Pasatiempo Golf Club: Restoring the Golden Age

Marion Hollins was the preeminent female athlete of the 1920s, earning accolades in tennis, golf, polo and steeplechase. Hollins was also involved in real estate, and managed the development of the Cypress Point Club.

She was also the visionary behind Pasatiempo Golf Club, one of the finest public courses in the country. Hollins teamed up with another giant of the era, Alister MacKenzie, to build the layout in Santa Cruz, north of the Monterey Peninsula.

“It’s one of America’s treasures, and the most MacKenzie of MacKenzie courses,” says Tom Doak, a MacKenzie expert who led the recently completed restoration of Pasatiempo. At other great MacKenzie courses like Augusta National and Royal Melbourne, “he left behind his ideas for others to implement,” says Doak. But MacKenzie lived on Pasatiempo’s 6th fairway from 1929 until he died in 1934, and he was constantly tweaking and tinkering even after construction.

For the course’s opening on September 8, 1929, Hollins enlisted Bobby Jones for a match. The U.S. Open champion on the eve of his Grand Slam season found a kindred spirit in MacKenzie, who shared Jones’ affinity for the Old Course at St. Andrews. There is little doubt that this meeting at Pasatiempo played a key hand in Jones’ later decision to draft MacKenzie to design Augusta National.

But over the next few decades, Pasatiempo didn’t age as well as some of MacKenzie’s other designs. Throughout the Great Depression and into the 1940s and ’50s, the cost of maintenance resulted in the filling in of many bunkers. In the ’60s hundreds of trees were planted to bring in a parallel structure that didn’t exist in the original design.

The course’s 50th anniversary in 1979 triggered an interest in the course’s origins, and former club historian Bob Beck uncovered a collection of photographs, including some from the opening-day exhibition by famed celebrity photographer Julian Graham, that showed how much the course had transformed over the years.

In the mid ’90s, when shareholders of the semi-private Pasatiempo decided to explore a restoration effort, the obvious choice was Doak, co-author of The Life and Work of Dr. Alister MacKenzie. Doak’s presentation to the shareholders was simple and direct. “I told them it didn’t have to be complicated,” Doak says. “They didn’t need us to draw a blueprint; they already knew what it was like from the photos.”

However, there was still some hesitation. So the plan was for Doak to prove his mettle with a relatively benign restoration of No. 12 as a test case. After it was deemed a success, the overall project gained momentum.

Even so, due to the lack of a strong consensus among the shareholders, the project took almost as long to complete as Boston’s Big Dig. Doak and associate Jim Urbina performed much of the restoration piecemeal—one hole at a time, followed by an evaluation before receiving approval to start the next hole. When Doak finally completed the entire course in 2007, the project had taken more than 10 years.

In the end, Doak and Urbina restored 36 bunkers—most dramatically a large cross bunker on the uphill 214-yard 3rd hole—that had been grassed over, rebuilt several others, removed more than 50 trees, and recontoured the greens, as well as enlarging all 18 by a total of 26,000 square feet.

The results are dazzling—improving vistas, playability and MacKenzie’s belief that golf was about more than just pure distance. He wanted to design courses players couldn’t just overpower, and 6,500-yard Pasatiempo remains a perfect example.

Located just miles off the Pacific coast, Pasatiempo has virtually no water on the course. Yet the back nine has plenty of hazard stakes marking steep ravines that skirt the holes. Almost as treacherous are MacKenzie’s bunkers, with lips so formidable they could more correctly be characterized as walls. Finally, the severity of the greens—due in part to elevation changes of 300 feet on the site—make three-putting simply an accepted way of life for regulars.

These bold features are in abundance at the 387-yard 16th, MacKenzie’s acknowledged favorite. A blind tee shot leads to an approach to a triple-tiered elevated green in the sky, guarded by barranca, stream, false front and a restored bunker that is, in Doak’s words, “stunningly rugged.”

But reaching the green is not the end of the considerable task on this hole. Should a player be unfortunate enough to have misjudged the approach and leave a putt from above the hole on one of the more menacing and unforgettable greens in golf, the ball will simply not stop on the lower portion of the putting surface.

Similarly unforgettable is the 392-yard 11th, which dares players with a severely uphill carry across a diagonal barranca to a sloping green that demands precision. For those who like challenges, this is one of the most memorable holes in the game.

Like much of the back nine, the closing hole ends with a carry over the imposing barranca. Joining the likes of the Homestead’s Cascades and East Lake Country Club, Pasatiempo is one of a handful of great courses with a par-3 finishing hole, 169 yards that is virtually all carry to a green guarded by a group of newly restored bunkers.

Although Pasatiempo always has been a must-stop for Golden Age aficionados making the journey from the Bay Area to the Monterey Peninsula, Doak’s restoration rightfully has brought renewed attention to the MacKenzie gem. In The Spirit of St. Andrews, MacKenzie wrote: “Many good golfers consider the second nine holes at Pasatiempo the finest in existence.”

Especially now, it’s hard to argue with him.



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