18 holes (shout out to True Linkswear), we skipped the golf cart shuttle down to the driving range. The tee boxes were down by the first green, about 400 yards away from the putting green. We opted for a quick chipping contest at the short game area, and some putting on the large putting green directly adjacent to the first tee box.
As we waited on the first tee (457 yards, par 4, into the wind, with an elevated tee box, and views for miles), we noticed a secret tee box across the walkway, further up a hill, hidden among the plantings and trees, stretching the par 4 to nearly 500 yards, presumably put to use once or twice per year, at most. I'm not sure we ever saw a starter, but the place is so relaxed, and so peaceful, that it essentially operates itself. Nobody is in a rush to tee off, nobody is late getting to the first tee, and nobody is running to or from the pro shop to check in. All of this makes you forget, momentarily, that you are teeing off on a hole that would demand every ounce of skill you have to make a four. After decent tee shots, we opted to lay up to wedge yardages, rather than take our chances with fairway woods. The first MacKenzie bunker that greeted us protected about 90% of the front of the green, diagonally, from front left, to back right. Given the back right pin location that day, we were rather satisfied to hit wedges onto the green, and two-putt for a pair of fives to start the day.
Third Hole - Par 3
The third hole, much like the first, is so spectacularly designed, that it makes you feel at ease. The picture to the left speaks for itself. Nonetheless, you are teeing it up on a 225 yard, uphill, heavily bunkered three-shotter, with a diagonal green. The seemingly meaningless bunker 100 yards off the tee is subtle brilliance from MacKenzie. It's there to trick the golfer into thinking the hole is shorter than it really is. This is also the first hole that started to reveal a theme at Pasatiempo. The extremely difficult challenge that the greens imposed, was offset by the fact that nearly every green had a playable 'ground entrance', unblocked by hazards or bunkers. This allowed for a safer approach, in exchange for a more demanding two-putt.
Fifth Hole - Par 3
The Fifth hole at Pasatiempo is another MacKenzie gem that was restored to identical perfection of the original design.
Sixth Hole - Par 5 & Alister MacKenzie's Home
"I've always wanted to live where one can practice shots in one's pajamas before breakfast." -MacKenzie
McKenzie himself lived to the left of the par 5 Sixth Hole at Pasatiempo. A humbly stylish home, much like the golf course itself.
Eighth Hole - Par 3
The third and final par 3 on the front nine was an extremely special green complex. Jon and I both had one-in-a-lifetime two putts for par, from about 100 feet, each. The big takeaway here, is that the green is so large, yet there are just a few handful of obvious pin locations. The green is surrounded by carefully landscaped bunkering, making the entire complex a work of art. The mastery that MacKenzie achieved with these greens is such that they are huge and undulating, but they are fair and can be attacked.
Ninth Hole - Par 5
"The chief object of every golf architect or greenkeeper worth his salt, is to imitate nature so closely as to make his work indistinguishable from nature itself." -MacKenzie
The ninth hole takes you back to the clubhouse via a shortish uphill par 5, protected by huge bunkering short of the green. Again, MacKenzie provides a ground entrance on the front right edge, allowing a skilled right-hander to sling a longer shot into the green for a chance at eagle. The setting for this hole reminded me a lot of number nine at Poppy Hills. A risk-reward par five, where clubhouse spectators are always present.
10th Hole - Par 4 - The Best Hole on the Course
" Golf is a game, and talk and discussion is all to the interests of the game. Anything that keeps the game alive and prevents us being bored with it is an advantage. Anything that makes us think about it, talk about it, and dream about it is all to the good and prevents the game becoming dead.” -MacKenzie
The 10th Hole at Pasatiempo could possibly be the best par four I've ever played in my life. With a tee box that sits on the edge of a ravine, an old footbridge that takes you to the fairway entrance, a vista at the top of a gentle dogleg left, a majestic downhill approach shot, spectacular fairway bunkers, and a green that allows for a full variety of short game shots depending on pin positions (including throwing a pitch shot well past the hole up near the back left fringe and letting it funnel back towards certain pin positions), the 10th hole is the most interesting par 4 on the entire property. That says a lot, given the variety of holes at Pasatiempo. The 10th hole takes the cake.
Eleventh Hole - Par 4
MacKenzie's 11th at Pasatiempo traverses a huge barranca with another footbridge, and is the most demanding par 4 on the back nine. Precision and thought are required to make four here, as you can easily get distracted by the stunningly peaceful surroundings. This was the hardest Par 4 on the golf course.
Thirteenth Hole - Par 5
The 13th is another hole that is restored to its original state. Inspiring bunkers short of the green make for an exciting approach, and once you arrive on the green, you'll realize that there is a "hidden" back left pin location, tucked slightly behind a grand old greenside tree.
Sixteenth Hole - Par 4 - Green
The 16th hole is the only FOUR-tiered green I've ever seen. The green sections are "front tier", "middle right tier", "slightly higher middle left tier", and "the big back tier". This hole works on so many levels. It creates a dramatic point of interest for those who's rounds of golf (score-wise) have already been given up on. It creates a unique and challenging two putt to keep a strong round alive. It also creates a gambling opportunity for those who enjoy that type of thing ("I bet you can't two putt from here..."). I can also say that a photo of the green does not do it justice - there's no good way to capture all the tiers in a picture. I presume that the sunlight might hit it at the right angle, at the right time of day, allowing for a good photo opportunity. I took the below picture from the 17th tee box across the street, in hopes top capture the profile view of the green and the undulation from back to front.
Seventeenth Hole - Par 4
"A good golf course is like good music. It does not necessarily appeal the first time one plays it." -MacKenzie
The 17th hole is the most mundane hole on the golf course. It's probably the only hole on the course that you couldn't defending as being the "signature hole". And yes, the other 17 holes are THAT good. But, alas, it does serve a wonderful purpose. It essentially allows for time to come down from the emotional elevation of the 16th green, and it also preps the golfer for one last grand spike in interest as you reach the 18th tee box.
Eighteenth Hole - Par 3
"The ideal hole is one that afford the greatest pleasure to the greatest number."
The 18th hole, bisected by the same huge ravine that your tee shot on the 10th must carry, is the perfect culmination. A birdie opportunity awaits, as it can be played from about 125 to 175 yards, and the punchbowl setting makes you feel contained within the landscape right until the very end.
The post-round setting for a beer and a bite is as good as it gets. After you dabble in the wonderful pro shop, and take a glimpse inside the MacKenzie showcase, filled with original design drawings, magazine features, and artifacts, head straight to the back porch. The porch has tables made from old whiskey barrels (a sneaky homage to McKenzie's drinking habits), and are staged above the 9th green, with views of most of the front nine. There's a local Santa Cruz IPA on tap, and a huge American Flag waving in the wind between the first tee and 9th green. It's a place where you can sit until nightfall with an extra layer or two, and the view does not get old.
We can't wait to get back to Pasatiempo.