Review: Pasatiempo Golf Club

Perched up in the Santa Clara mountains in Santa Cruz, California, is a little 6500 yard Alister MacKenzie gem you may have heard about. The fact that MacKenzie lived out the last years of his life along the 6th hole and had his ashes spread over the course says a lot about this place and what it meant to him. On our latest trip to the Monterey Peninsula, we took the one-hour drive north to Santa Cruz to see what all the fuss is about.

As you drive up Pasatiempo Drive, you’re treated to a glimpse of the unique and dramatic Mackenzie bunkering before pulling into their unsuspecting parking lot. We were greeted by some nice young chaps at the bag drop and in the clubhouse, and I definitely felt a sense of pride in their local gem.

We caught a beautifully calm and cool morning, and although the fog resting in the treetops blocked our view of the Pacific Ocean from the first tee box, it provided a serene feel to our round.

Pasatiempo Golf Club review - 1st hole
The elevated opening tee shot

When teeing it up at Pasa, you’ll want to have your A-game right out of the gates. On this  cool, damp morning, the course felt much longer than the scorecard indicated and drew down our morning coffee buzz faster than anticipated.

The first par-3 you’ll face at the 3rd hole is 215 yards…uphill. I was in between 4-iron and 5 wood, so played it “strategically” short and left with a 4-iron to try and leave myself a playable pitch, as a miss anywhere else is basically death. Next time I may just pretend this hole is a driveable par-4!

Pasatiempo Golf 3rd hole
The par-3 3rd hole

Although at first glance it can appear this way, MacKenzie doesn’t bunker his courses haphazardly. They all have a purpose. A good example of that is the fairway bunker 40-50 yards short of the par-4 4th green, pictured below. From the left side of the fairway, this bunker blends with the left greenside bunker and provides the illusion that it is protecting the front of the green, when in reality it’s not.

Pasatiempo golf 4th hole
The par-4 4th hole

Not everything at Pasatiempo is as MacKenzie intended. Even after a restoration by Tom Doak which began in 1996, the many trees that line the 6th, 7th, and 8th holes remain in place, which were never in the original design. They are in place for “safety”, after a freak and fatal golf accident on the 8th green (a very long time ago, I think). This makes for a couple of tight feeling holes, when the original intent was a bit more expansive and interesting. I’ve never really understood the argument for trees providing safety. Trees can create a false sense of security, block sight lines, and generate unexpected ricochets…but I digress.

Pasatiempo golf 7th
Looking back on the par-4 7th hole

The par-3 8th tee is a place I could stand and hit balls all day. The inviting green and long sight line up the par-5 9th hole is stunning. Getting on the large 8th green in regulation is the easy part. Getting it in the hole after that is the hard part, as the green features some severe undulations.

Pasatiempo golf club review
The par-3 8th hole, with the par-5 9th in the background

One of my favorite holes was the par-4 10th, which features a beautiful semi-blind tee shot over a canyon, shown below.

Pasatiempo golf club review
The par-4 10th tee shot

A solid tee shot down the middle leaves you with a mid-iron approach from a severe right-to-left sloping lie which begs you to rope one into the cavernous bunkers short-left of the green. I took one for the team and did some reconnaissance in those bunkers. The official report — not good. I highly recommend staying out of them.

Pasatiempo golf club review
Approach to the par-4 10th hole

The mid-back nine winds through some slightly less compelling terrain for a few holes, but even bland terrain isn’t all that bland after MacKenzie is through with it.

Pasatiempo golf club review
Short of the fairway bunkers on the dogleg left par-5 13th hole

The bunkers surrounding the par-5 13th green are pretty rad. They’ll make you think twice about going for this green in two, as catching one of those first bunkers will leave you with that dreaded 40-50 yard bunker shot.

Pasatiempo golf club review
Approach to the par-5 13th green.

Two of the three front-nine par-3’s are total brutes, so it’s nice that the back-nine tosses in a couple shorter ones. A nice reprieve when trying to put some bandages on your scorecard down the stretch.

pasatiempo golf club review
Beth on the short par-3 15th hole

The infamous par-4 16th green is a bit of a survival hole when it comes to your scorecard, featuring the most severe green on the course. A lot of people love the bold three-tier design, but it is a bit over the top for my liking. The bottom tier is more of a false front and not a place where a pin could ever be, and if you’re up top and putting down, you’ll need some luck for your ball to stay on the green. Very unique, if nothing else.

pasatiempo golf club review - 16th green
The famous 16th green

I really dig the short par-3 finisher. It’s not too often courses finish with a par-3, let alone one as rugged and beautiful as this. Missing the green anywhere will be penal, but at least you’ll have a short iron in hand.

Pasatiempo golf club review 18th hole
Beth on the par-3 18th hole

Pasatiempo easily passed my first test for a great layout – the replay test. I could easily replay the round in my head and distinctly remember each hole. No two holes felt the same, there is good variety, plenty of nuance and many cool architectural features. MacKenzie’s genius shows in many cases of visual deception and his effective use of the land, routing holes over and into the slopes and hills to make the most of the terrain.

There’s no doubt that Pasatiempo is a unique and special place, but is it for everyone? Probably not. It can be downright punishing if you’re not hitting it flush, and you’ll want to be packing a decent short game. The current green fee of $250 (plus another $32 if you want/need to cart — although I recommend walking) is a bit steep to me, and would prevent me from recommending a round here to just anyone.

However, if you’re up for a challenge, have some extra cash in your pocket,  and want to experience an interesting and unique layout from one of golf’s most beloved golf course architects, Pasatiempo is your place. I’ll be the first to admit that you can’t truly get to know a course after playing it once, so I have much to learn about this layout, and would consider myself fortunate if the opportunity arose to return and get to know it a little better.



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14 thoughts on “Review: Pasatiempo Golf Club

  1. Isn’t it incredible how Mackenzie layered his bunkers throughout his courses..the use of deception is one of my favorite things about good golf course architecture. I have yet to play Pasa but am trying to add it on to my Monterey trip at the end of the year. Can’t wait to check it out

    1. Ryan,

      So true! I agree, I love that stuff. One of my favorite courses like that is St. George’s in Toronto, a Stanley Thompson track. Look forward to hearing what you think of Pasa!


  2. Think I might struggle with those cunning bunkers! Very much enjoy the way your photos are blended with the descriptive text to give the reader a real feel for the course. Cheers, Rob.

    1. Hey Jimmy,

      Hahaha I have to stand my ground on this one! I mean, is it unique and fun to play on an occasional round? For sure. Would I want that green on my home course? Probably not…but that’s just me!


  3. Tough bunkering for sure, but I can see how you enjoyed your experience there and would seek out a chance to tee it up there again. Your photographs are excellent and complement the story of your round and your reflections. The character of that course was well presented! Cheers, Mike

    1. Hey Mike,

      It’s definitely a course where it’s tough to score the first time there…you really need to know where to miss it and need time getting comfortable with some of the visual deception. A very unique MacKenzie layout. Appreciate the kind words!


  4. Ive walked some of it but not all. My son took an assistant pro job there last summer & knows it’s special. Last week with his brand new set of Callaways he shot a PR 67. And the members (his “employers”) have been great to him. Great situation.

    1. Hey Paul,

      That is awesome to hear! It did seem like a great group of people there. Thanks so much for commenting…next time I’m there I will be sure to say hi…or maybe I did already and didn’t even realize it!


  5. Love this recap Josh! Pasa has been on my list for a while, and will tee it up for sure when I get back down to Cali. Never had the pleasure of playing a Mackenzie designed course….not yet at least… and this sure looks like a treat. The bunkers on every hole look incredible. Definitely need to have the game dialed in but sure looks like a course you are going to have a lot of fun playing. Well done!

  6. Pasatiempo is such a treat. Such an unique layout involving such interesting geological features perfectly used by MacKenzie. I have to disagree about the 16th green, though. An approach shot into that hole is really a once-in-a-lifetime type feel. That shot almost feels larger than life.

    If you’re in the area—or a bit north—Northwood in Monte Rio is a stunning MacKenzie public nine-hole set in the middle of a redwood forest. Two entirely different feels, but each terrific in their own ways.

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