PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Robert Trent Jones Jr. calls "93953" the greatest zip code in golf for good reason. After all, it includes Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Spanish Bay and Monterey Peninsula Country Club and Poppy Hills, a course he designed in 1986 that hasn't always measured up to its neighbors.
So when given a second chance by the owner of the course – the Northern California Golf Association – Jones and his team delivered. No, they couldn't compete with the ocean views of Pebble or Spyglass, but they could improve conditioning, the design of individual holes and bring the course up to date.
"It's where the greatest golf art has been created by masters of other times. We're in great company," said Jones, whose father RTJ Sr., designed Spylgass next door. "So we as artists had to pay up. We got the second chance to come back and refresh and renew the course. I think all these courses are great, and we're happy to be among them."
Ginella: Redesign brings Poppy Hills back to relevence in Pebble Beach
Indeed, with much anticipation, Poppy Hills reopened after a 13-month renovation with a VIP and media outing to great fanfare on Thursday (the course opens to the public on April 4). There was a ceremonial first tee shot that included Jones; Patrick Moran, an 11-handicap golfer who won a chance to represent the 150,000-strong Northern California Golf Association; Brian Morse, president of the NCGA, which is the largest regional golf association in the country; and Derrell Biddy, president of Poppy Holding Co., which oversees golf operations. There was even a hawk to ring the new era for a golf course NCGA officials weren't sure would be ready in a time a few months ago when water was scarce in the area. But thanks to those neighboring courses, which generously shared their water, Poppy Hills was ready on time and in prime condition.
Sure, the bentgrass greens were as firm as you would expect from a new course, and there might be some tweaks in the near future, but all-in-all, this course was pretty close to perfect.
The upgrades weren't limited to the golf course. There's also a renovated clubhouse, complete with a new food & drink menu, big screen TVs and the same deck that overlooks the ninth and 18th holes. Except this time, the views are more stunning.
Adding to the buzz was the announcement that the all-new Poppy will co-host the Champions Tour’s Nature Valley First Tee Open, teaming with Pebble Beach Golf Links, from Sept. 22-28. Poppy, which used to be part of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am rotation, replaces Del Monte Course for the Champions Tour event.
A big reason for the renovation was to find a way to improve drainage while conserving water. The introduction of native waste areas reduces irrigated turf by nearly 25 acres, while an ultra-modern irrigation system that precisely monitors and waters each square yard of the golf course, also adds to the efficiency. The entire golf course was also sand-capped, native areas were reintroduced to eliminate a large portion of irrigated turf, while fairway size, which totals 60 acres was actually increased. The more efficient watering is also designed to promote firm-and-fast play conditions and the new design lends inself to creative shot-making coming into the greens, meaning it's often better to land the ball short and play the bounces.
"It’s a renaissance more than a renovation," Jones said. "It’s really a brand new golf course. The new conceptions have reinvigorated the golf course. They will bring the course back to all its glory."
Par has dropped from 72 to 71, but yardage has increased from 6,863 to 7,002 from the new Jones Trail (back set of tees). The Jones Trail plays to a rating of 73.5 and a slope of 135, but now there is more flexibility in course setup, with five sets of tees instead of four. It can play as short as 5,215 yards.
The 18th hole at Poppy Hills
The original routing from the course's 1986 opening remained largely intact with the exception of the 11th hole, a new par 3. Behind the green is a large bunker, but in between the bunker and green is a mixture of high native grass that tends to swallow up balls that may have trickled off the back of the green. In summer, said superintendent Manny Sousa, that grass will tend to thin out, but for now, it's easy to lose a ball in it, whether it's just off the 11th green or surrounding some the course's fairway and greenside bunkers.
Speaking of bunkers, many of them were moved or enlarged to adapt to the modern game and equipment. The course also now has natural sandy waste areas on many of the holes. And there were other changes, too.
The 12th hole now comes with an ocean view.
The reachable par-5 ninth, for example, now has a creek that runs in front of the green, making it more difficult to reach in two. And the 12th now plays downhill, opening up a view of Monterey Bay not previously seen.
The NCGA has been headquartered at the course's clubhouse since 1986. Amateur members can play the course for a reduced rate, but even more impressive may be the junior golf initiatves by the association, which allow accompanied juniors to play for $5, which makes the course's new association with The First Tee Open fitting.
"The First Tee Open is a wonderful partner for the home course of the Northern California Golf Association," said Brad Shupe, GM of Poppy Hills Golf Course. "One of the prime initiatives of the NCGA Foundation is its Youth on Course program, which allows boys and girls to play courses for only $5. And we are proud that two of the last three pro-junior teams to win The First Tee Open were made up of Youth on Course players."