Courses and Travel

Here are five underrated holes in California and five whose reputations are overblown

Photo: Rob Babcock

Pasatiempo's real star is the par-4 11th.

5 That I Love

1. Spyglass Hill, No. 1, 595 yards, par 5; Pebble Beach, Calif.
Library quiet, except for shots echoing off the pines, this brutal opener emerges from a chute, then offers tumbling terrain, a stunning ocean vista and full-tilt shot values. It's an exhilarating start to a memorable round.

2. Pasatiempo, No. 11, 392 yards, par 4; Santa Cruz, Calif.
Its architect, Alister MacKenzie, considered Pasatiempo's 16th "the best two-shot hole I know," but it's not even the best on the course. That honor goes to the super risk/reward 11th, which features a scrub- and tree-filled barranca that hugs the left side of the fairway, followed by an approach set on a diagonal to the line of play.

3. Pacific Grove, No. 12, 513 yards, par 5; Pacific Grove, Calif.
Ocean to the left, a lighthouse to the right and some of the tallest dunes this side of Ballybunion are integral parts of this dogleg-right par 5, the spotlight hole on this underpriced muni just outside the gates of Pebble Beach.

4. Pelican Hill (Ocean South), No. 12, 159 yards, par 3; Newport Coast, Calif.
When Pelican Hill shut down for renovation from 2006-2008, many forgot how special the Tom Fazio designs were here. The first of back-to-back oceanside par 3s, the 12th parallels the Pacific. Thanks to coastal breezes and sprawls of sand that bleed into larger dunes, it's simply a delight.

5. Sandpiper, No. 13, 532 yards, par 5; Santa Barbara, Calif.
Despite a recent redesign, this course never fully capitalized on its cliff-top site next to the Pacific. One hole that did is the 13th, provided you're playing to the precipice green to the right, with the churning ocean below, rather than the alternate left green.

5...Not So Much

1. Pebble Beach, No. 17, 208 yards, par 3; Pebble Beach, Calif.
I know about the historic shots here and realize the view is pretty special, but I've always found the bunkering weird and never comprehended why the tiny back left target is so fiercely guarded, while the shorter, easier front-right target escapes unscathed.

2. Torrey Pines (South), No. 12, 504 yards, par 4; La Jolla, Calif.
Statistically one of the hardest holes on Tour, Torrey's 12th is a big, mean schoolyard bully delivering a beat-down. It demands no imagination, just two massive smashes into the stiff wind to an elevated green.

3. Pasatiempo, No. 16, 387 yards, par 4; Santa Cruz, Calif.
I cannot believe that MacKenzie really thought that this hole was the best par-4 of "his acquaintance." It's a blind, layup drive for most decent players, with a fairway that's canted to the left toward a barranca and OB right, followed by an approach from a downhill, sidehill lie to an elevated, three-tier green with way too much slope to accommodate modern green speeds.

4. TPC Harding Park, No. 18, 440 yards, par 4; San Francisco, Calif.
The bite-off-as-much-as-you-can-chew drive over a lake is mitigated by trees obscuring the landing area, and the massive, elevated, three-tiered green is out of character with the rest of the course.

5. Olympic Club (Lake), No. 3, 229 yards, par 3, San Francisco, Calif.
Sure, it's gorgeous, with an elevated tee and cypress trees, but other than its role as an early-round long iron or hybrid test, I don't see what all the fuss is about.

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