Pasatiempo Golf Club's making a comeback: Alister MacKenzie gem in California overcomes drought

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. -- The "brown is beautiful" motif being pushed by the United States Golf Association has its place in golf. Pasatiempo Golf Club doesn't seem to be one of them.

After a summer of brown fairways, Pasatiempo is green again, aided by nearly 20 inches of rain this fall. The new grass from fairway overseeding by Superintendent Justin Mandon has popped to life, helping the course overcome painful water restrictions, which were triggered by the state's worst droughts in decades. The famous Alister MacKenzie course is returning to the conditions golfers expect from one of America's most revered Top 100 tracks. A Pasatiempo member who wished to remain anonymous said the fairways have improved "500 percent" in two months.

"The overseeding and rain have brought back the picturesque nature and elegance of Pasatiempo," he said after a round in late December. "It brought back the playability in the fairways. They're more in line with the spirit of what Alister MacKenzie wanted."

Brown is beautiful? Not at Pasatiempo

Water restrictions placed May 1, 2014 by the city of Santa Cruz caused the unsightly brownout of the fairways. Water could only be used on the tees, greens and the areas surrounding the greens. The ensuing backlash of bad reviews on social media and complaints by golfers after their rounds put Pasatiempo's management on the defensive. The club countered with discounted rates and constant updates by e-mail and on its Web site to appease golfers.

Pasatiempo Head Professional Ken Woods said the brown conditions on Pinehurst No. 2 during the 2014 U.S. Open helped his club for a while.

"We used that as leverage," he said. "Come play us, and get more roll on your drive. We tried to make a positive spin, but golfers didn't realize how bad it was. ... The people who hadn't played the course before gave us rave reviews. They loved the firm and fast conditions. We could get a 10 o'clock (group) saying it was fantastic, and the 10:10 group who had played here before would want a refund."

Woods said the course's comeback has been quick, noting that "playable areas are close to 100 percent."

Long-term concerns remain, however. Another 20 or so inches of rain must fall by April 15, 2015, for the city to relieve the restrictions. A well being dug near the 12th tee will help with short-term relief. Talks to get recycled water from Scotts Valley, a neighboring community, remain ongoing.

In Play: Water Conservation efforts in NoCal and at Pasatiempo

Pasatiempo: One of the greatest walks in golf

When Mother Nature cooperates, Pasatiempo remains one of the greatest walks in golf.

Pasatiempo -- a par 70 of 6,521 yards -- sports that irreplaceable, classic look. MacKenzie's magnificent bunkers, artfully restored by Tom Doak within the past decade, rarely come into play off the tee. They're constantly a nuisance, though, on demanding approach shots. Architecturally, Pasatiempo has few peers.

"This is such a second-shot golf course," the member said.

The first three holes play long and unforgiving. The 235-yard third hole climbs to an elevated green laced with sand traps. It's rated the second hardest hole on the course, a rare designation for a par 3. MacKenzie's former home sits near the sixth green, the ending of a narrow par 5. A statue in the backyard and plaque on the sidewalk mark its location.

Barrancas add more character to the hillier back nine. The epic 11th hole requires a second shot over a canyon and its bridge that's so intimidating, only one player in my foursome made it over on the first try. The par-4 16th hole ranks as one of golf's scariest holes. After a semi-blind tee shot, golfers face a long carry over a dry creek bed off a downhill lie to reach a nasty three-tiered green guarded by cavernous bunkers. Rounds end with a scenic par 3 over another gorge.

While the clubhouse porch is a pretty good spot to hang out after golf, Golf Digest has rated The Tap Room in the Hollins House one of golf's greatest 19th holes. The historic house, built in 1929 by golfer Marion Hollins, sits on higher ground just a short walk from the clubhouse. It's only open Tuesday through Friday (and some select Saturdays), so plan your foursome's dinner or happy hour accordingly.

Which view of Monterey Bay is better, the one from the first tee or from the Hollins House? Both represent the best of Pasatiempo. Either a fantastic round is just starting, or it's time to celebrate the end of a fun day playing one of the game's historic treasures.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Pasaiempo was one of my favorite courses. Our golf group usually played it once yearly. Yes, I will always remember #11 - made it across on 2nd shot once. It has a more persoTnal memory for us, since our friends were once occupants of the former caddy shack. This articile brought back some great memories and an itch to play the course again, since lasting playing it in 1973

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Pasatiempo Golf Club's making a comeback: Alister MacKenzie gem in California overcomes drought