Pasatiempo Golf Club is one of the great classic “Golden Age” courses in America and one of the rare chances the general public has to play an Alister MacKenzie designed course. Dr. MacKenzie owned a home on the 6th fairway where he stayed until he passed away in 1934. The course lays on a property that features rolling hills, a large baranca, and small ravines. The course is lined with mature trees of a variety of species and a view of Monterey Bay is afforded from the opening tee box which exhilirates the golfer before a fantastic round. In the early 1990s a restoration effort began at Pasatiempo for which Tom Doak was commissioned to restore the old gem and bring it back to MacKenzie and Hollins’ original vision. After many years of work the restoration was fully completed in the fall of 2007. It was a slow process which was actually nice because it allowed the course to stay open during the construction which is something we’re sure all the players appreciated.
The front nine opens with a majestic view of the Pacific Ocean only a couple of miles distance, provided the day is clear. This hole that begins from an elevated tee was formerly a short 457-yard par-five, but has been converted into a very stout two-shotter for those par-conscious individuals. Otherwise, the nine is comprised of three par-threes, four par-fours, and two par-fives. One of these threes, the third, is one of the most difficult par threes in golf in which water does not come into play, climbing 214 yards uphill to a fiendish two-tiered putting surface.
The back nine, which MacKenzie in his recently published “lost” manuscript The Spirit of St. Andrews called “the best I have ever built or seen,” crosses a series of barrancas and contains many fascinating holes. MacKenzie considered the 16th to be his “favorite hole in all of golf” – it is a 387-yard jewel requiring a blind fairway wood or driving iron tee shot to a hogback fairway lined by a barranca on the left and out of bounds on the right. Both the tee shot and approach must carry this barranca to a crowned fairway that aid the shorter player with a bit more roll, but challenges the stronger one to play perilously close to the trouble on the left side so as to not through the fairway. The approach is over a ravine to a three-tiered green that is one of the most severely MacKenzie greens still existence though it beautifully embraces in what MacKenzie called a “garden spot.” Ben Hogan said it all when he called the hole “a truly great par-four.”
Many players, however, consider the par-four 10th and 11h holes even better. Ten is a demanding 440-yarder requiring a drive of 200 yards to carry a gaping canyon and a long, slightly downhill approach to a small green framed on the right by a large eucalyptus tree. Eleven, though shorter than the tenth by more than forty yards, is even more severe. The 392 yard 11th ranks as one of the most difficult sub-400 yard par fours in the country. The hole plays uphill the entire way and a barranca crosses at a 45 degree angle across the fairway and up next to the right side of the green. Both sides of the putting surface is protected by bunkers and downhill putts are very difficult to leave near the hole. If you leave your approach shot short and left of the putting green it will provide the easiest chance to get up and down for par. This hole is a stout challenge from tee to green! When the poa annua greens are cut to tournament play speed, a putt from above the hole on 11 will most likely not stay on the putting surface.
Signature Hole: 18th Hole – 169 Yard Par 3 – Few courses finish with a par three, and fewer still can compete with the quality of Pasatiempo’s final one-shotter. Restored by Tom Doak’s Renaissance team, the 18th hole once again features yawning bunkers spilling into the well-forested barranca fronting the green thus creating the most dramatic approach shot on the course. While some may not appreciate a par 3 finishing hole, Alister MacKenzie’s brilliance of saving the best for last is a theme shared by Donald Ross’ East Lake and Congressional golf courses that have received great acclaim over the years as well (In 2007, Rees Jones altered Donald Ross’ original design by making the 17th hole the new finishing hole and abandoning the original par 3 18th hole and instead designed a new par 3 that acts as the 10th hole. This was all done to conform to the USGA’s desire to have a par 4 finishing hole and require tour players to have to hit a driver under the pressure of a tournament or major championship. It is the author’s opinion that while this may appeal to audiences desiring a more climatic finish, Congressional has removed some of Donald Ross’ genius from the course and the best par 3 in D.C.)
Conclusion: 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.