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…”