Field guide: Stunning and simplistic, Cypress Point is pure golf
As GOLF’s chief photographer and visual editor, Christian Hafer visits some of the most gorgeous and exclusive golf courses and properties in the world. Here, in his Field Guide, he’ll take you along for the ride. Lucky for us, Christian never leaves home without his camera.
It’s something like 4 a.m., and I’m wide awake on my rock-hard hotel room bed. It’s the last room I could find in my budget anywhere near Monterey, Calif., and it’s just fine. I wasn’t planning to sleep anyway because tomorrow is Christmas morning for me. I decided to get up and get my things together and head over to 17 Mile Drive so I could watch the sun rise over some of the world’s best golf courses, one of which is among the most exclusive and beautiful in the world. Steep in history and lore sits Cypress Point Club. The neighboring clubs are no slouches — places like Pebble Beach, Monterey Peninsula Country Club and Spyglass — but Cypress Point stands above them all.
Cypress is famed for its back-to-back par-3s, the 15th and 16th. It’s also famous for a membership of just a few hundred of the world’s elite, and the wait lists that runs for years. It’s also designed by one of the most intriguing architects in golf’s history, Alister MacKenzie.
Its beginnings were spearheaded by a woman named Marion Hollins, and it gave Bobby Jones such a thrill when he played it that it ultimately led to MacKenzie securing a job at a little course in Augusta, Ga.
Cypress Point sits on some of the most prime land in the world, but for all its history or status the course is seemingly the only concern. When I arrived long before the sun had even started to think about popping up, I was in awe as I drove right past the 13th hole. It was starting to sink in. Just a few feet from me was one of the hardest courses in the world to play.
I stopped and parked at Fanshell Beach Overlook, where you can see the 13th green just across the street, guarded only by a small wooden fence. I parked my rental truck and watched the sun come up over the front nine of the course. Rays of light caught the jagged edges of MacKenzie’s signature bunkering. The grounds crew darted across the landscape, making sure everything was tidy before the first round of the day. Our round.
I snapped out of my daze and made my way past the 1st tee and turned right into the clubhouse. Just a small wooden sign in the twisted trees indicates what’s perched on top of the hill. The small pro shop and locker room hugs the 1st tee, and an understated clubhouse watches over some of the most picture-perfect golf holes in the world.
It’s surreal how low-key it is, and walking into the locker room only adds to the understated vibe. Three names to a locker, and these are the names of successful, powerful men. The place smells of old wood worn rough then smoothed again by years and years of use.
I lace up my shoes and head to the 1st tee, where I meet my caddie and look down the barrel of the gun. No practice swings. I mean, the “range” is essentially a chipping area off to the right of the 1st fairway. Cypress is solely about the course and getting out and back in with some pace. It’s fantastically old school.
I place my ball on the tee and proceed to… top it, barely covering 17 Mile Drive, just a few feet in front of me. I reload and we are off. The course is as close to perfection as I have experienced. It’s not because the conditions are pristine — and mind you, they are exceptional — but it’s more about the quality of the course’s design, the visual onslaught and variety in shots required. You start up into the trees and from every angle you find a fairway here or a green there. As you weave back down you play back-to-back par-5s with completely different approaches.
Cypress Point is shorter by today’s standard, yet it’s no pushover and somehow extremely playable — with the exception of the 16th and 17th holes, which are both the most difficult and most beautiful. Yet nothing compares to turning the corner and walking from the 14th green across the road and toward the water to the 15th tee box.
The Pacific crashes against the rocks and the wind swirls as the 16th sits perched out in the distance. The next few holes are the most dramatic golf holes I have ever played. The 15th calls for a mid-range iron but the 16th is long and daunting — a 230-yard shot into a thrilling green with water lurking everywhere.
I pulled my tee shot left onto the beach, where I met a seal that cautiously approached my ball a few yards away (and I don’t think it was impressed with my recovery). But between my new friend the seal, the deer grazing just off the fairway and the super’s dog chasing the utility cart, it all made me forget I was on one of the most expensive stretches of land in the U.S. And still never for a moment did I feel like I was out of place, because it was always just about the golf. In fact, everyone at Cypress Point was there to simply enjoy the game. Maybe that’s what makes Cypress Point just so remarkable.