MacKenzie's Pasatiempo Reborn

By: Blaine Newnham


There are places more famous, certainly more spectacular, on the Central California coast for golf. Those with money but without connections play Pebble Beach. Those with both revel in the secluded sights of Cypress Point.

There is the great test of golf at Spyglass Hill and the luxury of Spanish Bay. For those who know their way around, there are the revitalized Bayonet and Black Horse courses at the now defunct Fort Ord, and, of course, the funky, seaside encounter that is Pacific Grove muni. But for pure golf, for a sense of standing at the foot of a master, there is Pasatiempo, the final resting place of Alister MacKenzie.

As the story goes, Bobby Jones, who played in the inaugural group at Pasatiempo's opening in 1929, was so impressed with the course that he hired MacKenzie, and not Donald Ross, to design Augusta National.

The course drapes the hills and gullies above the ocean town of Santa Cruz. To the left of the sixth hole is the home where MacKenzie spent his final years.

But Pasatiempo is not a MacKenzie that's been updated. It is a MacKenzie that has been restored, almost religiously so. Over the pest 10 years, architect Tom Doak, who wrote a book about MacKenzie, worked from pictures of the original layout to make bunkers what they were, and not what they had become. And nobody does green complexes like MacKenzie.

I played a round there in November with Jay Blasi, the young architect for Robert Trent Jones Jr., the designers of Chambers Bay, the Tacoma, Wash., course that was awarded a U.S. Open during its first year of operation. Blasi lives in nearby Los Gatos, and his firm has its offices in Palo Alto.

"This course ranks in my top 10," said Blasi, who has studied it carefully. "I would say that no course influenced the green complexes at Chambers Bay more than this one."

Pasatiempo is tough. On the first tee, in fact, the starter was asked about which tees to play. The guys playing with us had just spent an afternoon at Pebble Beach. "This course is more difficult than Pebble," said the starter. And so it was.

MacKenzie might have been golf's greatest architect. Besides Augusta National, he did Cypress Point and Lahinch in Ireland. He was a Scottish military man who fought in the Boer War and an expert in camouflage.

While it remains near the top of most courses-you-can-play lists, Pasatiempo is a private club which most days makes available tee times to the public. Green fees are in the $200 range, expensive by all but Pebble Beach standards, but Pasatiempo is a rare chance to see and play a course as it was at first conception.

If you go, be sure to allow time to appreciate the MacKenzie legacy. In the clubhouse dining room are pictures of the original course, and, indeed, some of those who played it.

The person most responsible for the course was not MacKenzie, but Marion Hollins, a U.S. Women's Amateur champion who helped develop Pebble Beach and Cypress Point. Moving north, into the hills above Santa Cruz overlooking Monterey Bay, she drew up plans for a resort-style housing development and golf course. She hired MacKenzie who had recently completed Cypress Point.

It is said that Pasatiempo was his favorite course. Surely, it's where he chose to spend the final years of his life. The course opened in 1929, with the great Bobby Jones in the first foursome.

While a comparison of the old and new photographs show Doak's attention to the restoration, the biggest difference between now and then is the introduction of trees. When MacKenzie designed his course, there were few trees, certainly none that unendingly lined fairways as many do now. "I think," Blasi said, "we would enjoy the course more as it was without the trees than it is now."

But hold on to your hat. The first two holes are long, testing par-4s. Then comes an uphill par-3 that takes all you've got to avoid a phalanx of bunkers.

I was doing OK until I hit the wrong part of the green on the 8th hole, a par-3, and needed four putts to find the right level of the green and, ultimately, the hole.

The back nine is even more inspiring because of the geography it traverses. The 16th is the most memorable hole on the course because of a three-level green that runs down into a barranca.

Northern California is a gold mine of MacKenzie courses, including his first in America, the private Meadow Club in Fairfax north of San Francisco. Other private courses are the Claremont Country Club in Oakland and Green Hills in Millbrae, on the San Francisco peninsula.

As far as public courses, there is Haggin Oaks in Sacramento where Ben Hogan cashed his first PGA Tour check. Sharp Park is a San Francisco muni in nearby Pacifica that has been transformed by ocean storms and a bisecting freeway that makes it less than MacKenzie envisioned. North of the city in the Russian River town of Monte Rio is the nine-hole Northwood Course that MacKenzie designed for the Bohemian Club and is now open to the public with rates of less than $30.

MacKenzie sought to design courses that were true to his expertise in camouflage, making them appear tougher than they are. I find them to be bold and seductive, able to salute both the quality of the land they command and the player they perplex.

Blaine Newnham has covered golf for 50 years. He still cherishes the memory of following Ben Hogan for 18 holes during the first round of the 1966 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. He worked then for the Oakland Tribune, where he covered the Oakland Raiders during the first three seasons of head coach John Madden. Blaine moved on to Eugene, Ore., in 1971 as sports editor and columnist, covering the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. He covered five Olympics all together - Mexico City, Munich, Los Angeles, Seoul, and Athens - before retiring in early 2005 from the Seattle Times. He covered his first Masters in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman, and his last in 2005 when Tiger Woods chip dramatically teetered on the lip at No. 16 and rolled in. He saw Woods' four straight major wins in 2000 and 2001, and Payne Stewart's birdie putt to win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Blaine now plays golf at Wing Point Golf and Country Club on Bainbridge Island, Wash., where his current index is 12.6. In 2005, Blaine received the Northwest Golf Media Association's Distinguished Service Award. He and his wife, Joanna, live in Indianola, Wash., where the Dungeness crabs outnumber the people.


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