Most of golf’s greatest players have strolled these fairways, trying to avoid the sprawling, artistic bunkers and solve the expansive, fiendish greens. Alister MacKenzie’s wicked brilliance is on full display at this classic course dripping with history.
Augusta National? Nah, that’s so last week.
We’re talking Pasatiempo.
The Masters might have ended Sunday, but another MacKenzie gem has earned much-deserved TV coverage this week. Golf Channel is carrying the 73rd Western Intercollegiate, one of the longest-running college tournaments in the country.
This year’s event, which started Monday and runs through today, features marquee players in USC’s Justin Suh, the world’s top-ranked amateur, and Cal’s Collin Morikawa, who is No. 4 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. But the star of the show will be Pasatiempo Golf Club, a terrific, under-the-radar, semi-private layout in Santa Cruz, Calif., tucked between the more celebrated golf destinations of San Francisco (Olympic Club is 70 miles north) and the Monterey Peninsula (Pebble Beach is 48 miles south).
Pasatiempo might lack the U.S. Open pedigree of its decorated neighbors, but it absolutely belongs in the same realm. Not only does the course offer a distinctive challenge, full of cool MacKenzie touches, but it also provides an illuminating window into golf’s past.
“Pasatiempo is tied into the history of our game in multiple different threads,” said San Jose State head coach John Kennaday, the tournament director and host. “It’s fantastic. I’m glad Pasa, through this little tournament, is starting to get some recognition for its significance and playability.”
Hole No. 3 | Par 3. [Photo: Pasatiempo Golf Club]
One clubhouse display case features memorabilia from Juli Inkster, the World Golf Hall of Fame member who grew up in a house alongside No. 14 (where her parents still live). Another glass-enclosed exhibit honors MacKenzie, whose designs in addition to Pasatiempo and Augusta National include Cypress Point and Meadow Club, just north of San Francisco.
Or check out the nearby Hollins House, named in honor of early 20th-century pioneer Marion Hollins — who brought MacKenzie to Northern California and unleashed him on Cypress and Pasatiempo. The walls ooze history: one photo of Hollins and Bobby Jones as part of the course’s inaugural foursome on Sept. 8, 1929; another shot of Ben Hogan on property in 1943; yet another of Tiger Woods alongside his Stanford bag during the 1996 Western Intercollegiate.
“You kind of get lost in the job,” said longtime head pro Ken Woods (no relation to Tiger), “but this place is pretty cool.”
Consider the giants of the game, beyond Tiger Woods, to pass through Pasatiempo over the years. Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Ken Venturi, Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth played in the Western in college. Spieth’s one-time Texas teammates gathered in Pasatiempo’s MacKenzie Grill to watch Spieth win the Masters in 2015, one year after Spieth competed in the Western.
Arron Oberholser, who won the event in ’96 and is covering this week’s edition for Golf Channel, once said he’d take Pasa if told that he could play only one course every day for the rest of his life. That’s lofty praise.
Start with the setting in the foothills of Santa Cruz, featuring picturesque views of nearby Monterey Bay (on clear days) and fairways lined by mature, majestic oaks. The course also owns a natural and distinctive flow — bending this way and turning that way, dropping gently and rising subtly.
Pasatiempo offers abundant stimulation, even at only 6,500 yards from the championship tees. MacKenzie, who lived in a house alongside the No. 6 fairway, makes golfers think their way around the course, sometimes forcing a draw off the tee and a cut into the green.
“It awakens your creativity and demands your expertise,” Kennaday said.
Kennaday grew up down the road in Pacific Grove and occasionally worked as a caddie at Cypress Point in his younger days. So, he understands MacKenzie’s magic, which resonates as loudly at Pasatiempo as it does anywhere — even Augusta National.
Ron Kroichick has covered golf for the San Francisco Chronicle since 2005. He also is a contributing writer to NCGA Golf, the Northern California Golf Association’s magazine.