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Half Moon Bay undergoes metamorphosis to links

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              The Ocean Course at Half Moon Bay Golf Links (Joann Dost Golf Course Photography)

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. – In these difficult economic times, golf courses have had to get creative in order to stay competitive.

In November I wrote about the Fast & Furious at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif. an event that required its golfers to finish a tournament round in fewer than four hours, on a browned-out golf course. The purpose was to remind golfers that even tournament golf can be played quickly, on less-than-perfectly-green grass. Kudos to PGA West.

In another example of outside-the-box thinking, the Ocean Course at Half Moon Bay Golf Links is undergoing a metamorphosis to links. The changes include adding more native grass, firming up the Poa annua greens, and creating shaved areas around the greens. They’re even adding several pot bunkers.

Instead of emulating a course like Pebble Beach, host of this week’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the Ocean Course is taking more of a Bandon Dunes approach. But the changes, led by general manager Bill Troyanoski, are more about function than fashion.

Though he didn’t give specific numbers, Troyanoski is confident the conversion to firmer conditions will significantly reduce the facility’s dependence on water. As we chatted in the clubhouse he referenced a framed photo of the course that hangs on the wall. It was taken before the 2008 LPGA Samsung World Championship.

“It’s too green,” he said. “It’s not the way a true ocean course should look.”

Troyanoski’s belief in firmer and browner has led to the changes, though he was quick to note that they were only able to execute this plan because the course has a solid links framework.

“Arthur Hills designed the course as a links course, but we haven’t maintained it that way,” he said. “The routing is outward then inward like a true links course, which is rare.”

The changes are expected to be complete by spring 2012, but if you want to visit before then, go ahead. Unlike most course renovations, this one is hardly intrusive. You’d really have to look to notice where the changes are happening.

Opened 1997, the Ocean Course is one of two 18-hole courses at this seaside resort along the jagged coastline of northern California. The neighboring Old Course, an Arnold Palmer design that opened in 1973, is a parkland layout winding through a high-end residential community, with its final two holes opening up to the ocean.

The par-4 finisher at the Old Course hugs a dramatic cliff, with the Ritz-Carlton hotel serving as an impressive backdrop. Behind the 18th green is a popular spot for hotel guests to sit fireside while they watch golfers finish their round.

A scenic 35-minute drive from San Francisco International Airport, Half Moon Bay is one of those rare seaside golf courses that’s also near a major airport.

If you have the links itch, Half Moon Bay is a sure bet.