Bayonet Blackhorse: History, heroism, golf

The par-3 17th hole at Bayonet measures 227 yards but plays shorter.

When the 45th PGA Professional National Championship tees off on Sunday, not many will know the military history of the acclaimed courses. But they should.

The scenery is so spectacular it's easy to lose sight of the area's distinct history.

When the 312 participants tee off in the PGA Professional National Championship at Bayonet and Blackhorse Golf Courses, with the Monterey Bay glistening in the background, not many will know that Private James Marshal "Jimi" Hendrix learned to load and fire a rifle just a few clicks east of the first tee, or that Clint Eastwood spent a year in uniform marching around the grounds.

That's perfectly understandable. The ocean vistas, rolling terrain, and shot-making demands of the two courses are mentally taxing enough. A history lesson isn't necessary, although once the participants learn a little more about their surroundings they will no doubt have greater respect for the site and a deeper admiration of the PGA of America for having chosen it.

Bayonet and Blackhorse were once part of U.S. Army history, having been designed by Maj. General Robert B. McClure as base courses for Fort Ord, the home of the 7th Light Infantry Division. In fact, Bayonet was the nickname of the 7th LID, while Blackhorse was the name of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, also out of Ford Ord. Heroes of the 11th ACR, men who wore the black stallion patch on their shoulders, crossed the German countryside during World War II, patrolled the wetlands of South Vietnam, kept the peace during the Cold War, and tore through the desert during both Iraq conflicts.

Bearing the names and legacies of America's finest, one would hope that the golf courses are sturdy and tough.

They succeed on both fronts.

McClure, a contemporary of Dwight Eisenhower, was born in the mill town of Rome, Ga., in 1896 and was veteran of World War I, World War II, and Korea. He received the Distinguished Service Cross, the military's second highest honor behind the Medal of Honor, for his acts of valor at Bellieu Bois in 1918. He also received three Distinguished Service Medals for meritorious conduct during World War II and Korea where he engaged the enemy at Guadalcanal, New Georgia, the Solomon Islands, and Wonju.

Sent to Ford Ord in 1952, McClure could have easily cruised through the rest of his career. But the beautiful landscape of the Monterey Bay stirred his soul.

Sparked by the growth of golf and the enthusiasm his boss, President Eisenhower, had for the game, McClure put pencil to paper and mapped a routing for two 18-hole golf courses and would turn out to among the best in the area, and certainly the most beautiful base golf courses in the world.

"It's a great test of golf, and the views are unlike anything you'll see anywhere," said Pat Jones, the PGA head golf professional at Bayonet and Blackhorse. "The original routing and design was pretty spectacular. Then we came in and did some renovations five years ago where we updated the designs. We moved the 11th to make it a little more of a dogleg. Then we changed 15 a little bit and 16 and 17 were moved about 30 yards. But the rest of the routing is pretty much the same."

Proving that renovations aren't always about adding hundreds of yards of length, the new Bayonet course is only 16 yards longer than the one Gen. McClure built and opened in 1954.  The original Blackhorse design opened 10 years later in 1964, but the redesign in 2007 retained the integrity (and length) of the original. Architect Gene Bates' bunkering transformed both from good golf courses into great tests of the game.

"We are extremely excited about having the PGA Professional National Championship out here," Jones said. "We think the pros are going to love the place."

They can love it simply by showing up and seeing the views. But if they read any history ahead of time, the PGA professionals who play there will love and respect the place even more.