Poppy Hills (Pebble Beach, CA)

Poppy Hills is one of the best public tracks in California, but gets overlooked in favor of the other high profile courses in Pebble Beach.

I truly believe that if Poppy Hills was located anywhere else in the US, it would rank as one of the top public courses in the country.  It’s a beautiful course with a great layout…the kind of place where you remember every hole after one round.

But Poppy Hills’ *problem* is that its located in Pebble Beach, the greatest golf region in the world.  As a result, it gets overshadowed by top shelf courses like Pebble Beach and Spyglass.  Poppy Hills is one of the best public courses I’ve ever played, but it’s probably the sixth or seventh best course in its area code.

Even though the other courses in the area are the big stars, I highly recommend squeezing in a visit to Poppy Hills during any trip to Pebble Beach.  Here’s why…

The skinny

Poppy Hills is located in the hills of Pebble Beach above the Pacific Ocean on California’s central coast.  It was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and opened in 1986.  The standard green fee for visitors is $225 dollars, which is pretty expensive (though cheaper than the other courses nearby).  There’s a big exception though: members of the Northern California Golf Association (like yours truly), which is headquartered at Poppy Hills, can play for $75 during the week and $100 on weekends.  It’s a steal for such a great course.  What’s more is that guests of NCGA members can play for $102 during the week and $130 during the weekend.  So if you’re visiting, try to find a NCGA member to play with.

What’s good about Poppy Hills?

The layout:  Poppy Hills is far and away my favorite RTJII design.  Three years ago, the course underwent a big renovation where, among other things, Jones got rid of the rough and made the course look more natural.  One way to describe the course now is the Pinehurst of the west coast.  The course weaves its way through forests of cypress and pine trees and blends in beautifully to the surrounding terrain.  The fairways are wide and there is no rough, but instead large waste areas beyond the fairways.  The aren’t too many forced carries either, so it’s a good course for the average golfer.  It’s also a tough course for low handicappers.  There are a lot of risk/reward shots, and several of the greens have wicked breaks to them.  It’s simply an all-around great course.

Towering trees and sprawling waste areas are hallmarks of Poppy Hills, as can be seen here on the redan par-3 15th hole.

The location:  It’s in Pebble Beach!  Perfect weather, beautiful trees, deer on the course, and even a glimpse of the ocean on a few holes.  What else could you want?!?!

The price:  At the NCGA rate, Poppy Hills is one of the best values that can be found in California, if not the country.

What’s bad about Poppy Hills? 

The pace of play:  On weekends, Poppy Hills can get crowded and slow, the byproduct of having an great course that is accessible and also a pleasure to walk.  To add to matters, the course marshalls are real pests.  I played early one weekend morning and on several holes on the front nine, the marshall would park and watch over us like a hawk, only to tell us we were playing at a good pace and to keep it up.  It was a little annoying.

Specific holes

Here are my comments on several specific holes at Poppy Hills.  All yardages are from the 6,672 “four poppy” tees, which have a rating/slope of 73.0 and 140.  The course stretches out to a little over 7,000 yards from the championship tees (74.4/144).  It may be tempting to play the tips, but I recommend that even low handicappers stick to the four poppy tees (or shorter).  Their challenging enough, and it’s better to keep up the pace of play.

First hole, 416 yards:  The greatness of Poppy Hills begins on its opening hole, a tough but awesome par-4.  The hole doglegs to the right and the fairway slopes from left to right.  There’s both a big bunker and deep ravine right of the fairway.  So definitely favor the left side off the tee, but be careful not to go through the fairway.  It’s a tough tee shot, and taking less than driver is not a bad idea.  On the approach shot, there’s a downslope just in front of the green, so again, taking a club less and letting the ball run onto the green is a smart play.

There’s a little downslope short and left of the first green that will funnel an approach shot toward the center of the green.

Second hole, 189 yards:  Another tough tee shot awaits on the beautiful but demanding par-3 second.  Golfers must carry a deep ravine to get to the green.  Anything short of the green risks running back toward the ravine.  There’s also a deep bunker guarding the left side.  It’s better to miss a little long than a little short.  The green has different levels and makes for a tough two-putt if you’re in the wrong spot.

Short and left are bad news on the par-3 second.

Third hole, 431 yards:  The drive on this long par-4 looks tighter than it actually is, there is lots of room out there in the fairway.  The green is long and skinny, so dialing in the right yardage on the approach shot is critical.  Chasing an approach shot onto the green is not a bad option.

The tall Monterey Pines surrounding the third hole make the fairway look tighter than it actually is.  
The green on the third is long, narrow, and undulating.  It’s tough to get an approach shot close.

Ninth hole, 519 yards:  Poppy Hills has four incredible par-5s.  The second one you’ll encounter is the ninth, which has risk/reward shots the whole way and is about as entertaining as a golf hole can be.  There are two fairway bunkers on the left part of the fairway, and the fairway slopes to the left, so aim well right off the tee.  Alternatively, you can take a shorter club off the tee short of the bunkers and play the hole as a three-shotter.  In front of the green runs a small creek that comes in diagonally from the right side.  Any approach shot has to carry this creek.  And if you’re laying up, you’ll want to favor the left side so you can get closer to the green without going into the creek.  To the right of the green toward the back is a large slope, and it’s possible to play to the top of the slope and let your ball trickle down to the green.

A creek cuts in front of the ninth green.  The hill to the right of the green is a safe spot to aim, and there’s a good chance your ball will roll down onto the green.

10th hole, 514 yards:  The 10th is another fabulous par-5.  Like the ninth fairway, the fairway on 10 slopes to the left, but this time there’s a fairway bunker on the right side.  As you approach the green, there’s a pond to the left and a lone, beautiful pine tree next to the pond.  A single bunker guards the middle of a wide green.  On your approach, either take an extra club to get over the bunker or aim to the right, since anything missing short and left of the green could run back into the pond.

What should you do from the middle of the 10th fairway?  I’m not sure, but definitely don’t miss short and left.

12th hole, 410 yards:  The 12th hole is a downhill, straightaway par-4 where it’s critical to keep it straight of the tee (right is OB).  But what I really love about the hole is that it’s essentially a mirror image of the famous opening hole at Pasatiempo.  Poppy’s 12th faces north with views over Monterey Bay to the Santa Cruz mountains, the nesting place of Pasatiempo.  The first at Pasatiempo, in turn, is another straight, downhill par-4 that faces south over Monterey Bay with views of Monterey and the surrounding hills.  If you had a good telescope, you could probably locate one hole while standing on the other.  It’s very charming to see once you’ve played both courses.

The 12th at Poppy Hills, with a view to the north over Monterey Bay to Santa Cruz…
And the famous first hole at Pasatiempo, with a view to the south over the same bay toward Monterey.  I love California!!!

14th hole, 369 yards:  The 14th is one of the shorter par-4s at Poppy Hills, but also one of the trickiest.  It’s a sharp dogleg to the left, with two fairway bunkers on the left side.  There is a huge amount of room on the right side of the fairway, but that leaves a longer approach shot and worse angle to the shallow green.

There is seemingly acres of fairway to the right on the 14th, but it’s a much easier hole if you play down the left.

18th hole, 503 yards:  Poppy Hills’ closing hole provides a great chance to close with a birdie, but there’s lots of places where things can go wrong too.  It’s a double dogleg par-5, first to the left, then back to the right toward the green.  A good drive that avoids the fairway bunkers and waste areas on either side of the hole can make the hole reachable in two.  If you layup, stay to the left or you might be stymied by perhaps the tallest pine tree on the course.  The green is well fortified by bunkers on all sides.  It’s a fun finish.

My buddy found himself in the waste area right of the 18th fairway.  He can’t go for the green in two, but it’s not the worst spot to be.
Favor the left side of 18, or this towering pine tree might give you fits.

Miscellaneous thoughts – sound effects

Not only are the trees at Poppy Hills beautiful, but they amplify the sound of a purely struck golf shot.  On some of the tee boxes, I felt like a pro with the sound my driver made — a nice “WHA-CHING!”  Same with a few of my iron shots, a solid THWACK.  Make sure to get a video or two and turn up the volume.


I know it’s easy to forget about Poppy Hills on a trip to Pebble Beach, but do your best to fit in a round.  It is absolutely worth it.

Report card

Design:  A.  My favorite RTJII layout, beautiful and lots of fun holes.
Condition:  A.  Very well maintained.
Enjoyability:  B+.  Beautiful place, but can be slow with aggressive marshals.
Value:  A.  For NCGA members or guests, it’s a hard-to-beat deal.
Overall grade:  A.



Prestwick Golf Club (Ayrshire, Scotland, UK)

Prestwick is full of iconic holes, like the par-4 17th, the “Alps.”

As a total golf experience, Prestwick is as good as it gets.  It’s a wonderful layout with a collection of some of the best golf holes in the world.  It’s rich in history, having hosted the first 12 British Opens.  And it’s the most welcoming golf course I’ve ever visited.  I wish I could have spent a week there instead of playing the course only once.  But I’ll be back one day, and I encourage any serious golfer to journey there, as well.

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Silverado Resort – North Course (Napa, CA)


Silverado hosts the PGA Tour’s Safeway Open, and is one of the best golf getaways in California.

Any road to my heart is paved with golf and wine, and perhaps the easiest road to take is the one leading to the Silverado Resort in Napa.  Silverado’s North Course is a great course in the heart of California’s wine country and, for my money, is one of the best golf getaways in California outside of Monterey.

Silverado is also hosting the Safeway Open this week, the PGA Tour’s opening event of the wraparound calendar.  Even more exciting is that the Safeway Open marks the re-return of TIGER WOODS!  If you’re watching the tourney on TV, or if you ever plan to visit Silverado, here’s everything you need to know.

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Why I love the Ryder Cup, even though the U.S. always loses

The Ryder Cup is golf at its best–high drama, national pride, and great golf.  Team USA has broken my heart most of my adult life, having won only two of the past 10 Ryder Cups.  But every two years, I look forward to the Ryder Cup more than just about any sporting event.  Here’s why.

I get to root for America:  I’m a well-traveled, cultured guy and all that stuff, but let me be frank…I love America!  So anytime I can root for the Stars and Stripes, count me in!  The World Cup?  Check.  The Olympics?  Check.  World’s Strongest Man competition?  Bill Kazmaier for life!  Granted, great U.S. Ryder Cup moments have been rare in the last 20 years.  But I’d be lying if I said I still don’t get pumped up watching clips of Justin Leonard draining his putt at Brookline in 1999, or Anthony Kim destroying Sergio at Valhalla in 2008.

I get to root for an underdog:  Americans love rooting for an underdog.  In fact, our most memorable moments are when the underdogs have won.  There’s the Miracle on Ice in 1980, and Rulon Gardner winning the wrestling gold medal over the undefeated Russian Alexander Karelin in 2000.  When it comes to the Ryder Cup, the U.S. is the underdog, even on home soil.  Will they beat Europe?  Probably not, which is exactly why a win would be incredible.

Match play enhances the players’ personalities:  To me, the most compelling part of watching professional golf isn’t watching great golf shots.  It’s watching the psyche of the different players.  During the average tour event, the players’ personalities sometimes seem like they are in remission.  But at the Ryder Cup, they are out in full force.  There are frontrunners like Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods (in his prime) who like to get a big lead and essentially force their opponent into submission.  There are scramblers like Jordan Spieth and Graeme McDowell who can spray the ball all over, then drain a 30-foot putt that demoralizes opponents.  There are robots like Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson who can take the same great swing over and over without being phased.  And then there are the highly emotional guys like Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter who seem to perform better the more animated they get.  It’s fun to watch.


NBC has excellent coverage and a great theme song:  Dan Hicks is great in the lead role on NBC.  And Johnny Miller, love him or hate him, recognizes the big moments and isn’t afraid to speak his mind about them.  There’s also NBC’s Ryder Cup theme song, which has to be the best music in sports television.

During the 2014 Ryder Cup when NBC had the theme song played with the bagpipes, I almost lost my sh*t.  So good.

Does everyone else get excited about the Ryder Cup?  Feel free to share what you think makes the event great (unless you’re with Team Europe, I already know you’re answer).


Links at Bodega Harbour (Bodega Bay, CA)

The par-5 fifth hole is the highlight of Bodega Harbour, it’s a fun hole with great views.  For the most part, however, the rest of the course is not as interesting.

I’ve lacked the inspiration to put together a review of the Links at Bodega Harbour, mainly because it’s an uninspiring course.  The course has some great views of Bodega Bay and the Sonoma County coast, but otherwise it’s an average course with some unmemorable holes.  It’s the kind of course I’d play if I was already visiting the Sonoma area and found a good rate, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to play there.

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Carnoustie Golf Links (Carnoustie, Scotland, UK)

Is Carnoustie hard?  Absolutely.  But don’t be scared away, it’s a great layout and an awesome experience to play.  Pictured here: the short par-3 13th.

Mention Carnoustie to most golfers, and they think “Carnasty,” the nickname given to this famously difficult links on the east coast of Scotland.  Now that I’ve had a chance to play Carnoustie, I’ll confirm what we already know–the course is bloody hard!

But the “Carnasty” moniker doesn’t do the course justice because it causes golfers to overlook the fact that Carnoustie, while incredibly challenging, is also a wonderful course.  Carnoustie’s layout is great, even borderline genius.  The course has more history than just about any other course in the world save for the Old Course at St. Andrews.  And, despite being challenging, the course is 100 percent fair.  Good shots are rewarded, but bad shots are severely penalized.

Carnoustie is an absolute must play on any golf trip to Scotland.  Here are my thoughts about the course, concluding with why I am giving Carnoustie my first ever A+ rating.

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2016 The Open Preview: The Predictions

The 18th fairway at Royal Troon, host of the 2016 Open Championship, is a pretty sweet setting to finish a major tournament. 

Having recently played Royal Troon, host of this year’s Open Championship, I feel like I should have inside knowledge about what to expect.  Truth be told, I’m as clueless as ever, but that won’t stop me from making some fearless predictions.  So without further adieu, here they are.

Continue reading 2016 The Open Preview: The Predictions