Pasatiempo Golf Club

Pasatiempo Golf Club
Santa Cruz, California, USA

6521 YARDS (PAR 70)
COURSE ARCHITECT: Alister MacKenzie (1929)
LAST PLAYED: May 29, 2013.
LOW SCORE: 81 (+11)

– Golf Magazine Next Best 50 Courses in the World 2020-21
– Golf Magazine Top 100 Golf Courses in the U.S. 2017: #53
– Golf Magazine Top 100 Courses You Can Play 2016-17: #13
– Golf Digest Second 100 in America 2019-20: #106
– Golf Digest America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses 2019: #16
– Golfweek Best Classic Courses USA 2019: #37
– Top 100 Golf Courses of the U.S.A. 2020: #63

“A really great golf course must be a constant source of pleasure to the greatest possible number of players. It must require strategy in the playing as well as skill. It must give the average player a fair chance and at the same time, it must require the utmost from the expert. All natural beauty should be preserved, natural hazards should be utilized and artificiality should be minimized.”
Alister MacKenzie, Course Architect, Pasatiempo Golf Club

Marion Hollins was a world-class athlete and noted entrepreneur, a rarity for a female in the 1920s. The US Women’s Amateur golf champion in 1921 and a famed equestrian, Hollins was an integral part of the development of one of the great golf courses in the world, Cypress Point, where she collaborated with architect Alister MacKenzie for the first time.

Hollins had a dream of building her own great club and she once again enlisted MacKenzie to build on a dramatic piece of property in the hills near Santa Cruz, just north of Monterey Bay. The land was perfect, with rolling topography and a sandy base and on September 8, 1929, Pasatiempo was unveiled to the world, with Hollins, golfing great Bobby Jones, current US Women’s Amateur Champion Glenna Collett and current British Amateur Champion Cyril Tolley making up the opening foursome.

Pasatiempo garnered instant acclaim and evidently, Jones was so enamoured with MacKenzie’s work that he invited him to collaborate on his dream course, which of course turned out to be Augusta National Golf Club. MacKenzie himself thought so much of his design work at Pasatiempo that he would eventually settle down in a home just off the 6th fairway, a house that remains there to this day.

A monument sits just off the 6th fairway where Alister MacKenzie’s former home still stands


MacKenzie’s house


The first hole starts with an inviting downhill tee shot but it’s perhaps not as wide a target as you’d hope for on your first shot of the day. From there, you have a very challenging uphill approach with a long iron or fairway metal to a green that is open on the front left but protected by bunkers on the front right. A tough opener that sets the stage nicely for the rest of the day.

The second is a partially blind downhill tee shot to a fairway that slopes sharply to the left. Again, you’ll be faced with a long approach to a green that slopes similarly from right to left and features a very narrow opening.

The third is an uphill 235 yard par three and if you didn’t feel it already, you’ll definitely know that you’re playing a MacKenzie course when you reach this tee! Tom Doak restored one of MacKenzie’s beautiful bunkers about halfway down the length of the hole, one that shouldn’t come into play for most players but adds just the right touch of visual intimidation. The green is set at a diagonal and accepts a fade approach best – a par here will bring a smile to the face to the most accomplished of players.

The fourth hole is a 378 yard par four with ample room off the tee but again, it’s near the green where things get challenging. The fifth hole, a delightful 190 yard par three, features a prominent front centre bunker that dictates the strategy from the tee regardless of hole location. The cleverly sloped putting surface will allow balls to be played both left and right of that bunker and allow the players the option to go in both directions to feed the ball to centre hole locations.

Many people criticize the 6th and 7th holes as being inferior to the rest at Pasatiempo, as they are very tightly routed on a narrow portion of the property along with the par three 8th hole. That said, the drive at the par five 6th is very interesting, with land tumbling sharply from right to left and you can’t discount the notable fact that Alister MacKenzie’s longtime home is just left of the fairway near the approach area. The 348 yard par four 7th features an unattractive but likely necessary row of tall trees bordering both sides of the fairway, tightening the driving zone to almost claustrophobic effect. Again, the 6th and 8th holes run parallel to the 7th and I’d imagine that there would be plenty of liability issues if all of those trees were chopped down. Despite all that, I think the 7th green is well-sited and features more of the interesting contours that are customary at Pasatiempo.

The predominant feature on the 176 yard par three 8th hole is the steeply pitched green that slopes almost impossibly from back to front. We played to a back hole location and you needed a full hip turn to get the ball to that back tier! The par five ninth offers a decent birdie opportunity to close the front nine, with a large green that sits elevated from the approach area and one that is protected by a very large bunker in front.

Many course critics feel that Pasatiempo’s back nine is one of the best in all of golf and this author wouldn’t disagree, with as many as eight incredibly unique and complex holes and perhaps only one relatively plain hole.

The 10th will make your hair stand up on end, with a thrilling tee shot over a barranca to an elevated fairway. The approach is just as stunning: downhill to a green that accepts a running shot toward the right side but balls hit left will end up in one of the cavernous bunkers set well below the putting surface.

The 11th is even better and position is critical off the tee, as the barranca runs all the way down the left hand side of the fairway. You will need to carry that considerable hazard on your approach shot to the awe-inspiring green location, set at a diagonal to play, with a fade approach the recommended play. Even the green is diabolical, with a wonderful knob in the front left that will propel balls down the hill if they are hit just short and allowing for myriad short game options around the green. One of the great holes in golf, in my humble opinion.

The 373 yard par four 12th offers a bit of a breather off the tee, as only a fairway metal or long iron is needed but the green is tucked over a depression area and requires a draw approach to hit the narrow target. The par five 13th occupies some of the most interesting land on the course, with rolls upon rolls in the fairway ending with a visually stunning approach to a green surrounded by huge bunkers.

The 14th, a 429 yard par four, features an incredibly unique “trench” in the middle of the fairway that’s around five or six feet deep. If you land in there, as my playing partner did (see photo below), you’re left with a challenging shot from an uneven lie but perhaps the best angle into the green. A very interesting strategic hole. The par three 15th is the shortest hole at Pasatiempo at only 141 yards and is very picturesque.

The 16th hole is one of MacKenzie’s favourites – it’s only 387 yards and a fairway metal is usually enough to reach the desired landing area on the crowned fairway. Once you crest the hill, you finally get exposed to one of the most famous green sites in golf, with the newly restored front right bunker and a green that features slopes that you wouldn’t believe! The 16th green may be one of the best I’ve ever seen in my life and the hole location on the day we played, middle left tucked behind a bunker, may be the cruelest I’ve ever seen as well! Tremendous!

The 17th is perhaps the only “plain” hole on the back nine at Pasatiempo, a straight-away par four back up the hill to a bunkerless green. However, you finish with appropriate style on the par three 18th hole, a 169 yarder over the barranca to a wide but shallow target that is protected in front and in back by huge bunkers. A very worthy closer.

There is no mistaking the fact that you’re playing a MacKenzie course when at Pasatiempo, with the dramatic bunkering style prevalent throughout the walk. There is so much flair to this design, with all of the little touches done just right, like having no rough in between fairways/greens and the bunkers, meaning that wayward shots will roll freely into the hazards, a really cool design feature.

The front nine routing is quite compact and I can understand an argument that one may have about it being detrimental to the overall design but I still feel that the much-criticized 6th and 7th holes contain many redeeming qualities on their own. The back nine is played over much more dramatic land, with the barranca being used brilliantly on multiple occasions.

Conditioning was much better than I expected – this is a semi-private facility that likely gets a lot of public play but balls were rolling out beautifully throughout the fairways and greens were appropriately slick.

And oh…those greens!

Pasatiempo may collectively have one of the best sets of greens in all of golf – seemingly larger surfaces than I’d normally see with an infinite amount of intriguing hole locations. On the day I played, I must have seen most of the tough ones, that’s for sure! Despite only being about 6500 yards from the back tees, this par 70 will make even the most skilled of players tremble with fear! Among the toughest courses I’ve ever played, without question.

Pasatiempo is quite well-regarded, especially by the folks at Golf Magazine but generally speaking, I think that the course is criminally underrated. In my opinion, Pasatiempo is one of the greatest public courses in America and unquestionably worthy of placement within the top 100 courses in the country and perhaps even the world. If you find yourself in Northern California, you can’t miss out on the experience of playing this golf course – it’s simply superb.

Pasatiempo’s clubhouse just to the right of the first tee
The clubhouse has many displays that honour Alister MacKenzie’s work at Pasatiempo


The long, straight-away par four opener plays from an elevated tee


Just in front of the first green


Looking back down the first hole from behind the green


The 437 yard par four second hole


Near a fairway bunker down the right side of the 2nd hole


The narrow and undulating 2nd green


A look from just behind the second green; note how there is no rough between the green and the bunkers, a cool design feature


MacKenzie’s attractive bunkering was restored by Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf team, with his work at the par three 3rd a particular highlight


The usually out of play “fairway” bunker on the par three 3rd


Looking down at the third green from up the hill on the left


The mid-length par four 4th hole


Approach to the 4th hole


Just in front of the 4th green


The front bunker dominates strategy on the par three 5th hole


Shots coming up short face a steep pitch over the yawning hazard


A cool shot looking back from behind the 5th green, with the 4th hole in the background to the left


A tight and slightly uncomfortable drive awaits on the par five 6th hole


The landing area on the 6th propels balls back to the left side of the fairway


Near the layup area on the par five sixth hole


A little wedge approach is required from this position down the right side of the 6th hole


Yes, this drive is as tight as it appears! Two rows of tall trees line both sides of the short par four 7th hole, protecting players on the surrounding holes


The middle of the fairway on the 7th hole


Another challenging green awaits at the 7th


Another good look at the narrow targets at Pasatiempo, with slight misses easily rolling into the bunkers


The slightly downhill par three 8th hole


Just in front of the 8th green


There is no way to appreciate the incredibly dramatic back-to-front slope on Pasatiempo’s 8th green in photos alone – it is practically impossible to get to this pin location!


Time to dial up a fade on the par five 9th hole!


The landing area on the 9th hole


The approach shot on the 9th is played well uphill to a well-protected green


A closer look at the huge bunker in front of the 9th green


Looking back down the fairway from behind the 9th green


The exhilarating tee shot over a barranca on the 10th hole


The approach shot is hit downhill to a green that is very well-protected in the front left by a cluster of deep bunkers


A slightly closer look at the approach to #10


Looking back down the fairway from the back right of the 10th green


The incredible mid-length par four 11th hole


A very challenging diagonal approach over the barranca awaits at the world-class 11th hole
My ball came to rest just short left and I had a challenging knob to overcome on my third shot – do I putt this, bump it into the slope or pitch it up top to a pin cut just on the other side of the slope? Every option is available!


A last look back down the 11th hole from behind – spectacular!


A reprieve! A relatively routine downhill tee shot awaits at the 12th


The approach into the par four 12th hole


A very cool green site at the 12th


The par five 13th features a tee shot that looks tighter than it actually is


Things open up considerably in the tumbling fairway


Pasatiempo features great land…


…and look at those bunkers!


A shot from behind the 13th green


The tee shot on the 429 yard par four 14th doesn’t look like anything special…


…but look at this fairway! Truly unique!


You get a sense of the scale on the 14th with my playing partner Tom in the “trench” – he’ll have a tough approach with his feet well above the ball


Looking back down the 14th from behind the green


The lovely par three 15th hole, the shortest on the course at only 141 yards


Just in front of the 15th green


A crowned fairway awaits at the famous 16th hole…


…but it’s the green site that’s truly spectacular! Look at that diabolical pin position too – we had plenty of tough ones on this day!


The absolutely awesome 16th green


A cruel, cruel hole location!


Perhaps the only plain hole on the world-class back nine as we hit the 17th tee


The very long 17th green from behind


The famous par three 18th over the barranca



A last look at the 18th at Pasatiempo from behind the green


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