The opening of any golf course represents an ending as well as a beginning—the end of a long struggle to identify the land, to carve the course out of its raw potential. But Pasatiempo represents a more poignant end than most, because it was the last great course of the Roaring ’20s, opening just six weeks before the beginning of the Great Depression.
The founder was Marion Hollins, a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated age. She was a prominent East Coast socialite who had abandoned the genteel life for the hurly-burly of championship golf. Of all her projects, Pasatiempo was the dearest to her heart. She timed the official opening of the club for September 8, 1929, just days before the first national championship played on the West Coast—the 1929 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, down the road. She also made sure Bobby Jones played in an opening day foursome with British Amateur champion Cyril Tolley, Glenna Collett Vare and herself.
Much of Pasatiempo’s cachet was an extension of Hollins’ exuberant spirit. She once wagered with two friends that the first of them to make a million dollars would pay the others $25,000 each. Upon selling her interest in the Kettleman Oil Fields for $2.5 million, she not only paid up on the longstanding wager, but also organized a banquet at Pasatiempo for the occasion and hid the checks under her friends’ dinner plates.
On another occasion, she and MacKenzie had a disagreement as to whether the 16th at Cypress Point could be routed with a full carry to the green. She took her clubs out, teed up and hit a ball across what is perhaps the most famous and terrifying chasm in golf. The green stands where her ball landed.
At Pasatiempo, MacKenzie refined the formula he later applied to Augusta National: stiff par 3s, chess-like par 4s and heroic par 5s; success requires a golfer to attack the corners, judge the roll and decipher the lightning-fast greens. He emphasized roll, created subtle defenses with trapping and mounding and routed the course so that golfers played over the hills and into them rather than through the winding valleys, which mark so many British links courses.
MacKenzie always stated that the 395-yard 16th was his favorite hole in golf. One begins in a valley and faces a sharply uphill drive that must draw expertly to the left around a blind corner. Here the golfer faces a mid-iron across a chasm to a huge expanse of green draped over the slope of the next hill. Short left leads into the barranca; short right into a scurvy bunker. Anything above the hole leaves one almost certainly putting off the green.
For all the splendor of the 16th, the 11th requires an even higher level of skill. A sharply uphill 384-yard par 4, the green is 60 yards left of the correct driving line and across a winding barranca. A dead-straight and lengthy drive leaves an uphill mid-iron across the barranca to an elegantly defended green site. The green is pitched forward and again, anything above the hole is almost certainly dead, as the ensuing putt will roll off the green and up to 40 yards back down the hill.
Pasatiempo’s reputation is forever assured by its importance to Alister MacKenzie. Many were his courses, but Pasatiempo was his home—his house still stands today on the 6th fairway. He died January 6, 1934, in his sleep. His ashes were scattered by airplane over the golf course.