Due to an arrangement with work, I often write my reviews for this website months (or even a year, in this case) after I played my round. First, I write my article for LINKS Magazine, and a few months later I craft my own review in a completely different style for this website.
That delay is often a great test for the quality of the course and/or club. How much do I remember from the day? Can I recall each hole? Simply put: was it memorable? If not, I usually won’t write the review.
In the case of Pasatiempo, I remember everything as if it was yesterday. I clearly recall every hole and the quality of the course seems to have heightened my entire experience that day. I still think back about the brothers I played with and I remember shots we all hit during the round. Simply put, Pasatiempo passes my greatness test with flying colors!
I played Pasatiempo as the final round of a California road trip up and down Highway 1 and in many ways, it was the course I most looked forward to playing. It’s reputation as MacKenzie’s masterpiece put it squarely on my bucket list for years. The course enthralled me the more I read about it, especially as I realized that in many ways Pasatiempo was to MacKenzie what Pinehurst No. 2 was to Donald Ross. I had to see it for myself.
Legendary golfer and developer Marion Hollins built Pasatiempo and hired Alister MacKenzie to design the course. The pair had worked together on nearby Cypress Point and together they created a place of equal charm inland from the coast. When the course opened in 1929 Hollins brought in friend Bobby Jones to play in the featured group. Legend goes that Pasatiempo sowed the seeds for Bobby Jones to hire MacKenzie as the architect at Augusta National shortly thereafter. For more details on Pasatiempo’s history, check out this page on their website.
Following the Great Depression and decades of changes, Pasatiempo approached the millennium as a shell of its former self. In the late 1990s, Tom Doak and Jim Urbina were hired to restore the course to its former glory based on extensive original photographs. The restoration took over a decade doing the work piecemeal in order to keep the course open. Interestingly, at the beginning of the decade Doak was relatively unknown, but over those 10 years he built places like Pacific Dunes and Cape Kidnappers, placing him squarely among the top course architects. Pasatiempo made the right call hiring Doak and it paid off.
Pasatiempo is located in Santa Cruz, California, just north of Monterey. The course is laid out in hills a few miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and the layout traverses, climbs, and dives the mountains. MacKenzie used the landscape perfectly to create a course that feels natural and perfect in the landscape.
Hole #1 – 457 yards – The first hole appears simple until you realize your first iron shot of the day is 185+ yards to a guarded green. Despite that, it’s straightaway with a beautiful Pacific ocean view beyond.
Hole #2 – 437 yards – The second is a downhill dogleg right hole where big hitters are left with the approach you see below. Choosing a line off the tee is tough for first-time visitors, and the sloping green makes the approach difficult.
Hole #3 – 214 yards – This jaw-dropping uphill par 3 has the MacKenzie bunkering that you dream about. It’s a long shot up the hill, but the green is larger than it appears from the tee.
Hole #4 – 378 yards – With that charming home beyond the green this hole reminded me of MacKenzie’d Merion, Winged Foot, or the like. An iron off this tee leaves a delicate wedge into the green.
Hole #5 – 190 yards – The second of three par 3s on the front, this was one of my favorite holes on the course. I could play this hole hundreds of times to the different pin positions and never get bored.
Hole #6 – 567 yards – This long par 5 plays up a narrow chute to the green. The trees on the right separate this hole from the 7th (and block incoming errant shots), but they admittedly feel unnatural and out of place. The green is separated into quadrants by subtle slopes, adding tons of interest to the approach shot.
Hole #7 – 348 yards – Here you see those trees again, as well as the line on the left protecting the 8th. The narrow chute constricts tee shots, but the short iron approach to the sloping bunkered green is wide open.
Hole #8 – 176 yards – This hole rounds out three world-class one-shotters on the front nine. the green is sloping with a back right tier.
Hole #9 – 500 yards – The front ends with a dogleg right par 5 that plays to an elevated green.
Hole #10 – 440 yards – The 10th starts a stretch of holes I would love to play again with the value of hindsight. This par 4 sweeps right to left and then plays downhill to a Redan-type green.
Hole #11 – 392 yards – What a clever way to use this landscape… Those who dare to play down the left side of this fairway have an easier approach over the gulley to the green.
Hole #12 – 373 yards – A tee shot down the right center of this fairway is crucial to establish the necessary angle into this green.
Hole #13 – 531 yards – This dogleg left par 5 has a green and approach that all golf course architects should study.
Hole #14 – 429 yards – This is one hole on the course that doesn’t stand out as special as the rest. I’d love to play it again to pick up on more of the subtleties.
Hole #15 – 141 yards – This short hole seems easy, but the green is surrounded by bunkers and a deep creek bed. Distance control is key.
Hole #16 – 387 yards – This famous hole is one you anticipate throughout the round. The dogleg left par 4 plays out to a crowned fairway and then across a gulley to a huge multi-tiered green. It’s visually stunning… but can crush you, like it did me when I spun one back into the front right bunker.
Hole #17 – 371 yards – Hug the left side of this hole to avoid bunkers and have a view of the elevated green.
Hole #18 – 169 yards – The final hole is as memorable as it is beautiful. The sloping green could host any number of terrific pins and it finishes the round with drama. The only thing more impressive than this par 3 is the former version of itself when the course opened. Look back at these historical photos and particularly the 18th, which with fewer trees looked like it was hanging on cliffs.
Pasatiempo surpassed my expectations and it’s one of the first rounds I’d book on another trip to California. Kudos to Doak and his team for their work on the renovation and ensuring that this course remain special for the next generation.