Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz: MacKenzie's "other" jewel on Monterey Bay

By David R. Holland, Contributor

It's almost uncanny that Santa Cruz is known more for its famous boardwalk or for having been the birthplace of surfing competitions than for its golf links history found at Pasatiempo Golf Course.

18 Holes | Semi-Private | Par: 70 | 6521 yards
Pasatiempo Golf Club
Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz: An Alister Mackenzie gem among Monterey Peninsula golfers.
Pasatiempo Golf ClubPasatiempo Golf Club - holes 4-5Pasatiempo Golf Club - hole 1

After all, Santa Cruz is just an hour north of the more-often hyped golf-hallowed ground of the Monterey Peninsula. And Santa Cruz is located on the northern end of that same famous Monterey Bay.

"Golf aficionados call Pasatiempo a hidden jewel and many golfers don't know the vision and inspiration for Pasatiempo actually started at Cypress Point," said Bob Beck, Pasatiempo's historian.

Scottish-born golf architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie designed Cypress Point in 1927 and Pasatiempo in 1929, but much of his inspiration came from Marion Hollins, a New Yorker who came west and put an indelible stamp on women's golf and other sports. She was a sports entrepreneur, an unheard of combination for women early in the century.

Hollins, the 1921 U.S. Amateur Golf Champion, purchased the property of 570 acres in 1928 and named it Pasatiempo, Spanish for "passing of time." She then commissioned MacKenzie to design her golf course overlooking the Central Coast of California and the Pacific Ocean. MacKenzie, who lived in a house halfway up the sixth fairway on the left side until his death in 1934, put his classic stamp on Pasatiempo. He believed in maximun enjoyment for the maximum number of players. He wanted the high-handicapper to have as much chance to enjoy a layout as the professional. Pasatiempo is fair, but is also an exacting challenge with lush fairways and demanding greens. His expertise in bunkering has been praised by past and present tour players.

Both Hollins and Dr. MacKenzie approached Pasatiempo with specific design philosophies," Beck said. "Miss Hollins felt there should be alternate lines of play on every hole, not just the direct line to the green. This permits the shorter hitter to attempt a safer line of direction. She called her concept 'strategic golf' design.'"

Dr. MacKenzie agreed with Miss Hollins. "But MacKenzie's vision is also recognizable in the boldness of designing the greens and bunkers and also in the way he encourages the player to do something better than he or she has ever done before, but at the same time providing a safe route to the hole for those of less ability or courage."

Interestingly, something happened in February of 1979, to make the shareholders of Pasatiempo stop and think. Michael Wolveridge, a member of one of the world's top golf architectural firms (Thomson, Wolveridge, Fream and Associates), made a demanding inspection of Pasatiempo.

Wolveridge, who had visited Augusta National and Cypress Point many times, (two of MacKenzie's greatest works) but had never seen Pasatiempo. He was floored.

Pasatiempo is perhaps the closest of all MacKenzie's works to remain both authentic and provide pleasurable excitement to the public," Wolveridge said. "This course is special indeed."

He compared Pasatiempo's 16th with the eighth at Cypress Point and the third hole on the West Course of Royal Melbourne. Dr. MacKenzie regarded the 16th hole at Pasatiempo as the best two-shot hole he ever designed -- and possibly in all of golf. It's a 395-yard par-4 dogleg left (no doubt the no. 1 handicap).

There's an aiming flag in the middle of the fairway and a draw will be rewarded on the tee shot. However, the next shot is as hard as they come. You will probably have a downhill or sidehill lie over a barranca to the green above. Talk about a visual scare. From the fairway the optical illusion is that this green isn't going to hold any shot. The front of the green is false and your shot will roll off. But it you find the right tier, you just might have a shot at par. Anything above the flag will roll back.

Wolveridge went on to praise MacKenzie's greens: "How often do we play golf on courses where the game is to hit the greens and it is dull and straightforward? Not so at Pasatiempo where there exists a collection of 18 of the finest, most interesting greens which I have ever seen on one golf course. It is more interesting than Cypress Point or Royal Melbourne. The first green at the Old Course at St. Andrews is not so interesting as the 12th at Pasatiempo."

Many of Wolveridge's comments were taken and acted on by the Pasatiempo Corporation. Many members who had just been enjoying the golf course realized what a prize they had. And currently, golf architect Tom Doak is working on a renovation project that will return the course to many of MacKenzie's original thoughts.

Pasatiempo's first nine holes are laid out in open rolling country. In the beginning the view from the first tee was basically treeless. And now, on a clear day from the first tee you can see the roller coaster at the Beach Boardwalk, Monterey far in the distance and lots of Monterey pines.

Pasatiempo's par-3 holes are fun, challenging holes, but no. 3 is downright intimidating and the no. 2 handicap hole. It's 217 yards uphill and is one of the toughest par 3s anywhere. Most high-handicappers will have the best chance to save par by leaving it short and in front. If you go left, right or long it will be a difficult save.

No. 18 is a par-3, 173 yards that requires a carry over a huge ravine, usually a 4- or 5-iron depending on the wind. If you leave it above the hole take a big breath and tap it lightly because this is a fast putt.

From the tee at no. 10, a dogleg-left par-4, 444 yards, it looks mean. There's a series of ravines to drive over, but the carry is not more than 190 in any spot. The second shot is downhill and requires an exact stroke. Watch out for the huge eucalyptus tree on the right.

The tee shot at no. 11 requires a long drive then a scary shot over a barranca to your left. It's 384 yards and a par 4. Most mere mortals will have to keep the second shot just short of the green. If you are lucky enough to have a front-pin placement, you can fly your chip 10 to 15 feet past the hole and have the backboard effect bring the ball back to the pin. When the pin is in the back this can be a frustrating approach. Many balls will come back to the front. Pasatiempo was the home of LPGA Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, who grew up just off the 14th tee, and went to work for the club at age 15.

"Pasatiempo is one of the toughest courses I ever played," Inkster said. "I'm grateful for all the experience I gained here because, in comparison, most courses are a piece of cake."

The Pasatiempo guest book includes:Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Ben Crenshaw, Joyce Wethered, May Pickford, Ty Cobb, Babe Didrickson, Jack Dempsey, Bing Crosby, Fred Couples, Johnny Miller, Mark O'Meara, Tom Watson, and Tiger Woods.

In 1986, the U.S. Women's Amateur was held at Pasatiempo, where Los Gatos native Kay Cockerill triumphed.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment