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After restoration, Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, California is back where MacKenzie intended

Mike BaileyBy Mike Bailey,
Senior Staff Writer
Pasatiempo Golf Club - Hole 16
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The front bunker on the famous 16th hole at Pasatiempo Golf Club was restored to its former glory. (Courtesy of Rob Babcock/Pasatiempo G.C.)

Pasatiempo Golf Club was arguably Dr. Alister MacKenzie's favorite golf course, so any restoration had to be painstaking and thorough. The result is nothing less than splendid.

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - Ken Woods answers the question every day. "Which house was Alister MacKenzie's?" He never tires of the question.

The second question is, "Which way do the greens break?"

The answer to that one is obvious, said Woods, the head golf professional at Pasatiempo Golf Club. There's so much slope in MacKenzie's greens, especially following the recent two-year, $2 million restoration, that they are not tricky to read. But putting them, well, that's a different story.

"The questions never get old," Woods said. "When they do, it's time for me to hang it up."

For the record, MacKenzie's old house is to the left of the sixth hole, a 565-yard par 5 with a ridiculously difficult tee shot. But more on that later.

Pasatiempo: A revered original

Pasatiempo has always enjoyed almost a religious following. It was, after all, the golf course where MacKenzie chose to make his home. And that's a pretty strong statement, considering he also designed Cypress Point Club an hour to the south and Augusta National with Bobby Jones.

But Pasatiempo, as grand as it has been over the years, was a victim of the Great Depression. The original design, with its severe greens and extensive bunkering, required a high level of maintenance. Through tough economic times, bunkers were eliminated or altered, greens were shrunk and tees moved, all to make the course easier to maintain. MacKenzie's original masterpiece was watered down.

So, after the discovery more than a decade ago of some vintage photographs showing the course in its original splendor, the club decided to move forward with a plan to bring back its former glory. For that, the club hired a young Tom Doak (of Pacific Dunes fame, among others) and Jim Urbina, of Renaissance Golf. The front-nine restoration took place in the fall of 2005, and the back nine was completed in the fall of 2007.

What you have now is a rarity: a golf course close to its original design of 80 years ago. Playing Pasatiempo, you can't help but wonder how difficult it must have been, especially when you consider the balls and clubs that were used then.

How Pasatiempo plays

If you've never played the course, the first thing that strikes you when you get there is that this par 70 is only 6,600 yards long from the tips. Forget about it. With its changes in elevation, difficult greens and fairways that provide little roll, it plays more like 7,400 yards.

The first hole is 457 yards and plays every bit of it. The second hole is a 437-yard dogleg right. And the third is 235 yards uphill and sets up for a fade. Oh yeah, and the hole slopes severely from left to right and has three large bunkers.

Then there's the par-5 sixth. Ironically, it may be my least favorite hole on the course. The tee shot comes out of a shoot, and anything turning left is most likely out of bounds. Yet, there's no room right to bail out. In short, it requires a perfect tee shot.

While the front nine is both difficult and scenic (you can see the Pacific Ocean from the first tee and clubhouse on a clear day), it's only the appetizer for what many consider to be one of the finest nines in the world - holes 10-18 at Pasatiempo.

The 440-yard 10th is a severe dogleg left that takes two strong shots to reach. The 11th is even tougher. At 392 yards, it isn't length but degree of difficulty. Depending on the wind, you can hit anywhere from a long iron to a driver off the tee to set up a second shot as close as possible to the arroyo that splits the fairways. This will set up a shorter approach shot, which will surely come off a sloping lie.

Even with a short iron, finding the green that's on the other side of the hazard is anything but routine. Miss it right, and you are reloading or dropping a few feet closer. Or you could find the cavernous bunkers that protect the green on both sides.

Perhaps the most notable example of the restoration can be found on the 16th, which MacKenzie once described as the "best two-shot hole (par 4) I know."

The 16th's green complex, with its steep, three-tiered putting surface, got a complete facelift. The green was enlarged, and the hole's dramatic bunkering near the arroyo that winds through the course's back nine was extended as MacKenzie had originally designed.

Then, the 17th hole was lengthened, with the green extended 45 feet back to its original place against the edge of arroyo. And the final hole, the 179-yard par 3 that plays back over the arroyo, also got its bunker work restored to its original specs.

Pasatiempo Golf Club: The verdict

There was a time not too long ago when you could play Pasatiempo for under $100. No more. The secret has been out a while now, so these days it can run you $250 with a cart, $100 for a replay. That's supply and demand at work.

This is one of the best golf courses in the country, and the mere fact that the public has access to this semi-private club at all is a real privilege.

If you put out the money here, make a day of it. Soak in the atmosphere and stay a while. Have a drink or dinner at the Hollins House (built in 1929 by championship golfer Marion Hollins). Inside the Hollins House you will also find the Tap Room, named one of Golf Digest's best 19th holes.

The Tap Room's walls are lined with historic photos of Bobby Jones, Bing Crosby, Marion Davis, Clarke Gable and Pasatiempo taken during the 1930s and 1940s.

There's also the MacKenzie Bar & Grill located inside the clubhouse overlooking the ninth green. The Grill includes a full bar including a selection of single-malt scotch, a favorite of MacKenzie.

Range and golf instruction at Pasatiempo

Perhaps the only knock on Pasatiempo is that the range had to be squeezed in by the first green away from the clubhouse and requires a shuttle ride to reach. It's surrounded by nets to protect golfers on the putting green near the clubhouse and players in the first fairway, but it's certainly adequate enough for warming up before a round.

There are also large putting and chipping greens and multiple practice bunkers located near the first tee.

The club offers individual and group lessons by appointment.

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Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 20 years in the golf industry. Before joining the TravelGolf Network team in 2008, he held positions at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Read Mike's golf blog here and follow him on Twitter at @Accidentlgolfer.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

 
Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Cheap Golf at Pasatiempo

    Paul Tietzen wrote on: Sep 22, 2011

    In the late 50's and the 60's, when I was not on my surfboard,I played many rounds(50?) on Sunday afternoons for all of $2.00. I knew it was a great course and enjoyed the way it made me hit smart shorts on every hole, even the 110 yard par 3 15th. I pared the 16th no more than 20% of the time and never birded it. What a hole, downhill lie to an elevated green.
    I hope to see the revisions and wonder if the Mickey Mouse green (with ears)on the back nine is still there. I could never stick my wedge near the pin on that damn hole.
    As I recall, behind the 11th green one was faced in those days with ice plant if long. I heard that Bobby Jones hooked his drive on the 11th over the ravine. Maybe the trees on the left were shorter then.
    The greens are wonderful for overbreak, finesse putters. But generally past the pin is dangerous,especially on 8 or 18.
    I never had trouble with the tee shot at 6 and found 7 to be tougher.
    Mr.Palmer, commenting after I told him about my history at Pasatiempo, said: "Paul that is about as close as you can get to Augusta".
    I am happy to see that loving care of his masterpiece continues.
    Edmonton, Alberta

    Reply

  • pasatiempo

    daniel luck wrote on: Nov 4, 2010

    I never had so much fun struggling to break 90, what a course, everyone should play at least once. Second best behind spyglass hill in my opinion

    Reply

  • Passing the Time

    Kip Confer wrote on: Feb 21, 2009

    my favorite track - ever! i was there when Buddy Sullivan was head pro and Brian Inkster was teaching a young high schooler named Julie.
    i have moved to east coast but my golfing heart and soul rests up there in those exotic Santa Cruz hills.
    18 great tests provided by the good doctor. I played it with 70's clubs and balls. One can only appreciate what it was like during his era.
    A bucket list must for anyone in love with golf.

    Reply

      • RE: Passing the Time

        Ron Troncatty wrote on: May 19, 2013

        Kip, Is that you........the guy I used to play Peach Tree with as a kid? Holy Moly. Email me at rontron2000@yahoo.com dude.

        Reply

      • RE: Passing the Time

        Mark Clendon wrote on: Oct 29, 2011

        Recieved this article from Buddy Sullivan Jr.Who now lives in Belgium. Worked at the course and grew up with Buddy and his family and lived in Pasatiempo.
        I also worked as a cart attendant with Julie. Brian Inkster was the Head Pro at the time!
        Buddy and I "hunted" golf balls in the canyons and sold them back to the people that lost them. What a racket for a couple of young kids!Couldn't wait to go have a hot Dog at Hatties Shack with that new found wealth.
        Worked in the Hollins House restaurant for a while under Chef Dave Jones and went on to become a chef myself.
        We used to play what we called "the loop" in the evenings 3,4,5,6,7,8,and back down 2. Great golf course,great times and great memories!I could go on and on!

        Reply

          • RE: RE: Passing the Time

            Ron Troncatty wrote on: May 19, 2013

            Buddy was my stepfather, but I was away at college when he was head pro there. I always wanted to play there but never could or did. Would love to contact Buddy Jr.....thought he was in Oregon. If you have his address please email me at rontron2000@yahoo.com

            Reply

          • RE: RE: Passing the Time

            Tom Mills wrote on: Apr 4, 2012

            Mark, I remember the name and I think you were schoolmates with my brother John. Blast from the past. My brothers and I used to do the same thing -- hunting balls in the canyons on the back nine. We used to "cut on" and play in the evenings as well. See if you can remember these names: Hager, Raiser, Bariteau, Trolan. Ah, to be 12 years old and messing about in Santa Cruz. Too bad you can't go back to those early 70's times there.

            Reply

      • RE: Passing the Time

        Beverly Taylor wrote on: May 6, 2009

        Are you the Kip Confer from San Jose, formerly Marysville/Wheatland up North? You mentioned the course at Pasatiempo, just off Highway 17. It is a beaufitul course. Used to have a nice restaurant, does it still? Email me! Beverly

        Reply

          • RE: RE: Passing the Time

            steve harris wrote on: Nov 19, 2010

            time was 1961 played high school golf at pasa worked for tony vedetta, carl haubel and with john thomas , john and i played the 1st and 9th hole at midnite just for fun... and as a assistant to tony i found a old box of pictures that were going to the dump. gave then to alma (the pro shop attendent) guess were they are now

            Reply

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