Pasatiempo Review

Texas Outside Rating: 9.3

Golf - Public Course · 18 Holes · Par 70
Santa Cruz, CA

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Pasatiempo Review

Pasatiempo is one of those handful of courses that you need to go out of your way to play.  It's scenic, challenging, fun, memorable, and loaded with history.   Pasatiempo was designed by Alister Mackenzie and some will tell you that he got all of his ideas and inspiration for Augusta National and Cypress Point from Pasatiempo. 

The course officially opened on September 8, 1929 and the first group to tee off were Marion Hollins, Bobby Jones (considered the father of modern golf), Glenna Collett (U.S. Womens Amateur Champion) and Cyril Tolley the British Amateur Champion. And since then a number of the legends of golf have played Pasatiempo.  The club house and restaurant as well as the Pasatiempo website document some of the history of this historic and fantastic golf course. 

Today Pasatiempo is a semi private club with limited tee times available to the public and the course is ranked #11 in Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Courses You Can Play in 2010 and ranked #31 in Golf Digest’s 2005 America’s Greatest Public Courses. Golf Digest also named Pasatiempo Golf Club as one of the top 3 courses you can play in California (along with Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill). Golf Magazine ranks Pasatiempo #55 in the Top 100 Courses in the U.S. (private and public), up 16 places over the 2005 ranking!  All of that should make you want to pick up the phone and call for a tee time.

Pasatiempo is up in the mountains a few miles from Santa Cruz, a laid back art, vacation, and surfing mecca.  The course meanders up and down the foothills, through some stately redwoods and coastal pines, and past some beautiful homes. When I checked the scorecard to determine which of the three tee boxes to play, my first reaction was this should be a fairly easy round, the course is short with yardages of 6521, 6125, and 5656 but the slope and rating from the tips is 72.3 and 140 - and Bobby Jones shot a 75 on his first round!  Something is amiss and it turns out that thanks to all the uphill shots the course plays more like 6900 yards, the greens are very complex and challenging, and the bunkers are treacherous.  Plus you'll encounter blind shots, dog legs, forced carries over deep ravines, dramatic elevation changes, sloping and contoured fairways, and more. 

Pasatiempo is a true test of golf and you'll get to deploy a variety of clubs that you may not have used for awhile.  You'll also need to deploy all of your course management  and shot making skills.  We walked off the course saying "Wow, that was a blast but very challenging!"  We can't wait to get back and play it again. 

Some of Alister Mackenzie's 13 General Principles of Golf Course Architecture describe Pasatiemp perfectly:

  • There should be a sufficient number of heroic carries....
  • The course should be so interesting that even the scratch player is stimulated to improve his game
  • The greens and fairways should be sufficiently undulating
  • The course should be arranged so that all levels  can enjoy the round in spite of piling up a big score

But don't let the difficultly level stop you from playing this fantastic layout.  Its very scenic with sparkling white sand bunkers scattered along the fairways and around the greens, the wide variety of beautiful trees (coastal oaks, redwoods, and Monterey pine, the lush fairways, and the views of Monterey Bay and coastal mountains from some of the holes.   

In addition to testing your game, Pasatiempo golf course has some very fun, interesting, and memorable holes, for example:

  • #3 is a beautiful 235 yard uphill par 3 past a huge fairway bunker awaiting the short shots and five more bunkers guarding the green - no room for error and you want to avoid the bunkers
  • #9 is a long 500 yard par 5 uphill to a dog leg right green with two large bunkers guarding your approach - and the drive needs to be accurate to nail the landing zone between two bunkers on each side of the fairway
  • load up with energy for #10 - you can risk trying to carry both ravines to shorten the hole off the tee box or try the shorter carry over the first deep ravine and stuff it on a fairly tight landing zone - survive that and its uphill and then back down a severely sloping fairway to a green  with extensive deep bunkering along the left front and back - fun hole
  • and you'll want to play 18 a couple times - a down hill 167 yard shot over a deep and wide ravine to an interesting shaped green with 4 bunkers guarding it

When we played Pasatiempo in early March the fairways were in perfect condition as was the rough - lush and thick.  The fairways are rolling and heavily contoured with lots of big ups and downs - most of your shots will most likely be from uneven lies and you'll need to adjust to manage the elevation changes.   The majority of the fairways are ample from from tee box to green and most are straight forward and traditional.  The roughs are also ample and cut playable.  In an effort to conserve water, Pasatiempo was converting some of the grassy areas to natural areas which were bare and starting to sprout some native plants and grasses.

The greens are unbelievable - smooth, quick (10 to 11),  and in near perfect condition, but pin placement and severe slope, undulation, tiers, and ridges can cause 3 putts.  In several cases we watched in awe as our ball slowly rolled several yard back off the green and down the fringe to a collection area.  Practice putting before you head out and study the green carefully before you chip up or putt - some local knowledge can help. 

The bunkers range in size from small to huge and all are filled with soft sparkling white sand. Buy a yard card to help you avoid these monsters!

Bottom line - Pasatiempto will test your game and is a real pleasure to play - add it to your bucket list.

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Course Slope & Ratings

Tee Box Yardage Rating Slope
Blue 6,521 140.0 72
White 6,125 136.0 70
Red 5,656 135.0 74

Course Information

Course Architect:
Alister MacKenzie
Greens Type:
Poa Annua
Greens Condition
Greens Difficulty
Hard - very hilly
Course Map
Beware of water on 0 holes and the 85 sand traps.

Texas Outside Rating

Overall Rating:
9.3 out of 10
Fun to Play:
Front Nine Rating:
Back Nine Rating:


Approximate Weekend
$220.00 to $220.00

Service is some of the best we have experienced, the pro shop is well stocked, and the practice facility is very good. The bar and grill have an excellent view of the course and some good food.



Here's How Texas Outside Determines the Scorecard Rating

The Texas Outside rating scale ranges from 1 to 10 – a perfect 10 course would be something like this:  links along a cliff overlooking the Pacific ocean and bordered by tall trees; lush fairways on rolling hills with lots of natural hazards; water (which is crystal clear) on most of the holes; immaculate greens (but they are undulating and tough); lots of variety and character (each hole is completely different and includes blind shots, elevation changes, doglegs, and significant challenges); perfectly manicured traps with the whitest and prettiest sand you’ve ever seen; a nice club house with great food and a 19th hole; a GPS; plenty of beverage carts or your own cooler and ice; and it only costs $40 bucks! What this means is that you probably won’t find any 10s in Texas – try Cabo San Lucas, Pebble Beach, or some of the Hawaii courses! 
Texas Outside rates courses on the following:

  • Beauty – tall trees, rolling hills, beautiful houses, waterfalls, and similar stuff would score high; a 1 would be flat, bushes or cactus instead of trees, and some grass but mostly weeds
  • Difficulty – a straight, 300 yard par 4 with no traps or hazards, no out of bounds or water would probably get a 1; if it is a 460 yard par 4 over two ravines, with water along one side, natural hazards on the other, strategically placed traps or that dreaded tree right in the middle of the fairway, we are talking a 10. 
  • Variety – what would you give a course where all the holes looked and played exactly the same (“I thought we just played that hole!”); were side-by-side, which is good for finding or dodging other people’s balls, but not much fun; and you can see the flag from every tee box?  That’s right, it gets a 1.
  • Fun Scale – a 10 is where you walk off the course and say “now that was fun” and you can’t wait to get back, or you immediately turn around and play another 18 holes
  • Value – a 5 is $50 to $60, a 10 is $20 to $30, and 1 is $200 or so – of course all of this is dependent upon how you liked the course.  For example, if a run down, boring municipal course, with six players on each hole was only $10; it would still get a value rating of 1.
  • Condition – this one’s pretty easy – what condition are the fairways. A 10 commands very lush perfectly manicured fairways, compared to a 1, which has fire ants, weeds, and more dirt than grass!
  • Condition of Greens and Difficulty – very hard to read greens with lots of undulation and tough pin placement, rate very high on the difficulty scale.  Condition is self-explanatory.  

All of the above determines the overall score for the golf course.  In other words, we like courses that are pretty, fun, very challenging with a lot of variety, and fairways and greens in excellent condition – all for $40.  We also tend to play the courses that are affordable for the masses, which means in the $30 to $80 range. We rate hard and we haven’t found a 10 in Texas yet – don’t worry we haven’t given up and we’re still looking.