Poppy Hills Golf Course: NCGA's home course might bring you to your knees

By David R. Holland, Contributor

You would think that a golf course that has five par-5s would make Tiger Woods drool. But like many others who play Poppy Hills Golf Course in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am rotation, Tiger hasn't exactly destroyed this tough layout -- yet.

"The first time Tiger played here he shot 72," said Poppy Hills' Director of Golf Bob Higgins. "He followed that with a 76 and then 69 his third try. Pebble Beach and Spyglass get most of the acclaim on the rotation, but Poppy and Spyglass usually have the highest stroke averages for the tournament."

Poppy Hills replaced Cypress Point (tough act to follow!) in the rotation in 1991 and has a contract that extends through 2002.

"It really makes a nice week for us," said Higgins. "Last year Jeff Sluman missed the green to the left on the par-5 18th and the pin was on the lower right. He chipped in for an eagle and with Bill Murray in the group you can imagine it was a colorful scene. Murray and Scott Simpson both ran up to Sluman, bowed down, and kissed him on the foot."

Poppy Hills will make most average golfers bow down. At 6,873 yards from the back tees, this par-72 Robert Trent Jones II layout has many bunkers, tricky greens protected by water and ravine drop-offs.

This is a tough, tough layout. It certainly isn't the length, it's the trouble one faces on the approach. You can't afford to go brain-dead. You may be in the middle of the fairway addressing your second shot and you step back and say: "If this isn't on the green I'm in trouble." Mr. Jones did provide bailout targets, but these aren't exactly easy to hit if you are not playing well.

"You must have a good short game, no doubt," said Higgins. "This is not a low-scoring course so we hear some negative things from the pros. Even when Peter Jacobsen shot 65 we heard some criticism, but we figured he had heard much of it from his playing partner Jack Lemmon. Jack doesn't like it, I'm sure, because it is hard and he can't play well here."

How tough is it? Mark Brooks double-bogeyed No. 1 and went on to shoot 80. Tom Pernice Jr. 3-putted No. 17 and lost to Phil Mickelson by a stoke in 1998, the year the tournament had to be concluded in August because of El Niño. Fred Couples double-bogeyed No. 12, a short dogleg when he hit is second shot over the green out of bounds. Good shots? Roger Clemens, the much-traveled Cy Young Award winning pitcher, had a hole-in-one on 17.

On the first tee you will see a good example of the thinking day you are about to embark on. There are red stakes and a ravine to the right and trees left on this 413-yard par-4. It doglegs right and the safe landing area looks tiny. Even if you hit the prime location, the next shot must go over the ravine to a pin placement on the right. The layup area left and short of the green is also pretty small.

No. 2 presents a deep barranca to carry to this par-3, 174 yards. It has two small separate greens, one elevated from the other.

The No. 1 handicap hole is No. 4, a 560-yard, par-5. Keep your second shot in the right-center of the fairway, because this bends to the left and the right side of the green is heavily protected by traps. No. 5, a par-4, 426 yards, is narrow and water guards the right side.

No. 9, the 557-yard par-5, has undergone a recent remodeling. The new design moved the upper tees back 20 yards and eliminated a center fairway bunker. The fairway was lowered, giving the golfer a better view of the landing area from the tee. The second shot landing area was also enlarged and leveled.

The backside has three par-3 holes and three par-5s. The finishing hole, a par-5, 500 yards, bends left, then back to the right. There is a huge Monterey pine guarding the right side along with four bunkers. If the pin is far right, the bailout area narrows considerably in front of the green.

Poppy Hills is the first golf course in the nation to be owned and operated by an amateur golf association. The Northern California Golf Association, which has been around since 1906, wanted to provide a championship layout to its members at an affordable fee. So Poppy Hills and Poppy Ridge, the 27-hole layout in Livermore, have made its 170,000 members happy. They come and come. Poppy Hills averages 59,000 rounds a year and Poppy Ridge totals 80,000.

The NCGA is a non-profit organization stretching from the Oregon border into Central California and east into Nevada.

Poppy Hills Golf Course
3200 Lopez on 17-Mile Drive
Pebble Beach, 93953
Pro Shop: 831-622-8239
Reservations: 831-625-2035
Fax: 831-626-5421
Web: www.ncga.org

Directions: From Highway 1, take the Pebble Beach exit and proceed to the gate for instructions.

Play policy and fees: Green fees are $45 for NCGA members and $75 for NCGA guests (limited to three per day), and $115 for non-members on Monday through Thursday. Green fees are $50 for NCGA members and $80 for NCGA guests, and $130 for non-members Friday, Saturday, and holidays. Carts are $30.

For seniors and women: The white tees play 6,268 yards and the red tees 5,483. If you have an 18-plus handicap this course is going to frustrate you. So you might want to pick an easier layout.

Photos courtesy Poppy Hills Golf Course

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.

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