A short 23 miles from San Francisco, Half Moon Bay harbors an ambiance akin to the homeland of the sport by way of two more-than-worthwhile layouts.
Situated on an enamoring cliff side, the Half Moon Bay Golf Links and The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay appear suspended over the pacific, enticing visitors by way of endless aquatic horizons. Although separate entities, the two operations coordinate as smoothly as Fred and Ginger, kindly guiding pin seekers on their appropriate paths. Of the amenities on the properties (and there are many), of particular note is the assortment of golf on hand via the Old and Ocean Courses.
Designed by Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane, the Old Course welcomed its first foursome in 1973 and has been a mainstay on the must-play lists of locals since. Meandering through upscale homes and towering evergreens, the parklands-style layout culminates at a closing stretch that could easily be categorized among the world’s top ocean-side closers. The par-3 17th is the first hole that emerges from the hillside to a panorama of the crescent-shaped bay. Though not a particularly deceiving hole, the 17th does require strategic placement and the ability to block out the oceanic distraction. Arrival at No. 18 brings with it a degree of childish excitement upon sight of the fairway-covered cliffs bordering the hole. The echo of breaks crashing against the rock barrier serves as a background tune for club selection off the tee. Interesting on this par 4 is to observe golfers’ patterns as they prepare to play their approach shots. No matter how far opposite the cliffs their ball may lie; most can’t resist a stroll to the rim for a glance over the edge.
During the planning of No. 18, course architects were conflicted as to where the tee box should be placed to optimize what is now a vegetation-filled chasm in the fairway. The King, 44 years old at the time, wanted to ensure the hole was as strategically appealing as it was picturesque. Palmer’s method for achieving this goal was to gauge the hole’s difficulty based on his own abilities—if he couldn’t hit over the chasm, it was a fair bet that most players couldn’t either. Teeing up and hitting several shots to the crevice, the golfing great slowly crept away from the feature until even he couldn’t reach it in one shot. A photo capturing Arnie’s trial and error tee placement can be viewed inside Mullins Bar, located within the clubhouse.
Just steps away from the Old Course, the Arthur Hills-designed Ocean Course exudes an attitude less commonly explored by architects on this side of the pond. A deep contrast to the aesthetics of the Old Course, the links-style Ocean Course takes no part in residential-lined boundaries, cypress clusters or accessories that could reduce its vulnerability to pacific-riding wind patterns. Easily comparable to the century-old layouts of coastal Britain, the Ocean Course sets golfers on a four-and-a-half hour journey punctuated by bump-and-runs, stingers into the wind and crafty flop shots out of native grasses.
The Ocean Course stretches a little more than 6,600 yards from the tips yet can feel hundreds of yards longer with the onset of testing weather. The Ocean’s well-sculpted par-5s serve to salvage or spoil scores, depending upon the weather. High velocity winds can make the 514-yard, par-5 14th trying even though it boasts wall-to-wall turf guarded by fairways of other holes. An errant shot on this hole can’t hurt much except lengthen the distance to the pin.
As its name suggests, every corner of the Ocean Course overlooks the Pacific, making each hole exposed to it in some way. Holes 16 through 18 maintain the most intimate of relations with the perimeter of the bay. Considered the Ocean’s signature hole, the Par-3 17th forces golfer to carry an embankment of native plants as the tide pummels the cliffs below. If your round is played in the final beating of sunlight on a weekend, a bagpiper’s melody will serve as the soundtrack of the final putt on 18. Through the most intricate of details, the Ocean Course proves that a true links experience can be had just a short drive from the city by the bay and minus a transatlantic flight.Where to Stay
The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay provides a sensational mixture of service and vista-maximizing architecture for visitors of Half Moon Bay. With guestrooms overlooking both the ocean and the courses, guests can satisfy visual cravings for the surf framed by emerald-green fairways. Further enhancing the top-notch service and adding a bit of charm are the Ritz’s bellhops, donning knickers and caps reminiscent of the game’s traditional roots.
To Learn More
Half Moon Bay Golf Links, 650.726.1800, www.halfmoonbaygolf.com.
Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, 650.712.7000, www.ritzcarlton.com.