Old classics and modern masterwork, Monterey area boasts the finest tracks in the world.
Since the beginning of golf, there have been lively debates on which courses are the finest from sea to sea. Some rely on golf publications who have devised complicated ranking systems to determine the quality of a course. Other iconic golf statures are born from history and by the hand of now legendary golf architects. While there are arguably numerous factors that go into the making of a masterpiece, there are few places in the world ripe with such promising conditions for golf perfection than those found along Northern California’s coast. From its unique topography, breathtaking ocean views, rich soil, to the mild weather and convenient locale, the Monterey Peninsula and surrounding Santa Cruz Mountains is one of golf’s most envied locations in the entire world.
Old Classic Becomes Modern Masterpiece: Bayonet Black Horse Golf Courses Reinvented
Originally built on the Fort Ord military base in the mid 1950’s, the two golf courses are located just minutes north of Monterey in the city of Seaside. Recently a 13 million dollar makeover by 2004 Architect of the year Gene Bates has transformed the classic 36-hole Bayonet and Black Horse golf courses into modern day must plays. Today, you can all but forget about the history surrounding Bayonet and Black Horse, it is interesting yes, but you may not even recognize the old golf courses today from the total transformation recently completed.
Bates and his crew worked their magic on what is a truly spectacular site for golf, and he must have licked his lips at how good the golf courses would become as his visions became reality. “At the end of the day, the goal was to make the quality of the golf courses commensurate with the best and most storied layouts of the Monterey Peninsula”, says Bates. “Many rare elements were in place already: the amazing location, ocean views, rich history, and the association of challenging golf with Bayonet. The quality of the golf has now been elevated to a luxury brand level, as the master-plan calls for a high-end Fairmont resort hotel on-site”
The overall approach to the renovation was extensive and quite aggressive. For starters, they began with a total scalping of current grasses, and a complete reshaping of holes from tee to green. With the native grasses virtually eradicated, Bates replaced with bent grass in the fairways, tees and greens, and added a bluegrass blend in the roughs, which complements the look of bent fairways. The use of these grasses is an innovative agronomic feature in this area, and allows for superb playing conditions and tournament quality surfaces.
Work continued with numerous trees removed and trimmed, revealing lost views of the Pacific Ocean, and opened cramped playing corridors so tight, they once resembled bowling alleys. The Bates plan also called for a total restructuring of the original bunker complexes, and now two different styles uniquely decipher the two courses. The Bayonet bunkers feature a deep, clover-like look, with flashed up sides providing difficult escapes, while the Black Horse side features an innovative “Serrated Edge” bunker style. This unique look attracts a lot of attention, but conversely offers a very tame escape by being very shallow and virtually no flashed up sides, or lips. Sparkling white sand lights up both layouts, framing holes artfully, while providing consistent sand conditions for both courses.
The Bayonet Golf Course has carried the title of one of the toughest courses in California for quite some time. In fact, Bayonet ranked 35th by Golf Digest among most difficult golf courses in the entire US in 2007. Now, the narrow and tough, tree-lined routing of the past has been cleaned up to allow slightly offline tee shots to be found, but not always offer a clear shot. When you add in the difficulty of well-placed, deep bunkering, combined with subtle and fast greens, the Bayonet course will continue to prove a hearty test for any golfer.
In contrast, the Black Horse routing is an easier bout off the tee, but the green complexes feature more contour and sneaky roll-off and collection areas, which provide the major difficulty on this course.
As a whole, the two courses are exceptionally fun layouts and offer strong golf holes throughout most of the two routings. On my recent visit, I found both courses feature finishing holes rivaling any on the Monterey Peninsula. The pair of downhill par fives feature gorgeous ocean views, towering tee shots over the water in the horizon, and stunning white bunkers dot the final approaches to allow for a thrilling risk reward finish. With the renovation virtually complete, both courses are strong candidates for modern masterpiece status.
Old Classic Look Meets Modern Masterwork: The Links at Spanish Bay
With stiff competition only a few miles away, Spanish Bay may not be the biggest of the names within the collection of the Pebble Beach Company, but with fourteen of its holes playing right along the beach, the Robert Trent Jones Jr., Tom Watson and Sandy Tatum designed layout has qualities that many famous links courses do not.
While the course is an American-style links course, meaning it’s immaculately tailored, the bunkers are nicely raked, and refreshment carts are in sight every two holes, it evokes a feeling of the Scottish-style links at times. It may be the salty ocean water, or the people wandering in and out of the course, due to the public right to access the beaches, or the bagpiper who walks down the fairway of #1 at sunset. Probably all of these reminders were what transported me back to memorable rounds played in Scotland.
The course opens with a string of holes with Scottish flair, sand dunes separating playing corridors, blind shots, deep bunkers, and fast fairways with testy undulating greens. The layout keeps you on your toes with a mix of ocean front holes, and four forested tree-lined holes. Once the course heads in to the Monterey Pines, players receive a small break from prevailing winds off the Pacific. The closing holes head back along the ocean for a spectacular finish.
Playing golf with crashing surf in the background is very rare, and a downright awesome feeling, especially in perfect conditions in mid January, when home is covered is snow and 18 degrees. I was lucky enough to play on such a day with Spanish Bay head professional, Rich Cossand, who quickly assured me these conditions were not normal and indicated Spanish Bay as a whole is more than just the golf course. A stunning location, luxurious accommodations, a list of world-class amenities and attentive service all combine to prove that Spanish Bay is a masterpiece for the soul.
A Modern Masterpiece: CordeValle
A short 40 minutes from Monterey, CordeValle comfortably rests in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, secluded from major roads, and surrounded by the succulent, award winning vineyards of Clos LaChance winery. While technically not in Monterey, this chic resort does not lack any of the charms of its neighbors closer to the ocean. In contrast, it offers a mountain style locale, and its own mastery in a very laid-back California atmosphere, where personal attention to guests is of the utmost priority.
Welcomed by a sharp staff, resort guests are in for a spectacular stay, with accommodations in ultra stylish 700 square foot bungalows. Rooms offer a spacious and sophisticated, contemporary décor, luxurious king beds with fancy linens, hardwood floors, private decks, massive plasma TV’s, and relaxing jetted tubs in every room to round out the luxury. Perhaps my favorite part of arriving at my cozy bungalow was the bottle of CordeValle Cuvee wine specially crafted by Clos La Chance. It was a tasty selection from the vineyards, and a wonderful finish to an enjoyable day of golf. Sipping it comfortably by the fireplace in my bungalow was definitely a real treat. Additionally, the wine selections are quite complimentary to the culinary delights created by the resorts master chef who uses only the regions finest organic meats and fresh local produce.
The centerpiece of the resort is the 260 acre Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed golf course, which he personally has declared as possibly his finest creation to date, which says a ton when you consider his list of fine courses. I found no reason to argue, the course is very solid, and core golf at its best. An exceptional caddie program is available at the club, and walking is encouraged. In fact, no carts are allowed on the golf course until 9am. Experienced from my recent visit, the best way to enjoy the golf at CordeValle is to reserve the first tee time out, take a seasoned caddie and ask the course superintendant to join you. With these two as company, you quickly learn all of the nuances of the golf course, are informed about every detail of the property, and the get the low down on the all of finest wineries within 10 minutes of CordeValle.
If you are considering making one pilgrimage to a truly world famous golf destination, and want to indulge in the finest golf, cuisine, wine & scenery, then the masterpieces found in and around the Monterey Peninsula and the Santa Cruz Mountains should be at the top of your list.
Originally written and published for Vegas Golfer Magazine and VEGAS Magazine – 2009