Review: Pasatiempo Golf Club

A rare public Alister Mackenzie, Pasatiempo is a must for any golf architecture fan

Information:

  • Santa Cruz, California
  • Semi-Private
  • Alister Mackenzie (1929)
  • 58th in the United States (Golf Magazine)

I have had the opportunity to play Pasatiempo twice: once in April 2018, and again in October 2021. On the first trip, I drove my car home from Arizona, deciding to stop up the coast playing golf. The second trip, Pasateimpo was the first golf course I played, I could not wait to see it again.

One of the numerous golf reviewer cliches is “pictures do not do this place justice,” but that sentiment rings true at Pasa, where Alister Mackenzie’s green complexes are the absolute star of the show. Even without including the green complexes, this 6521 yardage on the card seems benign, but as the starter warned me on my first trip in 2018, it plays 400 (or more) yards longer than the card. How do I capture that with a camera?

The course starts with a pretty benign par 4, measuring 457 yards from the back tees, but plays straight downhill with no trouble off the tee. I’m not really up to date on Pasa’s history, but this hole seems like it would’ve played as a par 5 when it opened in 1929 as a “half-par” hole.

The approach is fairly normal, but there is enough interest in the green to keep you engaged. I like to think of the opening hole here as the perfect trailer to, like, Avatar or something. Sure, some decent visual effects and some hard work went into the trailer, but it literally cannot begin to set expectations properly for what’s to come.

The second is an absolute gem of a par 4, and one I overlooked on my first visit. Not the case on my second spin, with much more admiration for this 430 yard dramatically downhill par 4.

I truly do not understand why golf architects do not build holes like this still. The fairway heavily tilts to the left, with the green complex mirroring the severity of the fairway. A bunker left, with a back tongue and a front right portion, and bam: you have a brilliant golf hole.

Hopefully the photo below showcases some of the interest and variety in the pin locations in this green. We are only two holes in… it continues to get better.

Whenever I can organize my thoughts, there is an article to be written about Jasper Park Lodge‘s influence on Mackenzie’s architecture, who visited the same year Pasatiempo. Also, likely in the same article, Pasatiempo’s influence on Augusta National, but I need a lot of proof for such a wild claim and I need time.

Even still, the third reminded me a lot of Jasper Park Lodge’s par 3, 4th. At 325 yards uphill, the green is narrow, surrounded by Mackenzie’s attractive bunkering style. A gentlemen in my group mentioned that he watched Stanford’s entire team layup on this par 3 during the Western Intercollegiate and try and make 3 the hard way to avoid the big number that looms here, but I have no proof of this. Interesting if so, and I can see it: this green is really difficult to hit.

The 4th is a nice reprieve from the excruciatingly difficult par 3, 3rd, but is not exactly a pushover. Even with its 378 yard length, short hitters must avoid the right bunkers, while long hitters might have to lay off to avoid the left.

Just a pleasant, simple approach to a quality Mackenzie green.

The fifth is a brilliant par 3 with one of the most-interesting green complexes I have ever seen. A front left portion, back tongue, and a front right tongue are encroached by bunkers, seemingly eating into the surface. At 190 yards, this is no pushover either, and a difficult green to hit.

The 6th is the start of what is normally referred to as the weakest part of the golf course. I do like the tee shot at the 6th, however, playing over a ridge with a bunker on the right. At 567 yards, this is a long par 5 at sea level.

On the left, houses start to pinch the golf course, while trees down the right side also pinch in to really make the 6th feel narrow. If I remember correctly, the trees on the right were planted for safety for a buffer between the 6th and 7th, but a shame it came to that. I imagine liability is a big deal in California, so I can understand why they did it. Anyways, Dr. Mackenzie’s house is actually on the left here, so make sure you stop (I did, but forgot to snap a photo).

With all the valid criticism of the 6th, this is still a first-rate green complex.

At the 342 yard par 4, 7th, you really start to feel the effects of the safety buffer trees. This is a tight tee shot.

I almost feel like on the 6th and 7th, the brilliance of the green complexes is overshadowed by how good the green complexes are. Again, the 7th is an excellent green with so much character. I could chip and putt here all day.

Thankfully, the 8th really does not suffer from the trees on the left, and we are back to a brilliant par 3 with a crazy severe green complex.

To end the front nine, the 492 yard par 5, 9th plays longer than the yardage, but I would say middle to longer hitters can still get home in two. I am not the longest player in the world, but I got home with hybrid.

This is a fairly straightforward hole, but I always like when the green is so heavily angled that it forces the layup to be placed on either side of the fairway. Here, most players would be benecial to approach this green from the right side, especially when they see the undulations in the green and how the ball can funnel to pins.

A difficult approach shot if one has to negotiate with the bunkers.

The 10th is a brilliant par 4 at 440 yards. Slightly blind over the barranca working to a fairway tilting to the left and downhill after the ridge, a low draw that carries the ridge can go miles.

This is a great view down to a well-protected green. The front right portion will feed balls down, and a low draw is probably best for most to get anywhere close to a left flag.

I wrote in 2018 on this exact post that this approach is what I envisioned Augusta National’s 11th to be inspired by. At the time, I had not been to Augusta to confirm or deny my claims, but after seeing the 11th hole at the Augusta National Women’s Amatuer earlier in 2022, I agree with my original assessment. The holes share some similarities. A kicker slope right to avoid the hazards left (sand here, water at ANGC), from a hanging draw lie way downhill.

I do not think I have played a hole that plays so much longer than the scorecard yardage suggests as the 11th feels, so I guess that is something. At 393 yards, you will have a long iron in. The barranca cuts up the left side, splitting the hole and taking driver out of the longer players hands. The tee shot is so uphill that you have more length than you think, but the aggressive line is up the left closest to the hazard.

Like the tee shot, the approach is so severely uphill to such a ridiculously sloped green. I think this is the hardest hole on planet earth (I love it though).

371 yards, the 12th is a nice reprieve from the 11th, but not quite as generous as the 4th is after the devious 3rd. The barranca is now up the left, and the hole is so downhill that hitting less than driver is ideal. I hit 4 iron on the 3rd from 212 (front pin), while I hit 4 iron off the 12th tee 295 yards because it is so downhill and firm, so certainly not driver for anyone over average length (4 iron is generally a 220 club, but I hit 3 wood into the trees in 2018).

This is a very cool green complex, with a front tongue, a back left section, and a tucked right little pocket. The barranca cuts in front of the green.

At 532 yards, the par 5, 13th is a very good par 5 that is the best of the three. A dogleg left, the fairway slopes to the left.

Cresting the hillside reveals a beautiful view of the well-bunkered green complex. For those laying up, the green’s shape demands a proper layup to either side of the fairway depending on where the pin is when it is in the back, and if it is in the front, laying up dead centre gives you the best odds coming in.

You can see the absolutely bonkers pin in the back right, which would be almost impossible from any approach up the right.

The back nine is a bit of a Greatest Hits compilation, they just keep coming. The 426 yard par 4, 14th is yet another brilliant hole. The barranca is grassed over here, with a depression up the left side. Any ball up the left will surely find the low area, making the second shot blind (even if the angle is better in).

The barranca/ditch, as mentioned:

If you avoid all the craziness of the fairway’s undulations, this is a fairly straightforward approach shot for Pasatiempo standards, but the odds of avoiding the fairway’s uniqueness is low.

One more for good measure.

At 141 yards, the 15th is a best-in-class short par 3 over the barranca that the 12th green played over. Hit and hope, it is a straightforward par 3 with a simple concept: do not miss, but the way Mackenzie angled this green with the hazards all playing a part is brilliant.

Arriving at the par 4, 16th is a bit of a fever dream. You hear about the famous green at the 16th. You see it crossing the road after the 10th to the 11th, and yet, it is finally here. Not without navigating the difficult tee shot at the 387 yard two-shot hole, which has a distinct hog’s back feature falling off to the barranca on the left.

The approach shot is what we all came for. The wicked Mackenzie three-tiered green has almost 7 feet of elevation change from front to back (maybe more honestly). Getting it on the correct level is ideal, and look at that Sunday pin!

I tried to capture the elevation change in the green from just short.

After what might be the best consecutive stretch to start nine holes ever (probably a hyperbole but I am rolling with it), the 17th feels like a bit of a letdown. Truthfully, it is a fine golf hole, but does not match the intensity of the previous 7 (likely intentional, if I were to guess).

I like this approach. A narrow green that gets more difficult the further back, I wish I did not overlook this hole my first time around because I think there is some good stuff going on greenside. Even at 372 yards, this is a longer par 4 because it plays uphill so much.

The par 3, 18th is such a great finishing hole. A worthy bookend to an epic golf course. 169 yards, this is it: all or nothing. This green is slick, with the barranca short.

A great view of the green from the front tees.

Add it to the bucket list. This is one for the ages, and one I think every golf architecture enthusiast should have on their list. Being one of the few public-access Mackenzie golf courses in North America helps, but the features are so bold that one has to see it for themselves. The property itself is not exactly fruitful, either, yet Mackenzie’s routing found a way to turn an awkward parcel of land into an exceptional golfing experience.

Author

  • Andrew Harvie

    Based in Toronto, but having lived in Alberta, British Columbia, Montana, Arizona, and Texas, I have been lucky enough to see over 400 golf courses and counting!

1 thought on “Review: Pasatiempo Golf Club

  1. Nice review. Canadian living in Santa Cruz so I’ve played Pasatiempo a few dozen times. Just a couple of additions:

    #2: Good call on this hole being underrated. The blue pin in your photo is fairly rare. Most pins are front or middle, and often somewhat to the left, for which hitting the ball short and using the contours to feed it to the hole is a good strategy. But if you miss a bit too far right and the ball hangs in the rough or bunker to the right of the green, good luck stopping the ball anywhere near the hole as the green is running hard away from you.

    #3: Given the length of the shot (it plays about 200 yards from the whites), and the narrowness of the green, my own strategy is to lay up short of all the bunkers. I’ve watched lots of clever members (especially women) also lay up. The trick I learned watching them is to lay up into the rough so the ball doesn’t roll back 50 ft off the false front.

    #7: People complain about the narrowness of the tee shot, but it’s only narrow at the beginning. It widens up along the left further up. And that’s also the best angle in, so if you can hit it R to L, it’s not quite as bad as it looks in the photo (and in person as well).

    #10: Getting to a left pin is probably easiest by purposely missing the green left and a bit long, where that big slope will funnel balls back.

    #15: This hole is a bit like #12 at Augusta, to go with your thesis. Very similar in length. The green is at the same L to R diagonal, so a pull from RH golfer will miss long into the bunker or barranca, and a push will be in the hazard or in the crazy bunkers way below the hole (I’m a lefty like many other Canadians so it doesn’t inspire the same terror). I suspect this green is somewhat bigger, so it’s not quite as precise a shot, especially to a RH hole location.

    Keep up the interesting content!

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