When your golf course sits about half way between the Monterey Peninsula (Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Cypress Point) and the San Francisco area (San Francisco Golf Club, Olympic Club, TPC Harding Park), it's understandably tough to get attention. There's obviously not a lot of oxygen left in the room after golfers start to rave about those two Northern California golf-rich regions. So how do you get exposure? Simple: By having a product that's too good to ignore. But how would a golf course meet that lofty criteria?
First, start off with great land. Make it near the coast with some distant, but still stunning, views of the Pacific, provide great contour of the land, and go ahead and line the fairways with majestic cypress trees. Put in some of the most exquisite and immaculate bunkering found anywhere. Make the routing interesting and intimate. Create challenging but fair greens. And if you can have one of the most respected and honored golf course architects create the vision - and over 80 years of accolades and history - well, then you have such a golf course.
Enter Pasatiempo. This Alister MacKenzie gem in Santa Cruz, Calif., takes a back seat to no course in America, despite its highly lauded neighbors.
Pasatiempo (Spanish for "passing of time"), has the rare combination of being one of the nation's most awarded and cited golf courses and yet, constantly referred to as a "hidden gem." And both are true. Golf Magazine's 2011, "Top 100 Courses in the U.S.," list had Pasatiempo at No. 66 and their 2010 list of, "Top 100 Courses You Can Play," had it at No. 11 (ahead of such notable tracks as Chambers Bay, Harbour Town and Torrey Pines.) GolfWeek, The Golf Channel and Sports Illustrated have also lauded the venue as a masterpiece. But among casual golfers, and many making the "once-in-a-lifetime-visit" to the Northern California area; it unfortunately slips past many their playing radars.
A recent visit to the course illuminated for this writer how unfortunate such a missed opportunity might be. From the majestic views atop the first tee to the iconic 16th green, from the grandeur of glistening white bunkers to the challenge of the large and sloping greens; there is nothing about Pasatiempo that isn't top tier. Conditioning, service, facilities, climate, scenery - you name it, the folks at Pasatiempo will put their offerings up against anyone. Course general manager Scott Hoyt, PGA and PGA Head Professional Ken Woods go above and beyond to make sure every guest feels like a member and then every member feels ultra-privileged; and course Superintendent Paul Chojnacky obviously knows some course conditioning magic that he's not going to share (or he might on his Pasatiempo Golf Club Maintenance blog) .
Our round may have occurred on the busiest day they've had in 2011. The weather was "Chamber of Commerce" ideal - not a cloud in the sky. The barely-there breeze and virtually no humidity made it picturesque and ideal. The course was in tremendous shape and though there were groups on every hole, the occasional waits weren't too bad because you had so much to simply take in as you gazed around the course.
The story of Pasatiempo is obviously rich in history, but it is one that is still being told. Yes, the great Bobby Jones was so impressed with it that it served as the catalyst in having Alister MacKenzie design Augusta National. But just as interesting may be the innovative ways they continue to provide golfers that impressive experience. (My favorite story is the canyons that cross in front of the No. 10 tee and No. 18 green. The large overgrowth that would like to grow in there would be an eyesore, however, the terrain made most forms of maintenance near impossible. The course then hired a herd of goats to come in and take care of the area for a period of time. The results were so positive the goats will be making a return visit.)
Membership can be had (another clever innovation) by purchasing a share of stock in Pasatiempo, Inc. and then purchasing an annual playing privilege membership. So the owners (shareholders) are the only ones who can become members. And the amazing annual fee for playing privileges is only around $5000. (True, the current price for a share of stock is currently around $100,000 - but I digress.) Even more, the price for a round of golf for a non-member tops out at $250 - not exactly a bargain, but less than you'd pay at some lesser renowned designs.
To put it another way, try calling Augusta National or Cypress and offering $250 to get on this weekend and let me know how that works out for you.
The course remains as relevent and cherished today as it has ever been. Many top championships are hosted here, notably the famed Western Intercollegiate  (now in its 66th year) hosted by the San Jose State Univ. Men's Golf Team and the 2004 U.S. Senior Women's Amateur.
But perhaps there is no more fitting tribute than the fact that course designer MacKenzie, the same architect who designed Augusta National, Cypress Point and Royal Melbourne; chose Pasatiempo to be his home course. Literally. Golfers often pay homage to the icon as they pass by the house off the sixth hole where he lived for the final years of his life.
Walking the halls of the clubhouse, standing on the first tee or watching a putt traverse over one of the signature slopes; the overwhelming feeling for golfers at Pasatiempo is that this is golf in its purest form. Study a hole from the tee box and realize the genius that is MacKenzie designs. Then look back at the tee box when you reach the green and you see all the bunkers have disappeared (a favorite MacKenzie trick). Walk off the 16th hole with a par and know that Dr. Mackenzie called this "the best two-shot hole I know." (I did not by the way, but made a valiant 5). And tap out on the 18th green (a challenging par 3 over the canyon) and you'll appreciate that you just enjoyed one of the most heralded and unique opportunities in the country.
Whether real or virtual, almost every golfer has a pegboard of courses played. The top ones are the first ones brought up at cocktail parties, barbecues, church socials, etc. But more than impressing others, the top ones are the ones you remember for your entire career as one of the reasons you love to play golf. And visiting Pasatiempo will do that for you in the most magnificent way.