2013 Golf Getaway in Northern California in 2013

Classic and modern: Three excellent courses highlight a great long-weekend destination


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Pasatiempo Golf Club

CPasatiempo Golf Clubalifornia has so many great golf destinations it’s easy to overlook one of the best courses in the state—if not the nation—simply because there’s no resort attached to it and the professional tours don’t stop there. I’m talking about Pasatiempo Golf Club, the classic Alister MacKenzie gem roughly midway between San Francisco and the Monterey Peninsula, home to one of his other famous designs, Cypress Point (not to mention Pebble Beach, Spyglass, et al.). How good is Pasatiempo? When Bobby Jones played it on opening day in 1929, he immediately hired MacKenzie to design Augusta National.

Pasatiempo is only 6,521 yards from the tips, but it plays to a stalwart 72.4 rating/143 slope. Its dramatic elevation changes and seemingly endless natural hazards make for a rugged course whose difficulty is cranked up several notches by MacKenzie’s strongly contoured greens and sprawling, glorious bunkers. Every hole seems to offer a risk-and-reward tactical choice, and every green runs fast, true, and convoluted.

Each successive tee box presents you with a unique challenge. The opener is a 457-yard par 4 that requires a long, accurate approach as well as a powerful drive. The third hole, a magnificent 214-yard uphill par 3, is protected not just by its length but by four menacing greenside bunkers along with a mind-messing cross bunker. The first par 5 you play, the sixth hole, is 567 yards, but believe it or not, accuracy counts more than length on every shot due to the tight fairway, cross bunkers, and long, narrow green. Natural hazards abound on the back side. A bottomless ravine threatens both your drive and your approach on the 392-yard 11th hole, then comes back into play guarding the green on the 373-yard 12th.

The number-one handicap hole on Pasatiempo is the 387-yard 16th, a hole MacKenzie himself considered the best two-shot hole in the game. The drive is uphill, blind, and rewards a high draw if you can pull one off. The approach is what separates the men from the boys, however. It’s back over the ravine you’ve encountered on several holes and into a brutal three-tiered green that is a full 49 yards deep and has a frightening false front. Coming up short is not an option, nor is leaving your ball above the hole. In other words, par on this hole is almost always a function of a perfect second shot. It’s easy to see how Pasatiempo was built to enhance match play—the predominant form of competition in its day.

The club has hosted numerous USGA Championships and is the permanent home of the Western Intercollegiate Golf Tournament, where everyone from Ken Venturi and Gene Littler to Johnny Miller, Dave Stockton, and Tiger Woods competed during their college years. LPGA star Juli Inkster literally grew up on the course, and Alister MacKenzie chose to live there—his home is along the fairway on the sixth hole.

One of the best features of Pasatiempo is its status as a semiprivate club. Certain tee times are reserved for members, but you can book a time online as much as 365 days in advance. If you treasure the classical traditions of golf architecture or otherwise want a spectacular golf experience, book yours today!

Greens Fee: $250, pasatiempo.com

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