Course review: Cypress Point

Standing in the shadown of giants: In front of the 16th hole at Cypress Point, perhaps the most famous one-shot hole in the world.

Standing in the shadown of giants: In front of the 16th hole at Cypress Point, perhaps the most famous one-shot hole in the world.

Course Overview: Cypress Point Club (Pebble Beach, California)

Designer: Alister Mackenzie

Writer’s note: This overview was written several years ago. I repost it given the recent comparisons between Cypress and Cabot Cliffs. 

One doesn’t review Cypress Point, in the same way one doesn’t review The Old Course, or Pine Valley, or Merion. These courses are too near perfection to be dissected like some modern near-do-well, or even an almost classic of the Golden Age. Cypress Point is, to put it bluntly, among a handful of courses that can be considered among the best in the world. Reviewing it would be like commenting on the perfection of The Beatles’ Revolver, or offering a critique of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Both are among the best in their relative mediums — so why bother?

And so it is with Cypress Point.

My arrival at the club came early in the morning, and the day was bright and sunny, with dew still resting on the fairways. The club was busy, with golfers milling around the tee and putting green just outside the locker room and pro shop.

One gathers a sense of the scale of Cypress on the first hole. The fairways are wide and the greens are relatively subtle — no big Augusta movement to be seen here, or as found in other examples of Mackenzie’s work.

The second hole is a mid-length par five, with a tee shot playing over a ridge to a fairway that runs down and slightly to the left. It plays away from the seemingly ever-present ocean and leads to a well-treed area.

This is followed by a relatively straight-forward one-shot hole, to a well-bunkered green. It is the first of a series of holes that are relatively subtle and quite strategic. To my way of thinking, the course starts to come into its own on the sixth hole, a downhill par-5 to a green set in front of a dune. To the right of the sixth sits the par-3 seventh, climbing up a hill to a steep, small green.

The downhill approach to the sixth green with a large dune as a backdrop.

The ninth hole is much discussed because it is short, but tenacious. At only 289-yards off the tee, the hole is protected by an expansive of sand at the front and a bunker complex built into a dune at the back with a sliver of green in between. Driving the green is s low percentage option, but laying up anywhere but down the right makes the green very difficult to hit. A short par-4 to rival the 10th at Riviera.

I wasn’t blown away by the 10th, an average par-5 that plays away from the ocean, but the 11th hole, at 440 yards and downhill is all-world. The fairway is dominated by two bunkers about 290 yards off the tee, both of which are well within play. The green is terrrific, perched beneath a dune and well bunkered. This is surely one of the most challenging holes on the course.

The course plays through a series of great par-4s before heading uphill to the two-shot 14th hole. The routing is ingenious, tantalizing golfers with views of the ocean before moving uphill to the 14th, which has a fairway surrounded by large cypress trees. Walking off the back of the green (one of the more intriguing ones on the course, with a back shelf where our pin was that day), golfers emerge on the ocean at the short par-3 15th, the first half of the most famous par-3 combo in the world.

Truthfully the 15th is a wedge to a small green surrounded by bunkers. If you took out the ocean inlet in front of the green, this hole might actually appear simple. But the small putting surface, the ocean and the bunkers all make it more challenging than it would appear. If there was ever an instance of the setting increasing the difficulty of a hole, this is it.

The 16th is one of the best examples of heroic golf in the world, a 230-yard tee shot over the Pacific Ocean to a large green solidly bunkered. There is room to the left (as I found out when I drew my tee shot) and balls making dry land on this side of the green still have a fair chance at par. In fact, in a stiff wind, playing left may be the only option golfers have.

While everyone talks about the 16th, the 17th, a par-4 with a tree and bunkers in the middle of the fairway, might actually be the stronger hole. Not long at 386-yards, it demands a strategic shot hugging the ocean, or a l0nger drive playing to the left side of the fairway. The green can be more safely approached from the left, but the easier approach is down the right side, though that shot must fly a chasm that then falls to the ocean below.

The 18th is a letdown for most. The scale is different than most of the course, much narrower, with an exacting tee shot to a slight fairway. The approach is then hard uphill to a delightful green. It is slightly out of character with the other holes, but it is actually a strong closer.

Thankfully Cypress is more than just an experience — it is great golf as well. The routing is smart, engaging and easy walked, and Mackenzie teases golfers with the ocean before bringing them to the brink on the final group of holes. It is a course well worthy of study and I hope to be so lucky as to witness it again in my lifetime


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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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