“No one but a poet should be allowed to write of the beauties of the Cypress Point Club…” – Samuel Morse
I had an early morning tee time at Cypress Point, and the solitary drive down from San Francisco allowed plenty of time to reflect on the upcoming round. I purposefully drove the scenic California Highway 1 all the way down to coast early that morning, and anticipation for the round peaked as I pulled onto the famous 17 Mile Drive.
I pulled past the often photographed “Cypress Point Club – Members Only” signs and walked into the pro shop both nervous and incredibly excited for my round of golf. The club’s professional staff immediately greeted me, and made me feel like I was at my home club. The head pro talked to me as if I was an old friend, offering a tour of the locker room and his assistant chatted with me at length about having lived in St Andrews. Their hospitality made me feel very welcome and added a great element to the experience. I was introduced to my caddie for the day, Marty, a 78 year old who had spent over 25 years at the club, and we set off on a brisk Monterey Peninsula morning!
As I do with nearly all rounds, I read as much as possible about Cypress Point Club before making the journey out to California. On the flight from North Carolina, I combed through Geoff Shackleford’s, Alister Mackenzie’s Cypress Point Club. Two people played the main roles in creating Cypress Point. The first person is Samuel Morse, who was the main developer for much of the Monterey Peninsula area, including Pebble Beach Golf Links. Morse hired the second major name, Marion Hollins, who recruited members, personally hired Alister MacKenzie, and oversaw much of the course construction. She was an excellent player in her own right, and it was her eye for detail and quality that took Cypress to the next level. Both founders had the vision and business knowledge to conceive and build one of the best golf courses in the world. Additionally, the club was built and created during a time when most were failing, the Great Depression. The first round of golf was played at Cypress Point in August, 1928.
Whenever I play a particularly good golf course, I look back on the round and try to encapsulate in my mind what made it a particularly great design. In a number of cases, such as Pine Valley, it is difficult to pick out a single weak hole. That was the case at Cypress Point. It was certainly one of the best and most picturesque settings I have ever had for a round of golf, but the strength of the design was never compromised for the view.
Hole #1 – 420 yards
The opening hole plays to a wide fairway with a group of fairway bunkers on the left. The approach, seen in the photo above, plays uphill to a large green.
Hole #2 – 549 yards
The second hole requires a carry to reach the fairway, which works left towards the green. Longer hitters can cut off more of the fairway, leaving a shorter second shot into this fairly long par 5. Beautiful homes line the second fairway, nearly all of which are owned by Cypress Point members.
Hole #3 – 156 yards
Five bunkers guard this par 3, which provides a visually intimidating view from the tee box. MacKenzie had a theory of making holes appear more difficult than they actually were, and the 3rd is a great example.
MacKenzie played visual tricks from this tee box. It looks like a sea of bunkers directly in the landing area, and the temptation is to try and “thread the needle” down the left side of the fairway. Thanks to my sage caddie, Marty, I knew there was plenty of room in the landing area, and took my tee ball directly at the right fairway bunkers. A caddie was crucial during this round.
The 5th is another bunkering masterclass. The bunkers on the right side of the fairway were not in range for me from the tips, but longer hitters, or forward tees, may bring them into play. Layups need to stay about 80-100 yards short of the green to avoid bunkers and leave a wedge into a two tiered sloping putting surface.
The second of these back-to-back par 5s is reachable with the correct tee shot. A draw off the left hand side of the right fairway bunkers leaves a lengthy, but reachable, second shot into the green.
I took an extra club on this beautiful par 3. An area left of the green allows for shots to kick right onto the putting surface. The pin was tucked in the right corner during my round.
The 8th is the only blind tee shot at Cypress Point. A solid shot just right of the lone tree cuts the corner perfectly. Bolder players can cut off more or less depending on wind and bravery. A gargantuan dune swallows up any balls falling short of the fairway. A pair of deer followed us within 30 feet for the entirety of this hole.
This short par 4 is drivable for longer hitters. My trusty caddie had taken Phil Mickelson for a loop at Cypress, and Phil hit his “Phrankenwood” 3-wood to 11 feet. The green is very shallow, sloping, and long as seen in the photo above taken from the back left corner of the putting surface.
The drive on number 11 is straightforward, and in hindsight I should not have hit my driver. You may be able to spot my ball barely short of the right hand cross bunker. The bunkering on this hole creates a stunning view with a chute all the way to the green. The dune behind the green frames the hole nicely.
Marty turned to me on the tee at 13 and said, “This is a birdie hole.” I didn’t even want to play this hole… I wanted to sit down on the tee box and enjoy the view for the rest of the day! The pin was in a receptive position on this sloping green, and I barely missed my birdie putt.
The 15th is one of my favorite short par 3s that I have ever played. The 135 yard tee shot is directly over the Pacific Ocean. A pod of seals made plenty of noise as my adrenaline pumped during this tee shot. I like to think they were applauding the shot, which ended 8 feet from the hole. I sank the birdie, meaning I have now birdied arguably the two most famous par 3s in golf!
The 16th is incredibly tough. The hole was a 240 yard shot during my round, and the carry directly towards the green was right at 225 yards. I decided to hit a punch driver intending for my miss to land in a greenside bunker. Shorter hitters have the option of playing out to the left to a fairway area, leaving a wedge to the green. I’d take my bogey and run on this hole!
I hit driver from this tee box aiming slightly left of the group of fairway trees. In retrospect, I should have hit a hybrid and hit a longer iron into the green. My ball trickled into a bunker just left of the trees, which completely blocked me out from the green. It takes a perfect drive to have a clear shot to the green.
The 18th hole at Cypress gains lots of criticism. I heard varying reviews of the hole before my round, and even my caddie called it a “connector hole” simply reaching back to the clubhouse. I didn’t totally agree. The tee shot is very demanding and takes a long cut in order to have a clear shot to the green. Even with what I thought was a great tee shot, I was blocked out by a tree, as seen in the lower of the two photos above. If you’ve played the course before, please comment with your thoughts on number 18!
My round at Cypress Point marked my 26th Top 100 in the World course played. Each course has been unique and incredibly enjoyable, but only at a handful was I treated better than at Cypress. The combination of the setting, history, prestige, and hospitality made it a day that I will never forget.
One of the best 17 hole golf courses in the world. And then there’s the 18th hole ;)
Hi John, Thank you for the comment! The 18th wasn’t as weak as I was expecting before the round, but you’re right in that it doesn’t hold up to the other 17. Not even my double bogey on 18 could sour that day!
Most excellent photos! Thank you for giving us the inside look into the Cistine chapel
Thanks, Eric! It’s such a special place… glad you enjoyed the photos!
How did you get on!? Great article and pictures. Must have felt surreal.
Hey Tim, it was definitely a surreal experience! Especially playing on an empty course bright and early. I got on through a very generous friend of a friend… The “six degrees of separation” within golf has helped massively in playing the top courses!
Great post here! Certainly the best course I have every played. It is super easy to extol its virtues, which I do to anyone who will listen. However, as to 18. I do agree that it is a bit of a letdown. Though I did hear a good counter to this point. Someone once challenged anyone snubbing the eighteenth hole to try to par it. This, as you say, is not that easy given the demanding tee shot and the tree protecting the green. But, of course, the retort to this argument is that a hole simply being difficult does not make it a good hole.
Also, I see that your post is missing the tenth hole. This, in my opinion, was the only other week hole at Cypress. Sort of just a flat, easy (as it is the third easiest on course), fairly boring hole.
I also am not a huge fan of the third hole. By no means weak and it definitely has great bunkering, but not much else to it, especially when you compare it to 15 and 16. Perhaps an unfair comparison, but the seventh (the other par three not on the water) is also a much better hole with the apparent elevation change that doesn’t really exist and the reverse redan.
All that being said, I have a feeling Cypress will be the best course I ever play, even if I get on Pine Valley or Augusta. People who have played Pine Valley said it simply has no weak holes, as opposed to the 2/3 I see at Cypress. But, to me, I think I would trade 2/3 weak holes for the sheer majesty of the ocean at Cypress.
Keep up the good work on the site. Feel free to check mine out (in its infancy) at theultimateloop.com
Excellent post, Graylyn!
Hoping to have a few thoughts for you after I play this Wednesday :D This got me very excited for the trip! All the best, and thank you for your writing/podcasting!
Enjoy the round and definitely let us know how it goes!
I don’t think your photos do it justice. the first hole, for instance, the ocean is along the left side and behind the green. there is so much beauty there. pretty cool place. and the staff is amazingly pleasant. all day long they meet people that have the wow look on their face, and it’s just the pro shop.
Hi John, Unfortunately, I don’t think photos could ever do a place like Cypress Point justice!
One of my goals with this site is to show people what courses look like from a “man on the ground’s” perspective. In this case, it meant what does the course look like in the early morning on a June day. There are plenty of pro photographers who go out and take beautiful photos of the perfect sunrises and sunsets, but that’s not what the course looks like when your average Joe visits. This is my take, which I hope is different than others!
I’ve played Cypress a few times and, unbelievably, have never played the eighteenth hole. The first time, it started raining pretty good when we were on fifteen. At that point, our caddies said, “ok boys, we’re goin’ in”. I was dumbstruck….”goin’ in….what does that mean!?” I was a caddie my entire young life and had never heard such a thing. If I ever pulled that, I’d have never worked again….but this is Cypress. I was playing with a good friend, who’s the member, and another good friend (former Australasian Tour Pro who’s in the golf course business) who grew up in the home behind the first green at Pebble Beach. Neither of them was bothered, of course, because they could play 16, 17, and 18 any time they felt like, and had played them hundreds of times or more in their lives. That wasn’t the case for me, who’d never played there before. I was gutted. Anyway, we convinced our men to at least get us to the sixteenth tee before abandoning us. We played sixteen (poorly) and just packed it in after our tee shots on seventeen (a fantastic hole IMO…one of the best)since it’d started pouring in earnest. The second time, one of our group wasn’t feeling well so we all headed in after 12 holes. BTW, these were the days when even guests of members weren’t normally allowed in the clubhouse. On my first visit into the pro shop, I asked the pro for one of the white logo caps that he kept behind the counter. He replied matter-of-factly, “sorry sir….members only”. Everyone was as nice as could be but they made sure that, even in your fantasies, you knew that you did NOT belong. That experience was for members alone, but everyone was very gracious and courteous, without a hint of snobbery. These folks are far too wealthy and powerful to have to play that game. If you could choose a course that would be the only one you could play for the rest of your life, Cypress would be awfully high on that list for me. The entire experience is not to be forgotten, ever.
Great review of your round at Cypress — my #2 to Pebble as far as all-time favorites. I’ve been blessed to play it more than a dozen times. Your photographic journey brought back a lot of memories. Did I miss the 14th hole though, somehow? When we played there, we always felt 14 was a hole that said to us “Say goodbye to the woods, because now the ocean beckons for 3 holes.” my dad birdied 15 and I birdied 16, putting a driver 15 inches from the cup. My caddie said he thought I was going to be “number eight” as far as acing the hole. My heart leapt out of my chest that day. About 18, it is a tough hole, but it’s also a bit of a come-down after the rest of them I think. We always likened it to trying to shoot through a chute of deer antlers growing on trees. I coaxed a par out of it the last time I played it, about 10 years ago., and it felt like a birdie. it’s a tough 4, made more so by the elevated green. But oh, what a beautiful experience to golf that course. It’s not a round of golf, it’s a life experience.
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