Playing Public: Pasatiempo Golf Course, Santa Cruz, CA

A note before I begin: Pasatiempo Golf Course is not fully public, but it provides tee times to the public every week, so anyone can play it, for the low price of $295 (walking). If you’re lucky enough to know a member, the guest rates are MUCH more reasonable – or, like I did last October, if you randomly make a tee time a few weeks after they punch the greens, it’s half-price. No matter what price you pay, it’s a BARGAIN.

Pasatiempo ranked as my 5th favorite course, ever, after playing it just once. After playing it again recently, I’m worried I’ve rated it too low.

There are four sets of tees, and scorecards for each plus combo sets of tees. Here are the combos and their slope/rating of July 2020:

Men:

  • Gold — 72.5/141 – 6495
  • Gold/White Combo — 71.3/135 – 6222
  • White Men — 70.8/134 – Ladies 75.8/142 – 6093
  • White/Green Combo — 69.5/133 – 5780
  • Green Men — 68.5/132 – Ladies 73.3/135 – 5595
  • Green/Hollins – 65.1/123
  • Hollins – Men – 63.2/117 – Ladies 67.0/117 – 4438

Women:

  • White – 75.8/142
  • Green — 73.3/135
  • Green/Hollins combo – 69.4/122
  • Hollins   — 67.0/117

I’ve highlighted the white tees as that will dictate the yardage and I played that in October. We played the White/Green combo this last time and in all honesty, all it does is make one hole less difficult – but it takes the teeth out of several other holes. For a mid-handicapper the white tees are a great challenge.

For those who aren’t aware, Pasatiempo was designed by Dr. Alister Mackenzie, who of course designed Augusta, Cypress Point and other incredible courses. Pasatiempo was the course Bobby Jones played which inspired him to get the good doctor to design Augusta. And Mackenzie loved this one so much he lived in a home off the sixth fairway until he died. For a great video on Pasatiempo, check out the No Laying Up Tourist Sauce video.

The opening hole is a 440-yard par 4 with an elevated tee box. But that still means unless you’re a big driver, you’re going to have a longer approach shot. Two sets of green side bunkers frame a little chute that you can run up or fly to get onto the green.

It’s worth taking a pause and noting that the four toughest holes on the front-nine come in the first five holes. That’s a tough start, so buckle down. The 2nd, another par-4 coming in at 403 yards, is a straightforward dogleg to the right. The trick here is that the left side of the green LOOKS elevated, but it’s really downhill. My friend told me this three times and I still couldn’t SEE it, but he was absolutely right. (Also? Don’t get stuck in the left side bunker. It’s a death trap.)

The third hole is the one that really gets tough from anywhere besides the green tees. (And it’s no picnic there.) The scorecard says it’s 200 yards (par-3), but it plays uphill and both times I’ve been there into the wind, so it can play 30 yards longer than that at least. The green, which is massive, is surrounded by bunkers. Locals often play a 9-iron off the tee to that flat area past the fairway bunker, and then a wedge in to try to save par, and it’s not a bad idea. (It’s also not what you or I are going to do because we’re dumb.)

This shot is from the forward tees. Now imagine walking 50 yards back and trying to land your ball on the green between all those bunkers.

The 4th hole is another dog-leg to the right, and the 5th is a shorter par-3 from an elevated green which pairs it nicely with #3. The green on 5 is really hard to miss and has more movement than seems fair. Getting it close here is a triumph.

The par-5 sixth is, again, where The Good Doctor chose to live, and it’s a tremendous hole. The hole slopes from right to left, and well hit drives will threaten a fairway bunker on the left side. At 510 yards (uphill, it should be noted), a good drive will have you with something less than 300 yards to get home in regulation. The smart play is to take two nine-irons or less and get a good putt for par. But of course, we all hit some type of hybrid or fairway wood, all with results that were far from satisfying. As you walk down the fairway, keep an eye out for the plaque that shows off Mackenzie’s old house. And a note on the green – if the flag is anywhere near the back, beware. There’s a HUGE hidden slope that funnels anything close right off the back. I hit what I thought was a perfect 58-degree wedge and it rolled fifteen yards past the hole onto the fringe.

The seventh is a shorter par-4 (335 yards) that requires you to drive it through a fairway guarded by giant trees on both sides. Hitting a straight shot is imperative, and way harder than it should be. If you have a driving iron or a 4-iron you can hit straight off a tee, that’s the play. The 8th is a downhill par-3 that you absolutely, definitely do NOT want to go long on. Even the bunkers on the right side are preferable. And the ninth is a gem of a short par-5 (471 yards) where two good shots can get you a look (even if it’s not a good one) at eagle, and puts birdie and par in play for even the average golfer.

But the back nine is where it all starts. I’m convinced it’s the best back nine in golf. (Looking online, the other contenders seem to be Cypress Point, Augusta and Pine Valley. Until I play one of them, I’m sticking with this.)

The 10th hole is the tee shot I think about when I think about Pasatiempo.

The 10th is a 437-yard par-4 where the tee shot is over a barranca, with a sloping fairway from right to left. A good tee shot will leave you at the top or just past what you can see above. This will leave you with a huge downhill approach to the green, which is, of course, guarded by bunkers and very tricky depending on the pin position. Par here is a triumph.

The 11th is a bear of a hole – it’s divided by a massive barranca so you need to hit your drive up the fairway as close to the bridge as possible, which will leave you about 150 yards, uphill to the green. The green is a tough one to hit, being both narrow and having a massive false front. Take enough club.

The 12th is a par-4 that doglegs to the left and is worth pointing out at least partially because I actually played it exceptionally well, with a great drive, a wedge into the green and an easy two-putt. These things do not happen enough so I’m mentioning it here.

The 13th is a great par-5 that also slopes to the left, with an uphill tee shot and a downhill approach. At 484 yards, it’s easily reachable in regulation and two great shots can get you an eagle putt. The green is also shaped like a heart (or like Mickey Mouse, depending on who you ask) and it can leave you with a tricky putt.

The 14th is another great par-4 that looks straightforward but has, according to the Fried Egg, the most interesting fairway in golf. I am not going to disagree – the barranca that wormed across it is now covered in grass, but it means you can end up in the fairway twenty feet below your playing partner only a few yards away. Beware the bunker on the right that looks to be green side but is at least 30 yards away. Deception rules.

The 15th is a short par-3, playing about 115 yards when we were there, and the green is incredibly hard to find. I made a sandy par from a green side bunker and almost skipped off the hole.

#16 is just the craziest hole and I’ve never played it well. It will haunt me until I do. On the scorecard it’s a short par-4 at 367 yards. You NEED to hit the fairway on your tee shot, as the hole slopes right to left and being too far right will eliminate a real approach to the green. You’re going to need about 160 yards or more with carry and you better get on the right level of the green because this three-tiered green is often unapproachable.

If you’re too long, you have to putt downhill and I don’t know any way to actually stop it. (The NLU video suggests putting it into the rough.) If you’re short, you will have to smash your putt in a way that doesn’t feel comfortable at all. And that bunker on the right side is about twenty feet high. USE. ENOUGH. CLUB.

If there’s a “weak” hole on the back, it’s the par-4 17th but it’s still got teeth as an uphill par-4 with a tricky green that has a false left side.

The course finishes up with a par-3, which is of course unusual. But it’s such a great hole it doesn’t feel off in any way. Beware the false front and use enough club here. The first time I played here, I putted off the green. This time, the pin was in the back and I left myself with a good look at birdie (which I missed but made the par putt). Such a great, unique way to finish an incredible round.

All in all, Pasatiempo is a great course – mid-handicappers like myself can make a number of pars, and if you play it smart you can score reasonably well. Distance is not the most important skill here, it’s about good shot making. There’s a challenge on every hole and strategy to how to play it. And it’s open for anyone to play it. Find a way to add it to your list, you won’t regret it.

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