Today, we review the home course of the NCGA – Poppy Hills in Monterey, CA.  One quick note about this course prior to the review: JK and I had planned on playing this course during our first trip to Monterey, but never got around to it because we were both exhausted after playing Spanish Bay.  After this round, JK, I can tell you we made the right decision.  Not because the course isn’t worth playing–it definitely is, but it would have kicked our butts and likely not been the ocean course experience we were looking for during this trip.  Had the weather been like this during our trip though, there’s very little doubt in my mind we would have been out there.  The pictures tell the story.  Onward!

Poppy is a beautiful Robert Trent Jones designed course located in the heart of Pebble Beach.  Driving there gave me a heightened sense of excitement as compared to the usual round of golf because the last time I drove down 17 mile drive, I was on my way to play Pebble.  Rather than take the scenic drive down toward the water, however, the road twisted and turned back into the hills and opened up to this wonderful 18 hole facility.

The course, pro shop, and practice facility at Poppy are outstanding — there is very little I can say that hasn’t been said by the prizes that Poppy’s pro shop has won don’t already say.  The layout is interesting and challenging.  Some of the holes feel a little tricked up, but others are simply stunning.  An example of the former is the par 4 5th hole.  At 428 yards from the black tee, the hole’s principle defense is a giant bunker on the left side, water on the approach, and a subtly tiered green.  The second shot is a demanding one, but for some reason, the man-made pond on the right makes this hole feel more contrived than natural.  Call me critical.  Full disclosure — I dropped one right into the middle of this lake after skying a driver short into the fairway.  The par 3s on this course, on the other hand, were some of the best I’ve played in a long time.  The second hole, on the other hand,was reminiscent of Pasatiempo with an absolutely enormous bunker short of the green.  Below is a view from the green back to the tee:

And now from the tee to the green:

The scorecard shows just how stout a challenge this course can provide.  My sense is that, despite its absence during my visit, the wind is a critical factor that brings the true teeth to this course on some of the shorter par 4s.

If I am being fair to myself, however, I must say I was disappointed.  The biggest downside for this course may well be the fact of its location.  Were this course near my home in the greater Bay Area, I have no doubt that I’d be the first in line to get a membership.  Because this course is next to Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Spanish Bay, Bayonet and Blackhorse, PG Muni, and a slew of private courses, however, it would not be even my 5th choice of courses to play if I were going to Monterey.  When I think of a Monterey golf experience, inevitably, I think of cypress trees, ocean winds, and, well, the ocean!!  While Poppy is a great course, the lack of ocean views, even on as clear a day as I had, sort of diminishes the experience for me.  Knowing what I know now, I would be much more enthusiastic about returning to Poppy, but would have tempered expectations based on my previous experience.  At $72 for the NCGA rate and complimentary gate access to 17 mile drive (normally $10), the deal is nearly impossible to pass up for a fantastic day of golf.

All in all, I enjoyed the day at Poppy.  The weather was, pardon the phrasing, picture perfect.  I couldn’t help thinking though, “man, I wish I’d gone to Spyglass with weather like this…”

As JK mentioned in his previous post about Southland, our goal at the PF is to review courses that the average joe can play.  Enter Shoreline Golf Links.  This great little muni is located in scenic Mountain View, CA very near the headquarters of Google.  The course offers a full length golf experience at a reasonable price.  Who could ask for more?  Here’s the run down:

3 practice facilities – chipping, putting, and a practice bunker

18 holes- 4 sets of tees:

Red – 5437 yards – 66.5/116
White – 6061 yards – 69.3/123
Blue – 6608 yards – 71.9/127
Black – 6996 yards – 73.5/129

1st Hole - 579 yard par 5

Large Driving Range – Small bucket 5, large bucket 9 – range cards available

Full service pro shop with decent selection of gear and good deals on occasion.

Great bar/grill/snack shop

Resident rate can get you out at twilight for $21 walking (excellent deal for this area; I’ve finished 18 several times with this rate on the weekends)

The downsides:

1) JK and I played this course together when we were both working in Palo Alto.  We were both incredibly impressed by the volume of goose poop that littered this course.  We both recommended to the pro shop that the course retain a pack of dogs to help reduce the problem.  Seriously,  this amount of poop could be used to fertilize any number of “green” projects around the state.

2) We played the course in the mid-afternoon.  By the time we reached the back nine, the wind had kicked up so violently that we really had no chance to make any kind of score.  The notorious Bay wind really bears its teeth in the afternoons on this course.

3) The par 3s are not really that great.  As I play more golf, I realize that I tend to judge a course more by the quality of the par 3s than any other holes on the course.  These holes tend to be the most scenic and provide the best drama in most rounds of golf.  While I love the set of par 5s that this course offers, the par 3s probably equal out the rating.  Three of the four are long forced carries.  While I have no issue with this kind of hole, I find these three to be rather repetitive.  The par 3 eighth hole, however, has a very interesting green and a tricky bunker that make it an enjoyable hole.

Goose Poop

Review and conclusion:

After our initial negative experience, I was hesitant to revisit Shoreline.  After moving to Mountain View, however, I had little choice.  Time to play golf has become increasingly limited so even a windy round is highly welcomed.  After a few weekend rounds here though, I must admit that first impressions can be deceiving  Shoreline is as interesting a layout as almost any muni I’ve had a chance to play.  When compared to the Palo Alto Muni, it’s certainly the more interesting track.  The course opens with a 579 yard par 5 that plays uphill (I almost got there in two!) and does not get much shorter.  The back nine has some of the more interesting holes, to be sure, but the par-5 ninth and tenth (back to back par 5s!) offer two major scoring opportunities.  The 9th is a paltry 519 yards and its mate is 525.  An ace on either par three that bookend this pair puts you in prime position to do what Phil came up just short of at last year’s Masters – three eagles in a row.

Overall, if you are in the area and have time to get round of golf in, I’d highly recommend Shoreline over the other munis in the immediate area.  Not to knock the Palo Alto muni, but I’d rather pay less to play a more interesting layout with some goose poop on it than a long, boring track where you can see nearly every single flag from any place on the course.  It also probably doesn’t help my bias that I nearly aced the par 3 fourth hole (see below and POTW 6).

Near Ace - Par 3 Fourth

Greens: 6/10
Fairways: 5/10
Other course maintenance: 3-4/10
Cost: 7/10
Value: 7/10
Pace of Play: 7/10
Pro shop/clubhouse: 8/10

The Verdict: Great casual round, but if you’re looking for high end golf, look elsewhere.