In all of my golf travels I had never played a course designed by Alister MacKenzie. Considering that very few of his courses in the US are open to the public (by my count 4) it is a rare treat when you get a chance to play one and so I was very excited about my recent trip to Pasatiempo.
Located in Santa Cruz, Pasa is sandwiched in-between the golf meccas of Monterey and San Francisco but has a managed to carve out a cult-like following all of its own. The course has a real laid-back vibe with tee times every 10 minutes (leading to everyone playing fast but no one rushing you) and a staff that is friendly and accommodating and a porch that offers fantastic views of the 1st and 9th holes. All of this puts you in a relaxed mindset as the challenges of the course arise.
One side note, there are the classic back, middle and up tees but there is an option to play a combo tee set (look for the blue scorecards at the starter tent) which is a fantastic way of playing Pasa.
The first hole is classic golden age California golf architecture with a long downhill hole feature views of the nearby bay. I find it fascinating that this trait (shared by the likes of the Riv, Bel-Air, etc.) was such a stylistic choice back in the day but I totally dig it.
There are three things that struck me about playing the front 9. The first is how crazy good the greens and bunkering are.
Pasa might not get as much respect in the world rankings as other MacKenzie courses but I would dare say its greens and bunkers are world class with few equals.
The second thing that struck me was how similar I felt several of the holes were to one of my all time favs, Cal Club. The looks the second shots give you give you at Pasa are similar to Cal in that they create a lot of visual eye candy and challenges when going for the green.
The third thing is regrettably how tight the course feels in some way with houses encroaching almost onto the fairways (especially the 6th and 14th holes). When you see pics of early Pasa, it has a wide open feel with very few trees or houses (similar if you see early pics of the Riv) but nowadays there are often trees on one side of the fairway and houses on the other.
(MacKenzie's house on the 6th)
The back 9 has some of the most interesting golf holes on the planet. My favorite by far was the 10th hole featuring a fantastic tee shot over a barranaca (yet another golden age touch)
The 11th hole creates a lot of befuddlement in the group as the tee shot to the end of the fairway is seemingly the play but you still have a long shot over a chasm to a super tight green. Visually interesting? Yes. A bit too penal for almost every type of golfer? Also yes.
The back 9 really gives it all to you. Other favorites included the 14th hole, one of the best par 3s I have played.
Finally, this leads up to the best two-shot course in the world (according to MacKenzie) the 16th hole. Loved, loved this hole. First you (hopefully) hit your tee shot up onto the plateau. Then when you gain the summit, you see what is ahead of you.
This green is outrageous, the bunkering is outrageous and one of my playing companions said this course is "theatrical" which this hole more than encapsulates.
I hit a great drive and a great second shot only to see my ball trundle down to the lowest level on the green. I three putted from the bottom and all of my playing companions congratulated me on a great three putt. Such is the nature of the 16th.
There is no denying that modern life with its home and its freeways have encroached upon Pasatiempo. Still though the classic bones of the course are there and the back 9 is spectacular. I may not play Pasatiempo every day but the genius of MacKenzie from 100 yards in will stick with me for a long time.
For more information on Pasatiempo check out this link: https://www.pasatiempo.com/