Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cypress Point Golf Club



The Cypress Point Golf Club (ranked #2 in the world) is located on the Monterey Peninsula between Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill on the 17-Mile Drive. This private course has only 250 members, 75 of whom are local. Playing Cypress Point is a dream come true.

After all the good golf I have played, it seems odd to call playing Cypress Point a dream come true because I could say that about any number of the courses I have played or trips I have taken. I'm a lucky man. However, playing Cypress Point really is a once in a lifetime experience. It is a tour-de-force and there is something seductive about playing here. It has an aura about it that almost no other course has, which makes it the zenith of a golfer's experience.

Arriving at Cypress Point you have a real sense of occasion. Once you drive beyond the 'Members Only' sign, the sense of gravitas starts to hit you.



CP 15-16
The distinctive Cypress trees,
the walk from the 15th green to the 16th tee starts by walking under here

I have generally had good weather on my golf travels and been very fortunate, although occasionally I've had to play in rain or heavy wind or cold. As the post office motto goes, "neither rain nor sleet nor gloom of night" has stopped me from playing golf. At Cypress, the weather conditions I played in can best be described as ridiculous. A temperature of 72 degrees with a one-to-two club wind; a cloudless, brilliant day with no fog or humidity. Pilots have a term for the weather conditions I played in: "severe clear." The visibility was unlimited.

Normally I like to write all of the material in the blog myself. With regard to Cypress Point, I have also chosen to quote extensively from the works of others as well, who do a good job of capturing the essence of the place.

I didn't realize that the 17-Mile Drive goes right through Cypress. This scenic tourist highway meanders around the Monterey Peninsula offering stunning views. As you drive along the 17-Mile Drive you travel along a road right between the ocean and the 14th hole. In fact, you also drive right through the first fairway later down the same road. The tee shot on the first hole plays blind from the top of the hill near the clubhouse over a high hedgerow and the 17-Mile Drive, to a fairway set down the hill.

Cypress 14th from tee
The view from the 14th tee with the 17-Mile Drive


Alister Mackenzie, the architect of Cypress Point, said, after seeing the property: "It would be difficult to over-estimate the great possibilities of a golf course at Cypress Point. I am fully acquainted with the world's greatest golf courses and have no hesitation in saying that in the beauty of its surrounding, the magnificence of its sand dunes, its spectacular sea views, its glorious Cypress trees - there is no opportunity of making [a golf course] which should be superior to any other. Cypress Point has interested me more than any land I have ever had to deal with. For the sake of my reputation I should like to make you the best golf links in existence."

I had the first tee jitters pretty bad at Cypress because it is such a special place, but was thrilled to hit a good first drive.



The second hole, seen above, is a par five that turns inland, with a forced carry over a ravine to the tops of the dunes into a narrow landing area, because hitting too far to the right is out of bounds. The further you hit it to the left, the better off you are but brings the ravine into play.

Cypress 4th

The 4th hole at Cypress

One of the many ingenious things Mackenzie did at Cypress was to use his camouflage techniques to full effect. Look at the two pictures of the 4th hole above and below. As you play the hole, there is a legion of bunkers. Notice in the picture below looking backward from the green, you can't see any of them. Almost all of the holes at Cypress are like this: a lot of intimidating bunkering that forces you to think strategically, yet no sign of all the trouble when looking back.

Cypress 4th back

Looking backward from the 4th green


The collection of par threes at Cypress are as good as any in the world. The par three third hole, below, gives you a great sense of how good they are. This 156 yard hole plays slightly downhill but with a cross-wind normally blowing, club selection is very tricky. Do you think any of those bunkers come into your swing thought as you play the hole?

Cypress 3rd Green


The par three 3rd hole


The par three 7th hole, below, is also a ridiculously good hole. It plays 170 yards uphill and at an angle to the tee box. The green is lightning fast if you are above the hole. As our caddy said of a putt down the hill: "code red."



Cypress 7th green
The par three 7th hole

Similar to Augusta, pictures of Cypress don't fully do it justice, since they flatten out the terrain, which is fairly hilly. The 491 yard par five 5th hole, below, plays uphill. Also, this picture highlights how artful the bunkers are at Cypress. The way the bunkering was done on this hole, it looks like the entire right side of the hole is unplayable when in fact it is the preferred side to approach the green from. Again, this illustrates Mackenzie's ability to visually fool the golfer and why he is considered one of the game's greatest designers.

Cypress 5th Fairway

The par five 5th hole


The routing at Cypress Point is another impressive aspect of the course, with a constant change in direction and as good as any in the world. Mackenzie took a bit of an unconventional approach and broke several rules while designing Cypress Point, which is a good thing. For example, there are many elements to the course that aren't normally considered good design: back-to-back par fives (5th and 6th holes), back-to-back short par fours (8th and 9th holes) and back-to-back par threes (15th and 16th holes). There are blind shots on the 1st, 8th and 18th holes. You also have to hit over hedges (1st hole) and tress (17th and 18th holes).

The picture of the sixth green below illustrates why the inland holes at Cypress are so good with the effective use of the sand dunes. On this particular green, as on several others, the slope of the green can fool the golfer who has never played it before. One of the players in our group hit his shot short of this green. The green slopes back to front and the caddies started to yell for the ball to get down, which we couldn't understand. You should want a ball to get up onto the green if it slopes back to front. In this instance, because of the grain, the ball shot to the back of the green, as if defying the laws of physics. The putt back down the green (a pretty good downhill putt) played as if it were an uphill putt. Amazing.



Cypress 6th green
The 6th green at Cypress



Holes eight and nine are short par fours at 369 and 283 yards, respectively. Eight doglegs to the right and offers a blind tee shot. Once you are in the fairway and look back, there is no sight of the tee box you hit from. Nine plays downhill but to the best protected green on the course. I don't know if these two holes had any influence on Coore and Crenshaw, but they reminded me of the short back to back par fours at Sand Hills (7th and 8th).

The stretch of holes starting at thirteen and ending at seventeen is the best stretch of consecutive holes in the world. It has no equal. No equivalent in all of golf. This amazing stretch starts standing on the tee at thirteen which feels a bit like standing on the 17th tee at the National Golf Links of America. That is, you're on top of the world, with the tantalizing hole below you and the azure water out ahead in the distance. Like the 17th at National, the thirteenth at Cypress is a medium length par four with great risk-reward choices.

Cypress 13


The thirteenth green with Monterey Bay behind

Fourteen is a world-class dogleg right hole and one of my favorites. It plays from an elevated tee to a fairway that gets progressively more narrow as it rises up the hill between the trees. Before hitting your tee shot you have to consciously focus on golf because the beauty of the scenery is so inspiring.

Cypress 14th fwy

The 14th hole at Cypress Point

Notice how the sculpted look of the ancient Cypress trees helps to frame the hole and add to the distinctive look. The hole plays longer than its 393 yards due to the elevation and the wind off the bay.

Cypress 14 fairway

The 14th fairway

The elevated, cloistered green is perched on a ridge overlooking the bay. The green is relatively small as are most at Cypress Point. This picture has a particularly tricky pin placement. Balls hit to the rear third of the green tend to trickle off the back due to the grain of the grass growing toward the water. The hole is not wanting in any regard!

Cypress 14th green


The 14th green

To steal a phrase from one of my loyal readers, the 15th at Cypress Point is the sexiest hole in golf. You expect to be blown away by the 16th hole because it gets so much exposure. Sixteen is one of the most photographed holes in the world and well known. The short par three 15th hole is less well known but equally spectacular, sitting in a little alcove high up on the headlands. It is beyond description tucked on a secluded ridge encircled by Cypress trees and a craggy rock formation.


CP 15th-2
The par three 15th hole at Cypress Point

I know some of these photos actually look fake. But they are real and have not been enhanced or changed in any way. It really is almost too good to be true. The fifteenth hole is only 130 yards long but the green is obviously well bunkered and slopes back to front. On this stretch of the course, it is difficult to concentrate because the surroundings look almost surreal.

CO 15th

The par three 15th at Cypress Point

The 16th hole is overwhelming and it lives up to its fierce reputation. The proportions of the hole are as epic as the setting. It's 218 yards of carry. As you see in the picture of sixteen, the green looks far away. That's because it is. You can lay-up on the 16th by hitting to a narrow fairway area to the left of the green. I didn't come to Cypress Point to lay up and I lost my only two balls of an otherwise good round trying to hit it, unsuccessfully. I walked away giddy about it none-the-less.

Cypress 16th hole

16th hole, Cypress Point Club


The 17th hole is similar to the 18th at Pebble Beach but the bay is on the right instead of the left as you stand on the tee. You hit from a high cliff down to the fairway at an angle, over water. Because it follows one of the most famous holes in golf, it is also an underrated hole. On any other course it would easily be the signature hole.

CP 17th hole

Cypress Point 17th hole

The second shot on the 386 yard seventeenth plays over the stand of trees situated in the middle of the fairway. Unless you place your drive perfectly on either side of the trees, you have to hit over them to get to the green.

Cp 17 toward greeen


Cypress Point 17th hole from the fairway


Jimmy Demaret called Cypress Point the best seventeen hole course in the world due to a weak 18th hole. I actually don't agree with him. I liked the 18th hole. It's a bit quirky, as Cypress can be. The tee is along a ridge backing up to the bay. You have to hit your shot over trees and the landing area is blind. The card shows the hole as being only 326 yards long, but it plays much longer because the second shot plays severely uphill. There is a big cypress tree blocking out almost the entire left side of the green forcing you to have to shape your shot off an uneven lie. The green slopes back to front and also has a couple of spots where you could end up with a "code red" putt if you're above the hole. Sound like a bad hole to you?

CP 18th from green backward


The 18th hole looking from the green backwards

Herbert Warren Wind wrote about Cypress Point in the Walker Cup program, which was held here in 1981:

"It should be emphasized that Cypress Point possesses a diversity of terrain possibly unmatched by any other course. It offers not only an unforgettable stretch of cliff-lined holes but some excellent orthodox seaside holes, a few stunning dune-land holes and an arresting sequence of holes that climb inland into hilly terrain, their fairways cut through a forest of Monterey pines. Back in 1929, Bobby Jones, who had come to California to play in the the United States Amateur at Pebble Beach, found the time to get in two rounds at the newly-opened Cypress Point layout. Asked what he thought of the two courses, Jones, with his usual acumen and diplomacy, replied, 'Pebble Beach is more difficult, but Cypress Point is more fun."

CP 15th tee out



The view from the 15th tee with the sixteenth hole in the distance


Selwyn Herson, who completed playing the top 100 golf courses in the world in 2004 sums Cypress Point up perfectly in one sentence: "Playing in heaven: Six holes in the trees, six holes in the sand dunes, six holes by the sea."

If you are ever talking golf with someone and they don't think that Cypress Point ranks as one of the top three golf courses in the world, quietly take the scissors and letter opener off their desk, since they are clearly daft and you are in danger. They belong in one of those white jackets with the crossing sleeves in front.

Cypress Clubhouse


The Cypress Point Clubhouse

Henry Longhurst, the grand master of English golf writing, wrote eloquently about Cypress Point: "Of all the clubhouses I know, I think I should put Cypress Point in the first half-dozen. Perched up near the end of the promontory it opens on both sides to a view of the ocean pounding away on the rocks below. Inside, the simplicity is in strange contrast to the magnificence of so many American Clubs...a golf club and nothing more."

Cypress LR



Interior of the locker room
Cypress Locker Room


The accolades of Cypress Point are all encompassing. The genius of the routing, the uniqueness of the Cypress trees, the artfulness of the bunkers, the understated clubhouse, the color of the sand, the color of the water in the bay, the ingeniousness of the traps, the views from the cliffs and the ridiculous stretch of holes from thirteen through seventeen. And, at only 6509 yards from the back tees, proof that a course doesn't have to be long to be brilliant.

For those golfers who aren't as pathlogical as I am and want to set a more modest goal than playing the top 100 courses in the world, I offer simple advice. Try to play Cypress Point. It encompasses all that is great in the world's golf courses into eighteen holes.

Post Script

I have now finished playing all eight courses ranked in the top 100 located in the state of California. Did I continue my tradition while in Cailfornia of having an In-N-Out Burger? As Sara Palin says, "you betcha!"