Old Course at Half Moon Bay Golf Links provides plenty of challenge and a stunning finish
- Ted Johnson
- Aug 12, 2011 12:00 AM ET
HALF MOON BAY, Calif. -- You have to wonder if those who had come to play the Old Course at Half Moon Bay Golf Links, about 30 minutes south of San Francisco, come away with a short memory.
Specifically, the 18th hole at the Old Course is so stunning it rivals a certain golf course to the south that plays host to PGA Tour and U.S. Open events. Such visual dramatics tend to clean out recollections of the previous holes.
Yes, the 18th hole at the Old Course is that good. Statuesquely situated atop the bluffs next to the Pacific, the par 4 from the tips plays a downhill 412 yards bifurcated by a narrow chasm about 100 yards short of the green. The predominate wind patterns help the tee shot, so on most days the hole plays shorter than its yardage.
That is, if you play it at all. Few views in golf -- from Turnberry in Scotland to Pebble Beach Golf Links to you name it -- have such a dramatic setting. (Okay, maybe the 17th tee at Cypress Point Club, but most don't get to have that experience.)
Old Course at Half Moon Bay Golf Links: The course
On the 18th at Half Moon Bay, many find themselves staring at the roiling ocean dancing on the rocks, their eyes raising as the bluffs come to rest on the fairway, the green and the stunning Ritz-Carlton resort, a respite of luxury that seems to beckon you for a post-round stay.
You mean there were 17 other holes? Indeed. And not only that, the Old Course has had to do battle with a new sibling, the Arthur Hills-designed Ocean Course to the south that does well to give you a flavor of a links course atop the exposed bluffs.
So, in reflection, the Old Course often comes in second when people think Half Moon Bay. But there are those who love its charms. Designed by Arnold Palmer and opened in 1973, this course has the old country club feel. And that's what it was meant to be. But it does welcome outside play.
The fairways weave through Monterey pine and oaks, with wetlands and ponds providing defense, all within a real estate development. There are streets to cross and homes near but not intrusive to the playing areas.
For those traveling during summer months, note that the micro-climates of Northern California can bring high temperatures to interior valleys, which forces cool air off the Pacific to flow inland. That means the courses at Half Moon Bay can be much cooler and grayer in July and August when just 40 miles east the temperatures are in the 80s and 90s.
In other words, bring a windshirt or sweater. And also remember that you are playing on Northern California poa annua grasses, which are much easier to manage in the cool climate. That makes the greens at both the Old Course and the Ocean true and quick yet receptive to approach shots.
There are two putting greens, a practice bunker and an area for 60-yard pitch shots, but there is not an area for full shots. But Half Moon Bay Golf Resort does offer a full staff for instruction led by Mitch Lowe.
Old Course at Half Moon Bay Golf Links: The verdict
Aside from the final hole, Half Moon Bay Golf Links' Old Course plays like a traditional country club. The fairways are wide to facilitate resort play, but the bunkering of the greens do a good job of protecting par.
In the middle of the course, away from the bluffs, finding the prevailing winds can be tricky, such as the reverse camber par-4 eighth of about 420 yards. The dogleg left requires a right-to-left shape on the tee shot to set up a downhill approach. Instinct says play less club, but the breezes tend to require more club.
Such issues bring much more strategy into playing the Old Course. Stretched to its max of just more than 7,000 yards, it has plenty of teeth in that the cool temperatures and misty days can keep fairways soft, reducing roll. After winter rains it can play real long.
The blue tees are at 6,600 yards, and the front tees are 5,335, which is one reason why you see so many couples on the course: It's easy to find a comfortable challenge.
The full rate for the Old Course does catch your attention, but then you have to remember that few places on earth give you that view.
Stay and play Half Moon Bay
The Ritz-Carlton that sits atop the bluffs dominates the facility but is not attached to the golf operation.
Of course, it is possible to arrange golf through the hotel, and it's good to check because there are occasional stay-and-play packages offered. The rates are what you'd expect from a Ritz, but there’s also the convenience.
A couple miles to the north, the unique town of Half Moon Bay blends surfers and farmers. Just north of town is the famed Mavericks, site of world championship giant wave surf competition.
In the fall, Half Moon Bay brings farmers from around the world to find the largest pumpkin (like 500 pounds). It is here it is possible to find accommodations like Half Moon Bay Lodge or the Half Moon Bay Inn.
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