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Half Moon Bay Golf Links in northern California: Firmer, faster enhances links experience

David R. HollandBy David R. Holland,
Half Moon Bay Golf Links - Ocean Course - No. 2
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The name's fitting, because at Half Moon Bay Golf Links' Ocean Course, the Pacific is always looming. (Courtesy of Shane Sharp/Buffalo Communications)

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. -- Long before the 36 holes of Half Moon Bay Golf Links and the luxurious Ritz-Carlton hugged the rugged Pacific Ocean cliffs, there were the Costanoan Indians, Spanish explorers and Canadian rumrunners from the days of Prohibition exploring this beautiful northern California coastline.

Today's farmers in the Half Moon Bay area tend to fields of pumpkins and artichokes, but on the fairways of Half Moon Bay Golf Links' Ocean Course the agronomy team has transitioned to a "Links Enhancement" program that is producing a fast, firm playing surface that was the norm when golf was born 500 years ago.

The goal is to emphasize shot value, shot-making over sheer length and also brings in the ground game used so effectively on the links courses of the British Isles.

Half Moon Bay's Ocean Course: Playing firm and fast

"The Ocean Course is using about 50 percent less water than it did in 2010 and with drier, harder conditions, the ball rolls farther off the tee, allowing for a variety in club selections," General Manager Bill Troyanoski said.

Additional, on-going adjustments to Half Moon Bay's Ocean Course include mowing rough down around bunkers to bring the hazards back into play on tee shots; cutting green complexes and surrounds to "just above green" mowing height to foster ball movement on the ground; and raising native fescue heights around tee boxes and between holes to provide golfers with visual, strategic cues about how to play holes and to enhance the links-style atmosphere.

The Ocean Course, 6,869 yards, par 72, designed by Arthur Hills, opened in 1997 after an 11-year design and building process. The course has garnered numerous awards, including Golf Digest's "Top Ten Best New Upscale" list in 1998.

"In 2008, Half Moon Bay Golf Links was selected to host the LPGA Samsung Championship, considered by most as the fifth major championship of women's professional golf," said Troyanoski. "A native of Pleasanton, Calif., Paula Creamer grew up only 50 miles from Half Moon Bay, and at age 22, she won the event in front of a hometown crowd, closing with a bogey-free, 3-under 69 and collecting a paycheck for $250,000."

Following the tournament, Creamer stated, "It's hard coming to your hometown. People watch you play all the time, but it's a different feeling when you're at home."

A couple of the holes Creamer had to master were the 16th and 17th. "Sixteen is a 381-yard par 4," said Troyanoski. "It borders the Pacific Ocean on the left and native areas to the far right, and the tee complex may have the most impressive vista on the golf course offering with an elevated view of the entire course, Pacific Ocean and the Ritz-Carlton in the background. The approach shot has the only required carry on the course and must clear a baranca to a firm, fast and undulating green."

The 17th is a par 3 of 184 yards. "It's only steps from the the baranca overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the golfers left and dropping 300 feet to the beach. The hole is surrounded by the Pacific and provides incredible views of the dramatic cliffs," Troyanoski said.

Half Moon Bay Golf Links' Old Course

Designed by Arnold Palmer in 1973, the Old Course at Half Moon Bay (7,003 yards, par 72) is a parkland experience through a housing development. Fairways are divided by coastal mounding and native grasses, with open green fronts and various options for getting up and down.

Troyanoski's favorite holes are eight and 18. "The eighth is 449 yards and a great driving hole that personifies risk vs. reward with a power slot for the slight draw," he said. "However, the proper play is always right-center. It requires an accurate approach shot to one of the best green complexes on the course."

The finale is spectacular, downhill and treacherous, especially if the wind is howling. "It is 413 yards but emerges along the Pacific Ocean, boasting one of the most stunning tee-to-green views in the U.S.," Troyanoski said. "It plays up to the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay's oceanfront courtyard and fire pit."

Half Moon Bay Golf Links: The verdict

"Of our two award-winning courses, I don't think a resort could offer such an incomparable setting, with stunning vistas of the Pacific Ocean," Troyanoski said. "There has been a positive reception to the faster, firmer conditions, and guests always mention the challenging yet fair design for both courses."

I second that. The two finishing holes on both courses are a blast to play, and the Links Course's firmer conditions make this a must-play if you can never make it to the British Isles. Half Moon Bay Golf Links has won just about every award offered.

And after golf, this place is just as spectacular with the views. Just sit out on the terrace and soak in the views, sit in the hot tub or by the fire pits. Don't miss the resort.

The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay

This 261-guestroom resort has the AAA Five Diamond seal of approval and is located just 30 miles from San Francisco or San Jose. But you might think you are in Scotland. Guests enjoy a world-class spa, oceanfront dining in Navio and personalized, friendly service. Everywhere one goes here there are superb amenities.

Also check out Mullins Bar & Grill in the golf clubhouse, named in honor of longtime head golf pro Clyde Everett "Moon" Mullins, where portraits of his friends decorate the walls -- folks like Willie Mays, Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope and Joe DiMaggio. You can dine casually here.

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Half Moon Bay Golf Links - Ocean Course - hole 3Half Moon Bay Golf Links - Ocean Course 4th holeHalf Moon Bay Golf Links - Ocean Course - hole 1Half Moon Bay Golf Links - Old Course

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.

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
  • Ocean Course

    Chris wrote on: Apr 23, 2014

    Loved the course, the environment, the views, the greens , the fairways, all quite awesome. Not so sure about the trailer park next door, though. And a great menu at the Mullins Bar. Bratwurst and clam chowder for $12. Staff were great too.


  • Ocean Course yes

    Dick wrote on: Aug 9, 2011

    Love the Ocean Course. HATE the Arnold Palmer course.


  • I like it

    Marco wrote on: Jun 28, 2011

    I played recently and loved the firm conditions on the Ocean Course and the views. The hotel is spectacular and has great service.
    However, I'm not a fan of the Arnold Palmer design school and 18 on his course was the only thing I thought was work a dime.
    Good story.