Semi-private Pasatiempo Golf Club, Alister MacKenzie‘s masterpiece in Santa Cruz, California, is open to the public and one of the most architecturally sound golf courses in the world. The back nine in particular stands out with its many spectacular holes. One that is often overlooked is the par four 14th, which stretches to 429 yards.
The strategy – The 14th’s dominant feature is its swale that snakes across the fairway. The swale has massive scale and is a natural extension of the ravines that dominate Pasatiempo’s back nine. It is about six yards wide and eight feet deep. It’s part of the fairway, but serves as a hazard for the hole. A ball that finds the swale will leave a blind shot and an uneven lie. It runs across three-quarters of the fairway on a diagonal, driving the strategy of the hole. It’s one of the most unique, distinct and thought-provoking features that I have ever come across.
The aggressive and ideal line off the tee is up the far left edge of the fairway and close to the ravine that guards the left. This requires a near 300 yard carry from the back tee, but it provides the ideal angle to approach the narrow and well-protected green. Every yard off this line provides a shorter carry and safer shot but a worse angle in. Clearing the ditch on the left side will afford players with a premium chance at birdie, but failure makes for a tough par.
MacKenzie gave the less adventurous a bypass for both the swale and the greenside bunkers. While players who choose to avoid the swale are unlikely to get home in two, they are allowed a safe and hazard free route to the green. A shot up the right side off the tee followed by a shot left of the front fronting right bunker will leave a nice chip to the green and a chance at par.
Not just for strategy – Many architects would have looked at the swale as an eye sore and worked to hide it through earth moving or bunkering. Mackenzie used restraint, imagination and understanding the swale’s other function, drainage. When the rain comes, it quickly funnels into the ditch and off the course into the ravine.
The 14th showcases Alister MacKenzie’s genius. The swale is not only a strategic design feature but also a functional design feature.