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Dave played Cypress Point on Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cypress Point Club

A Memory to last a lifetime

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Golf's Pearly Gates
Cypress Point Clubhouse
#4 - A look back at the 4th. All the bunkers are camouflaged.
#4 - A view from the tee
#5 - A look back down the hill. Again, no bunkers in sight.
#5 - This hole runs straight up the hill the whole way
#6 - My namesake caddie and I assess the situation
#7 - An excellent and well protected par 3
#9 - Even near-perfect tee shots like this one at the 289 yard par-4 9th can end up in a bit of trouble
#9 - Left to right: Me, Uncle Tom, and Dad. The 13th green is in the background left.
#10 - The last par 5 on the course
#14 - Evening at Cypress Point
#15 - Yeah, I'm bragging
#15 - It's hard to believe the next hole is more stunning
#15 - A view from the tee as evening wanes
#16 - Dad and Me
#16 - A look back at the tee
#17 - A look back from the green to my favorite par 4
#17 - Pops rips one down the middle
#18 - A shot of the last climb of the day - the last green is perched atop quite a severe slope

It's coming up on a year since I had the good fortune and the privilege to play one of the most esteemed courses on the planet. I remember when my dad told me that we would be playing. Always a man of few words, he had this smirk on his face and just said, "So, I think we might play Cypress." WHAT??? Here I am, smiling ear to ear, nearly jumping up and down, and he asks me if I would be able to get the time off work. Don't worry. If they don't let me go, I'll quit.

17-Mile Drive is like the Vegas Strip of golf. Instead of opulent hotels, bright lights and buzzing casinos, Pebble Beach features stunning mansions, scenic turnoffs, and - best of all - some of the best golf courses in the world. For golfers and nature lovers (less so for nature lovers), the 17-Mile Drive is one jaw-dropping view after another. As you drive past some of the great golf courses in the country (i.e. Monterey Peninsula Country Club, Spyglass Hill Golf Course, Pebble Beach Golf Links, etc), you can't help but think about pulling over, grabbing the sticks out of the trunk and teeing it up. That sentiment is never more apparent than when you drive past the sign that reads "Cypress Point Club - Members Only," something you would surely miss if you weren't looking for it. In fact, you might miss the whole course if you didn't know it was there.

Cypress Point Club enjoys one of the most exclusive settings on the Monterey Peninsula. It almost seems as though Alister MacKenzie used his mastery of camouflage in order to mask the views of the golf course from the public eye. Walking from the 14th green to the 15th tee requires that the golfer take a stroll across 17-Mile Drive (don't forget to look both ways; that would literally be the worst place in the world to get hit by a car...). The funny thing is, however, if you stand on the road and look in both directions, you can barely see the 14th green, and you can't see any of the 15th hole. 17-Mile even takes you right through the first hole, running perpendicular to MacKenzie's opener, about 40 yards in front of the tee. Good luck catching much of a glimpse of the course, though, which is hidden behind tall bushes. But hey, if you have a sunroof, you might be able to see a few tee balls fly overhead!

Instead of a gate, the entrance to Cypress Point Club is guarded by an immensely thick and palpable sense of anticipation. If I had been any more on the edge of my seat, I would have been fogging up the windshield with the tiny amount of breath that hadn't already been taken away from me. Pulling in to the ultra-modest parking lot gave us the first real look at the pristine conditions of not only the playing surfaces, but the pro shop and clubhouse alike. Seeing the looks of excitement on my father and uncle's faces confirmed what we and countless other golfers had only dreamed of before. Here we are. Cypress Point. (Now just remember to breathe, Dave...)

After meeting Reilly, the assistant pro, we laced up in the also ultra-modest (seeing a pattern here?) locker room. After putting our stuff in Clint Eastwood's locker and gazing at all the framed history on the walls, we proceeded to the pro shop to drop bank on apparel and other souvenirs. About $700 later (lots of gifts...), we hit some putts on the practice green and crossed over 17-Mile to enjoy the practice range as well. Only accompanied guests are allowed to use the practice range.

Cypress has every right and opportunity in the world to be a stuffy, pretentious, ultra-high class club. One of the things that makes it one of the best golf environments on earth, though, is that it doesn't come off as any of those things. Cypress is one of the most exclusive clubs in the world from the outside, but on the inside you feel as welcome as if you were paying dues every month. The only semblance of exclusivity on the inside is spawned from the fact that entrance to the clubhouse requires a coat and tie (I wish I knew beforehand... I would have brought them), but this is a common occurrence at many highly regarded clubs around the country.

OK, enough about the amenities, let's get to the golf course. The brainchild of environmental conservationist and developer Samuel F. B. Morse and made possible by the relentless efforts of 1921 U.S. Women's Amateur champion Marion Hollins, Cypress Point Club began to take shape in 1926 and welcomed its first golfers on August 11, 1928. Hollins, hired by Morse to sell the idea of a golf course and real estate development site on the Monterey Peninsula, originally enlisted the expertise of Seth Raynor to design and engineer the would-be prestigious golf course. When Raynor died of pneumonia in 1926, Hollins turned to Alister MacKenzie, the man who lives eternally in the fairways and greens of more top rated golf courses in the world than any other architect. After years of diligent work and sculpting of earth, MacKenzie's gem was complete - but only after a bit of persuasion on the part of Marion Hollins. Originally, MacKenzie didn't think that the long shot over the ocean on the present-day 16th hole could be a par 3. It was too far. Only after Hollins dropped one down and smacked a tee ball right on to the potential green site was MacKenzie convinced to create the greatest golf hole in the world.

Stepping on to the first tee, you have a view of some of the most spectacular terrain a golf course architect could ever dream of sculpting. The only thing more obvious than that fact are the butterflies that have conveniently decided to violently and incessantly flap their wings in the depths of your stomach.

I could literally talk about every hole on this course with high regard and describe how each of them highlights different aspects of the genius of Alister MacKenzie; there is literally not one throw-away hole on the course. The worst hole on this course is better than 95% of the holes I've played anywhere else.

Risk-reward is the theme of a round at Cypress Point Club. There always seems to be some sort of decision to be made when standing over a shot. Whether its how much carry to cut off of your tee shot on the second hole or whether to go for the green on the 16th, there is always a battle of id vs. ego raging in the golfer's mind. One of the best risk-reward opportunities is the short par 4 9th, measuring just 289 yards. Longer hitters can either hit 6-iron and play it safe to the fairway that lies considerably lower than the tee and the green, or they could take out the big stick and try to fly it on. The prevailing winds help the golfer's efforts, as this hole runs away from the ocean.

Three design points jumped out at me while playing Cypress: the camouflaged terrain, the green complexes, and the routing. MacKenzie is the master of disguise. If you ever get the chance to play his courses, especially Cypress, look back on the hole from the green. You're likely to be surprised. There are plenty of occasions where the hole looks completely different from different angles. The best example is the par 4 4th. From the tee, the hole looks like it has more bunker than fairway. A well placed tee shot (driver not required) will afford you an opportunity to hit this slightly elevated green. When you stand on the green and look back at the hole, though, you see no bunkers. It's quite a testament to the keen eye and skill of MacKenzie. Another point to consider is how he laid the 7th, 8th, 9th, 12th and 13th holes so beautifully in to the dunes. There are numerous occasions where it takes some concentration to decipher where the natural dune ends and MacKenzie's bunkering begins.

The green complexes are second to none. Not only do the undulations and the numerous false fronts and elevated greens provide plenty of short shot-making opportunities, but the poa annua greens make for some interesting putts. Tom Kite was once quoted as saying "They say everything breaks to the Ocean at Cypress Point. Probably the Atlantic Ocean." I can honestly say that if it weren't for my caddy, I would have had about 10 more putts than I did. I would tell him that I thought a putt was breaking about six inches right-to-left, and he would say "Yeah, six inches sounds good, but its left-to-right."

Perhaps the most interesting thing to note about Cypress Point is the way that MacKenzie routed the course. Unlike almost any other course you will see, Cypress gets to a par of 72 by way of 37 and 35 on the front and back nines, respectively. MacKenzie also provides back-to-back par 5s in the 5th and 6th holes, back-to-back short par 4s in the 8th and 9th, and back-to-back par 3s on the inward nine in the ever-famous 15th and 16th holes. The scoring needs to be done early at Cypress, with 3 par 5s in the first 6 holes, and the last par 5 of the day on the 10th. As the course traverses down sand dunes and toward the ocean, racing away from its high point at the 5th green in the depths of the Del Monte Forest, the holes become a little tougher. A tough tee shot on 11, a highly underrated 12th, a 13th green that seems like it was built on a beach, and one of the tougher tee shot/approach shot couplings in the Golden State on the 14th all serve to test the golfers game as well as his temper (if a golfer dares to reveal his temper on such a course as this, though, may he be smited promptly by the golf gods.).

On to the best 1-2-3 punch in golf...

The 15th at Cypress is sometimes called 16's baby brother. Speaking as someone's baby brother, I can tell you that that moniker has NO business being attached to this golf hole. No baby brother is this cool. I don't care if we're talking about Elvis or the Fonz or Fred Astaire. I don't know if any of them were even little brothers... but you get my point. The 15th is a short par 3 over a tiny inlet of ocean, and is probably the second most scenic hole in all the world. Equipped with the interestingly shaped and well bunkered green that the long 16th can't afford to have, the 135 yard 15th demands accuracy from a short iron, and either lots of skill or lots of luck from a wedge if the green is not hit.

And just a short little walk under a few low-hanging cypress trees will bring you TO...

The 16th at Cypress is... is... ::insert whatever sound a jaw makes when it violently slams to the ground:: It is everything it's talked up to be. When we played the 16th it was nearing sundown, and the view was obscured somewhat by the setting sun that hung over the cliffs that adorn the back of the green and the 17th tee. While it was unfortunate that we didn't have the view that we had come to know so well from the pictures, it was every bit as amazing as I imagined. Thankfully, I hit a solid 3-wood to about 20 feet and walked away with par. (Our host told me that my kick-in birdie on 15 and my 3-wood to 20 feet on 16 were the best back-to-back tee shots he had ever seen since becoming a member there. I'm not bragging or anything, but... Ok, yeah I'm bragging... Eat it.)

The 17th is every bit as scenic as the 16th, and once again requires you to send your tee ball on a trans-oceanic flight. Another excellent example of risk-reward, the 17th gives long hitters the option to play to the right of the cypress trees that sit in the middle of the fairway, leaving an unobstructed approach of under 75 yards to the large green that snuggles tightly up to the ocean.

Some people think that the 18th at Cypress is a throw away hole. I don't think they could be any more wrong. While it may be true that the hole lacks the awe-inspiring views of its three predecessors, the 18th requires that the golfer stay focused; the fat lady has most assuredly yet to sing. Her stage make-up isn't even done yet. Originally, the tee for the 18th hole was supposed to sit on a rock out on the ocean, about 25 yards back from the present tee. Maybe MacKenzie thought he had already put people through too much sheer awesomeness; after all, he wouldn't want a bunch of heart attacks on his conscience, right? The finishing hole demands an accurate tee shot down the left side followed by a careful approach to the most steeply sloped green on the course. I can attest to how incredibly scary a downhill putt is on this green. Stay below the hole.

I can't begin to explain what a round at the Cypress Point Club is like. I can sit here and write about the course and show you pictures and videos and tell you all about how Alister MacKenzie created heaven on earth in the form of a golf course. The truth of the matter is, though, that Cypress Point is something that cannot be put in to words. It is above words. And pictures. And videos. It holds you captive. It makes you forget about golf almost entirely. It makes you realize that there are some places in the world that are just special - and this is most definitely one of them. I told my sister (an avid non-golfer and scoffer at all things golf), that she would have loved this place. You don't need to appreciate golf in order to appreciate the spoils of MacKenzie and Mother Nature's perfect collaboration. All you need are a set of eyeballs and a large reserve of deep breaths.

I'll end with two things. First, a quote from MacKenzie that is printed on the back of Cypress Point's scorecard, and second, an excerpt from the end of the journal entry I wrote soon after my round at Cypress Point.

"I do not expect anyone will ever have the opportunity of constructing another course like Cypress Point, as I do not suppose anywhere in the world is there such a glorious combination of rocky coast, sand dunes, pine woods, and cypress trees." -Alister MacKenzie, 1932

"We all shake hands with each other in the post-sunset disappearing daylight, all in complete awe of the past 5 hours, euphoric and donning dumb, ear-to-ear smiles. Absolutely the best, most incredible, most beautiful, most fulfilling round of golf I truly believe I will ever play." -Dave Fudacz, November 21, 2009

Special thanks to RR for a generous invitation and a memory to last a lifetime.