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Alister MacKenzie’s Pasatiempo Golf Club casts a spell

March 22, 2018

Many consider Dr. Alister MacKenzie to be golf’s greatest architect. I do. The man boasts design or co-design credits at Augusta National, Cypress Point and Royal Melbourne. Enough said. Unfortunately, access to these storied tracks is limited to captains of industry, well-connected celebrities, and those who can afford the soft seats on a flight to Australia. There is, however, an opportunity for J.Q. Public to enjoy some of MacKenzie’s finest work—at Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, Calif.

The layout features all of the elements that made MacKenzie a master, including multiple options for attacking a hole; large, undulating greens; sprawling, multi-lobed bunkers; and an artful use of deception. His emphasis on strategy, variety and natural beauty, combined with his disdain for dense rough, blind shots and artificial features, made him a hero to mid- and high-handicappers.

Countless traits at Pasatiempo remind me of Augusta National. Begin with the contouring on the greens. As with the Masters course, the targets are generous, but stick your approach on the wrong portion and you can kiss a two-putt goodbye. Pasatiempo’s eighth, 11th and, especially, its 16th are perfect examples. MacKenzie’s use of deception? The apparently meaningless bunker on the par-3 third tricks you into thinking the green is closer than it is. Augusta’s par-3 sixth matches up nicely. Artistry in flashed traps? Look no further than the splash of sand on Augusta’s fabled 10th and the comparable bunkering at Pasatiempo’s par-5 13th.

Amid slashing ravines (called barrancas), mature pines and Pacific breezes, an all-star collection of holes (10, 11 and 16 belong on any best-of list) with a brilliant set of greens makes the par of 70 a formidable target. Yet the aura here is not on competition, even though the likes of Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan have hiked the fairways. It’s all about the good doctor. MacKenzie was so fond of the place that he retired here in the 1930s, to a home right off the sixth fairway. He was famous for stating that he “always wanted to live where one could practice shots in one’s pajamas before breakfast.”

Be certain to bring a hearty appetite if you ever get the chance to sample the purest, open-to-the-public example of Alister MacKenzie’s genius.