MONTEREY, Calif. -- No humidity, gorgeous coastal and mountain scenery, an array of top 100 layouts new and old ... and did I mention no humidity?
That's the allure of NoCal golf in a nutshell and why it's a particularly refreshing escape from Texas in June, when temps are inching towards 100 degrees, and you can wring out buckets of sweat from your socks after 18 holes.
My route this week would be from the hills of San Martin to the coast: starting at CordeValle and making my way to the Monterey Peninsula.CordeValle is about 30 minutes from San Jose and attracts droves of Silicon Valley corporate groups who like to rent out the whole 45-room resort for brainstorming retreats. But despite its urban proximity, it feels far more remote, as if it could be in some far corner of wine country, whether it was Napa or somewhere near the Mediterranean.
The par-5 6th hole plays up the hill beside a winery at CordeValle. (Courtesy of CordeValle)
The resort has momentum at the moment. Not only will the field be stronger than usual this fall for the Frys.com Open, thanks to the PGA Tour's new calendar that marks this fall event as the 2013-14 season opener, it was also just announced that the U.S. Women's Open will be held here in 2016. The layout's wide fairways and elevated tees satisfy the resort player. The green complexes, tough to read and well-defended, are for the pro game.
It's hard to believe the grounds will need much if any special prep for either event. Conditions, overseen by Superintendent Tom Gray, feature greens that are lightning fast, which accentuate the already difficult surfaces. His team manages the off-course grounds, too, such as the hiking trail running along the mountainside overlooking the course and wineries, as well as some enormous rose blooms by the clubhouse and restaurants.
On a hill a couple of minutes from the clubhouse is the Clos Lachance Winery, which offers free tastings to resort guests all day. I'm normally a 'beer guy,' but when you're golfing alongside vineyards all morning, and the air is so crisp, it's quite easy to get in a red-wine-blend mood by happy hour.
Golf, finally, on the Monterey Peninsula
The par-5 opener on Black Horse at Bayonet and Black Horse in Seaside.
For me, it'd been a long time coming: 500-plus golf courses in two dozen countries, and I'd yet to make it to the Monterey Peninsula. It's less than an hour from CordeValle, so guests can easily tack on a couple rounds of oceanside golf if they want to include more courses.
A round at Pebble Beach would have to wait on my first trip. After all, I'm only 30 years old, and enough gets scribbled about it, right?
Instead, I looked towards two of the area's other great word-of-mouth options: Bayonet and Black Horse, a 36-hole facility that hosts two U.S. Open qualifiers and is one of the best bang-for-your-buck options around. In a land of $200-plus golf, green fees hover around $80-$110.
If this facility were located anywhere else, it'd likely be the destination's go-to course. On cypress-filled slopes high above the ocean, the side-by-side courses deliver two fairly different-yet-equal plays. I favored Black Horse by a nose, thanks to what felt like a little more consistent feel (there are corridors on Bayonet that are opening up to some residential development) and craftier bunker stylings by Gene Bates.
The Back nine at Pacific Grove Golf Links has an unobstructed ocean view at every turn.
As good as the elevated vantage point is at Bayonet and Black Horse, the best way to play coastal golf (and not go broke doing it) is at Pacific Grove Golf Links, a historic and affordable muni located on the northern tip of the peninsula.
The front side, built in 1932, is a traditional out-and-back routing through cypress trees. After a little chip shot of a par-3 10th, the back side delivers sandy, rolling links turf with constant ocean scenery.
Adding to the charm is Point Pinon Lighthouse, a neat little building that is one of the seven original lighthouses on the west coast. No. 12, a par 5 that runs parallel to the beach, feels like a pure links hole with a rippling, firm and sun-scorched fairway.
After golf, I ponied up $9.75 and spent the afternoon soaking up the gorgeous sites of 17-Mile Drive, which included a brief glimpse of Cypress Point, plus a walk around the Lodge at Pebble Beach.
Stopping off for a nearby Mackenzie classic: Pasatiempo
Pasatiempo Golf Club's 2nd and 3rd holes in Santa Cruz.
About halfway between San Francisco and the Monterey Peninsula is Santa Cruz. Somehow (I'll never understand the microclimates of California) this sunny college town is usually 10-15 degrees warmer than both places.
Should you be flying in and out of San Jose or San Francisco, don't board the plane before making a quick detour here for a round at Pasatiempo Golf Club, a restored Alister Mackenzie design and a real treat to cap off a trip to NoCal. Nearby Cordevalle offers a 'Top 10' package that lets golfers play both Cordevalle and Pasatiempo in one trip.
A semi-private club that has a steady spot in Golf Digest's 'Top 100 Courses You Can Play,' Pasatiempo is conditioned immaculately. (I had a first-hand look at the elaborate greens-keeping operation since I had the first tee time in the morning in order to make my flight home).
Fairways, in Golden-Era fashion, are normally quite generous. The bunkers are treacherous works of art, while the variety of green complexes make the course simply one-of-a-kind, and I sure putted as many times as possible on them.
Golf course raters often talk about the 'walk in the park test' and Pasatiempo, at under 6,600 yards, has to score a '10.' With mature trees and rolling hills that give the round a mix of shade and sun, plus ocean views from its high points, it explains in part why the club's logo is of a man with a tipped cap, contently taking a siesta under a tree.