Continuing our profile of The Itinerant Golfer’s quest to play all top 100 American golf courses, The Scratch Pad is glad to bring you a profile of the 5th rated golf course in America, Cypress Point Golf Club.
Location: Pebble Beach, CA
Architect: Alister Mackenzie & Robert Hunter
Year Constructed: 1928
Played: April 15, 2008
I’ve just knocked my ball onto the green at perhaps the most famous hole in golf and my caddie has walked ahead while I enjoy the long walk to the green with my putter in hand. As I stroll around the path to the fairway watching the seals play in the inlet below I can’t help but get a little overwhelmed by the moment.
Anyone who is familiar with the great golf clubs of the world knows Cypress Point Club. Bing Crosby was a member and made the club famous by including it in his annual Crosby Clambake (regretfully renamed the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am) which was a regular tour stop until 1991 when the club elected to withdraw. Another member, Bob Hope, very famously stated in regards to the exclusivity of the club “One year they had a big membership drive at Cypress . . . they drove out 40 members”. The bottom line is that this place is one of the toughest tee times in the world to obtain.
Opened in 1928 Cypress Point is often referred to as Alister Mackenzie’s finest design. Mackenzie also designed Bobby Jones’ beloved Augusta National so that gives you an idea of the gravity of the statement that Cypress Point is Mackenzie’s finest work. The course is laid out in 3 groupings of holes. Holes 1 through 6 are woodland holes set in the midst of the cypress and pine trees. Holes 7 through 13 are dunes holes expertly laid out among the natural sand dunes. Finally holes 14 through 18 are seaside holes that test the mettle of even the best of players lucky enough to tee it up here.
My day at Cypress Point started early. I had the dew-sweeper tee time of 7:15 AM and I would be playing alone today. I play solo a lot at home so I’m used to playing my match against Old Man Par and often times prefer it. In retrospect, I think playing alone here made the round that much more special.
The guys in the pro shop directed me to the locker room where I could change shoes. It was one of those great old locker rooms where the benches have spike marks from years of shoe tying before the days of soft spikes and ghosts lurk around every corner. Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus . . . all the greats have laced their shoes up here. In a quick glance around the room I saw Clint Eastwood’s locker and Charles Schwab’s but I didn’t linger too long as I was anxious to get out on the course. The photo to the right is not real clear, but it shows the unusual locker design.
After hitting a few putts I met my caddy Bob Pegis. Bob first looped at the club as a youngster starting in 1955. He took many years off to work as a PGA club pro and then came back to CPC 5 years ago. Having the right caddie makes or breaks a round on a course like this – especially when playing solo. Bob was not a man of many words this morning but I liked him right away. He would prove to be the perfect combination of companion and guide for my stroll around Mr. Mackenzie’s masterpiece.
I teed up my ball on number one and Bob directed me where to hit it . . . I swung and with the sound of my driver striking the ball, the journey began.
I started out with a par on number one which was a nice way to start. The photo below on the left is taken from the 2nd tee looking back up the starting hole. From this angle you want to play right of the Cypress Trees. To the left is the members driving range.. Hole 2 is a nice par 5 with a tough drive over the dunes and the 3rd hole (photo below right) is a really nice par 3 ever so slightly downhill.
The 4th hole is a great par 4. I ended up in the right rough after my ball miraclously avoided the trees. The 5th hole is a par 5 with a dogleg left. The 6th hole is another par 5. There are back to back par 5s and par 3s on this course. A bold design move you don’t see much at all. I pulled my drive left here and into the 9th fairway. I got it back to the rough of the 6th hole and played my 3rd shot from the spot in the photo below. I love the bunkering on this course!
The 7th hole is a really interesting par 3. In the photo above you can see the 6th green just below on the right and you have to hit your tee shot from an elevated tee box to an elevated green. I hit 5 iron to the fringe here.
The 8th hole is a par 4 90 degree dogleg right. You have to play your tee shot straight over the dunes pictured below and hope you clear them to make the fairway. I ended up on top of the dune but was able to chip out to the rough for a chance at the up and down.
The 9th is a short par 4 with a very tough hole location. The 10th hole but is the only par 5 that was reachable in 2 for me. It was slightly uphill and fairly straight. I went for it and ended up in the greenside bunker in 2. I was on in 3 but 3 putted for a bogey. The 11th hole is a par 4 that is pretty straight forward. It’s on 12th hole that you start to head out to sea and the wind really picks up. This hole as pictured below is a dogleg right. I hit great drive, but the wind got me on the approach and I had to chip on. Below is the 12th green. You can see the wind is really starting to show its teeth.
Above is the 13th hole. What a view. Truly amazing. Also a view of the 13th green. Note how the manmade bunkers just blend right into the natural dunes. Great design! I had to hit a utility club into this one to beat the wind. Starting with the 13th hole they had the flags tied down to the flagstick so they won’t get frayed from flapping in the wind. Made a nice par here.
The 14th hole runs along 17 Mile Drive and it plays LONG. It is real windy today and all uphill every day. The approach shot is a narrow shoot and a long shot. It was a utility club for me. I missed a 40 foot birdie putt from the front of the green to a back hole location here by 1 inch. Would have been a great birdie!
After the 14th green you cross over 17 Mile Drive for some of the most famous golf holes in the world. A really cool surprise was that once we crossed the road there was a little inlet where harbor seals were pupping. As Bob pointed out they are VERY protective and those that were able to get into the water with their young swam away and those left on the beach with babies never took their eyes off of us.
After a short walk up the path we come to the 15th hole. One of the most famous holes in golf and the friendly little brother to the menacing 16th hole. Below is a photo from the tee box.
Above right is another view of 15 as I’m walking over to the green. I landed my ball about 6 feet behind the hole. I hit a smooth 9 iron and sank the putt for a 2 here.
Following the 15th, you take a wooded path that leads to possibly the most famous hole in golf. It was a bit of an intimidating walk. Once I broke through the path and saw the hole as you see it below I asked Bob only half jokingly where the appropriate place to throw up was. Notice the white caps in the water. The sea was angry that day my friend.
225 yards over the sea with a stiff wind . . . Par 3. When the hole was built Mackenzie wanted it to be a par 4 because the shot was just too hard. US womens Amatuer champion Marion Hollins insisted it be a par 3. When she pulled out a club and struck a ball over the water landing safely on the other side she convinced Mackenzie to make it a par 3. When Cypress Point was on the PGA Tour this hole was routinely voted the toughest hole on tour and many a pro golfer has admitted to losing sleep the night before playing it. The scores here are as low as 1 (Bing Crosby is one of the few to record an Ace here) and there is no limit to upper extremities of scoring on this hole. Porky Oliver carded a 16 here in 1954 at the Crosby Clambake. I’m certain there has been worse.
On the tee Bob and I discuss our game plan. I was playing well and I considered laying up to the left and then trying to drive the green for fun after I had a ball safely in play. I didn’t want a high score here to ruin a good round. Generally speaking I’m a conservative player and that would not be an unusual move for me.
In the book “The Match” (which I had read on my flight) Byron Nelson recalls himself in a similar situation at the 1937 Masters where he was tied for the lead and must decide to lay up short of Rae’s Creek on Augusta National’s 13th hole or go for the green and give himself a chance at a 2 stroke lead. As Nelson stood in that fairway and considered his options, the phrase “The Lord hates a coward” rose up from his Christian roots. I’m not a religious man myself, but that same thought was running through my mind as the wind blew into my face on that seaside tee box. I thought about how the round had gone so far and I decided I had to go for it.
Bob decided I could hit a 16 degree utility, a 3 wood or a driver. I’d been hitting my driver well all day and Bob said “Driver, I like the driver. You may be long, but you’ll be up there.” Bob’s confidence in me, and in his club selection, subsided any nerves I was feeling and I simply took aim, addressed the ball and swung. It was about the most perfect swing I’ve ever made in my life. It was one of those easy ones that just feels effortless where the ball hits the club face true and flies off like a missile headed straight for the target. No fade, no draw, just straight and true cutting through the wind. We watched the ball come down on the green and Bob and I celebrated with a high five and cheers.
Bob pulled out my putter and said “Have a long walk with your putter. Enjoy it.” I took my time on the walk tot he green to soak it all in and capture the moment and everything that lead up to it in my memory. Though Bob probably didn’t notice I was a little shaken from the gravity of the situation by time I got to the green. I was happy to see that my ball had landed hole high 6 feet to the right of the flagstick and run about 30 feet past the hole location. I was feeling a little jerky and my putter was not as sure as it had been on the previous 15 holes. I hit a putt that I left about 3 feet short and then just missed my par. I tapped in for a bogey and was delighted to do it.
Hole 17 is another one of the famous Cypress Point seaside holes. Really good players can bite off a big chunk of the hole and play to the right of the cypress trees. That requires a bold carry, so I elected to play to the left of the trees. I had a little trouble here and almost had a lost ball which would have been my first of the day. Luckily, we found it but it was under a bush and I had to take an unplayable lie. My third shot was not a good one and I ended up virtually in the middle of the Cypress trees and played a fun shot high over the trees and onto the green. I two putted and had to take double bogey. Below is a photo taken from the 17th green. Note the flag that is tied down to the flagstick.
The 18th at Cypress Point takes a lot grief from people, but I dont think its justified. I think the only reason people complain about it is because they’ve just completed 15, 16 and 17 which are possibly the 3 greatest golf holes in the world. The tee shot at 18 must be placed in the right spot to have a good angle at the severely elevated green. Again for me on this hole it was up and over the trees because I hit my tee shot a little too far left. I hit the fringe and had a testy chip from the back right rough to a back hole location.
After I putted out on the 18th green and was finished with my round at Cypress Point I realized I hadn’t added up my score all day. I’d just been so engrossed with the entire experience that I hadn’t bothered. I knew I was playing pretty well and when I did add it up I discovered that I had found the 80s and played several strokes below my handicap. I was perfectly happy with that. Here is one last look at the 16th taken from just outside the clubhouse.
In closing all I can say about my round at Cypress Point is that it was magical and unbelievable. I count myself as one of the lucky few who was able to play what could possibly be the best golf course in the world. I hope to someday be able to return under better circumstances and only time will tell if that will happen.