Resort Focus: The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay

Located just south of San Francisco, this glorious cliff-top resort, which features two terrific courses, should be on every golfer’s must-visit list

By: Tom Cunneff

With the golf world’s attention on the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club next week, this wonderful retreat on the Pacific just south of the club will no doubt appear on the radar. For good reason, too: In addition to a classy, country estate-like hotel set on a rocky bluff, the Old and Ocean courses are two very good layouts (the Ocean, especially) with plenty "it’s-good-to-be-alive" sea views. 

The first thing you notice after the half-hour drive from SFO through the Santa Cruz Mountains is how cool the air is—particularly in summer. Temps average between 55 and 65 year round. The second thing you notice is how different the six-story hotel is from the typical Ritz. It has much more of a relaxed, Cape Cod-style of architecture instead of the more formal affairs found at most Ritzes. That’s not to say it isn’t luxurious. With Egyptian cotton linens, marble-soaking tubs, large picture windows with stunning ocean views, the spacious 261 rooms (including separate guest houses) are the epitome of lavishness. The ground-floor rooms even have their own fire pits with the hotel providing gourmet s’more kits for a fee. There are a couple of communal fire pits, too.

The latter overlook the 418-yard 18th hole of the Old Course (pictured above), one of the most spectacular finishing holes you’ll find anywhere with its setting on the cliff and the ocean crashing 100 feet below. If the wind is really blowing from the northwest like it was the day I played it, you can try for a heroic drive over the creek that’s about 100 yards in front of the green. Alas, I didn’t catch my drive quite right and ended up in it.Ocean Course AerialThough the Pacific bursts into view on the previous par three, the other holes wind through a cozy neighborhood of homes and feature sharp doglegs and rolling, Cypress tree-lined fairways. Water comes into play on nine of the 18 holes, mostly on the backside. Except for the final two holes, the Arnold Palmer- and Francis Duane-designed course, which opened in 1973 and was remodeled by Arthur Hills in 1999, is completely different from the Ocean Course (above), which Hills also designed. Opened in 1997, the linksy layout is exposed to the prevailing wind off the ocean with most of the holes playing either down or into the wind, the exception being the last three holes, which are set right along the cliffs into a crosswind. 

The course, which has been the site of numerous tournaments, like the 2008 LPGA Samsung World Championship and three recent U.S. Open qualifiers, underwent a “links enhancement” a few years ago to make it more firm and fast so the ground game could really flourish. There are no homes or roadways to sully the magnificent setting with tawny native grasses lining the fairways and ocean views on just about every hole.

You’re never far from an ocean view at Half Moon Bay, be it at the cheery 19th hole, Mullins Bar & Grill, or the main restaurant, Navio, which has an open-air kitchen and features such local, farm-to-table ingredients that Executive Chef Xavier Salomon thanks the farmers by name in the menu each day. Although I wasn’t there on a Sunday to sample the famous brunch, I’m told it’s a must, even at $100 per person. It’s open to non-guests, however, so be sure to make your reservation when you book your room and arrive early for your seating to get a window table.

A visit to Half Moon Bay will leave you over the moon.


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