Course Review: Half Moon Bay Golf Links – The Old Course

October 23, 2011

Yet another treat – a 57% discount at Half Moon Bay Golf Links (The Old Course) – is the subject of this review.  A word of caution for Golfnow users: While the last two rounds I’ve played through Golfnow have been marvelous, this one was less than stellar due to the fact that Golfnow did not warn me that the reason the rate was exceptionally good this weekend was that the greens had recently been aerated (within the last week).  I know that I should be skeptical of deals that appear to be “too good to be true,” but greens fees at 50% off are not “too good to be true” for normal conditions when a course is not able to fill its tee sheet.  At minimum, I believe that Golfnow should warn purchasers somewhere beyond the small print that the course has recently been aerated, if that is the case.  That complaint aside, even aerated greens cannot tarnish my impression of the Old Course at Half Moon Bay.

Sunday was a picture perfect day in Half Moon Bay, CA.  70 degrees, clear skies, and a slight N-NE wind made for a perfect conditions for good ball striking.  As the round progressed, and as we got closer to the ocean, the wind picked up and became more of a factor in shot selection and strategy.  My sense is that these conditions are not necessarily the norm for this course.  Playing at Half Moon Bay should come with the expectation of high, gusty winds and generally gray conditions.  Though the marine layer will burn off over the course of the day, the wind will pick up as well.

The Old Course reminded me, in a few distinct ways, of the Presidio Golf course in San Francisco.  This is not all-together surprising since the two were designed by Arnold Palmer.  Both courses provide distinct risk-reward opportunities, generous landing areas on longer holes, distinct aiming lines, and the occasional forced carry over clear-and-present danger.  In the case of the Old Course, the par-5s generally had open landing areas, par 4s generally tell you the exact line to take via a fairway bunker or natural depression in the course, and the par 3s provided all the clear-and-present danger necessary to create exciting shots.  The 16th hole also provides the prototypical Palmer “hero” shot.  A well-placed drive leaves a short iron or wedge approach to a raised green guarded by a ravine.  The ravine cuts sideways across the fairway at an angle that punishes a hook or an overcooked draw.  If the pin is cut on the left, the middle of the green is the best target.  Unfortunately, this reviewer did not take a great picture of the approach on the 16th hole, so below is the picture from Half Moon Bay’s website taken from the back of the green toward the tee.

A quick note about the facility as a whole:  Half Moon Bay is home to two courses: the Old Course and the Ocean Course (designed by Arthur Hills).  Though one of the two gentlemen playing with me made the off-hand comment that “the locals play the Old Course,” I got the sense that this was more or less the case after talking to the starter and pro shop staff.  The Ocean Course provides wonderful scenery and interesting golf holes, but the Old Course provides a more interesting and complete test of a golfer’s skill.  That being said, I personally think the comparison can be likened to choosing between chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter cookies: I’ll take either at any time, and the more I get, the happier I am.

The Old Course at Half Moon Bay Golf Links

The Ocean Course at Half Moon Bay Golf Links

If there was one complaint I had about the Old Course, I think it must be that I felt as though I was playing golf between houses the entire round.  When I think about my favorite holes on the course (16-18), part of the reason I enjoyed them the most was that they did not have any visual distractions around the course architecture.  It may also be that I am a sucker for ocean views, but I’ll let the views from 17 and 18 below speak for themselves.

17th Tee

18th Tee

The signature 18th hole at the Old Course is simply outstanding.  Though this course does not have the fame of Pebble or Cypress, I would argue that the scenery and the feel of the 18th at the Old Course is on par with those courses.  The ocean breeze is most definitely a factor on this hole, generally creating a strong crosswind that forces the high ball hitter to start the ball over the water if a reasonable approach is desired.  The preferred trajectory here is a low, running shot that does not run so far as to leave a severely uphill approach.  In keeping with the theme of this course, the rolling hills in the landing area will likely prevent a flat lie for your second shot.  Most players will miss left on the approach for fear of going near the water on the right.  One of the most interesting parts of this hole is the amphitheater setting created around the green.  The approach is played directly into the rear entrance of the Ritz-Carlton where lots of seating is available for the hotel guests.  During this trip, there were several people seated and watching groups come in.  The pressure is squarely on your short game and putting if you are at all intimidated by a large gallery.  Take your best shot and be sure to tip your cap to the fans.

18th Green

Overall, Half Moon Bay offers two wonderful courses that will both challenge and delight.  The courses are difficult and beautiful.  If you are lucky enough to get a chance to sneak out, be sure to check the aeration reports.  Even with the 57% discount, $80 is a bit pricey to me when the greens are essentially sand boxes.  I will certainly be keeping an eye on for my next chance to take a loop at Half Moon Bay.

Cost: 5/10
Maintenance: 8/10
Greens: n/a – aerated
Layout: 8/10
“Fun” factor: 8/10
Overall: 8/10

One Response to “Course Review: Half Moon Bay Golf Links – The Old Course”

  1. Jerilyn Says:

    Wow that was odd. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyways, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

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