A California gem that lived up to the hype? My favorite course of 2021

Pasatiempo's hype is well-deserved.

Sean Zak

At GOLF.com, our hobby is also our job. That means, just like you, we spend much of the year teeing it up high, swinging hard and trying to avoid double bogeys. But some courses we stumble upon are simply more memorable than others. Here, in a breakdown of the favorite public courses our staff played over the past 12 months, are those spots.

As with most courses that hold plenty of fanfare online, I held some skepticism about Pasatiempo. But when Alister MacKenzie calls it his best layout, well, you have to take the man at his word. It must be pretty good. 

On paper, it might not wow you. Your view off the 1st tee offers a tattered driving range along the left side and a brutally long par-4 that slaps you from the jump; hope you’re ready. It plays just 6,450 yards from the tips and is priced at $325 during prime season, encouraging numerous golf buddies of mine to ask if Pasatiempo is worth extending their Bay Area or Monterey Peninsula golf trips. The answer is yes, every single time. Because at Pasatiempo you’ll pay a pricey rate but receive a 200-level class in course design. Thanks, Prof MacKenzie.

Take the 9th hole, for example. At 492 yards on the scorecard, it looks like a generous par-5 ending to your front nine. It’s listed as the easiest hole from the championship tees, too. But the road creeps in off the left — Pasatiempo is nestled into a hilly neighborhood — and proper fairway bunkering halts drives that don’t cut enough and also tee shots that slice too much. From the fairway, every shot plays severely uphill to perhaps the trickiest green on the property.

The best Pasatiempo Day starts right behind this hole, actually, on the veranda behind the 9th green. You need just a group or two to show how long-iron approach shots bound past (and treacherously above) the hole, but also how most third-shot wedges will finish almost universally below the hole, leaving a tricky two-putt. The proper play for a third shot, is something low-ish and flighted — probably a shot you don’t have mastered unless you’re a single-digit handicap.

The view from the fairway isn’t that intimidating. Sean Zak
But where do you think your long-iron shot will stop? Sean Zak

The 1st hole, as discussed above, is a brutish start. But the long holes at Pasatiempo feel open while the short 4s feel tight and ominously exacting. It’s a simple design characteristic that is seen all over, but feels obvious at Pasatiempo. The longest hole on the property (No. 6, 567 yards) banks most tee balls toward its center, only tightening around the green. Hit the ball far there, you’ll be in good shape. The next hole (7) is the shortest par-4, and its tee shot points you down a chute reminiscent of 18 at Augusta National. Hi the ball straight there, or else.

Can you thread the needle? Sean Zak

On the back nine in particular, barrancas are ever-present, but MacKenzie forces the golfer to address them in different ways at different times. On the 10th hole, you play over the gigantic ravine into the fairway. The left side is the quickest to the hole, but is all carry over a bunker gulch to the more narrow part of the green. A similar barranca splits the 11th green from the 11th fairway, with a gorgeous bridge that crosses it. You worry about the barrance a little bit on your tee shot and a lot on your second shot. The same barranca cuts across the 12th hole right before the green, but it’s shallow enough to play a recovery from. You’ll play right over that barranca again on the approach into 15 and the tee shot on 16.

The same barranca on the back nine at Pasatiempo is imposing, hazardous, and merely a rough patch on different holes. Sean Zak

Finally, you knock your final approach of the day into the 18th green, playing over the same ravine from 10. Again, ever-present but in constantly different ways. Using the surroundings to challenge how players think about what’s in front of them. If they bring their irons game to Pasatiempo, Professor MacKenzie will allow them to score. Leave it at home and they might not break 90. 

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Sean Zak

Golf.com Editor

Zak is a writer and host for various GOLF.com video properties and podcasts. Check out his travels on Destination Golf and his latest thoughts on the Drop Zone Podcast:

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