Saturday, January 26, 2013

Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay – classic parkland golf on The Old Course

The dramatic closing hole of The Old Course at Half Moon Bay Golf Links provides a picture-postcard finish to your round of golf on the Arnold Palmer-designed course.

Photo Credit: 
The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay

The Old Course at Half Moon Bay Golf Links is a classic example of an American Parkland course set within an accompanying real estate development. It was designed and built in the early 1970s, a period in which golf course housing developments were very much the going thing, but you will find few courses of this type, from that period, which are so skillfully integrated into the landscape.

Winding between neighborhoods of handsome custom homes that back onto the fairways, the 6,610-yard (from the blues) par-72 Old Course gives an initial impression of being somewhat narrow, but the fairways are actually quite generous in size. Trees line the fairways in typical parkland-course style, sheltering golf shots from the ocean breezes and protecting the adjacent homes from errant golf shots.

Given its location on the coastal shelf that rises gently inland from the coast before leaping up to become the Coast Range hills, holes running east-west on The Old Course are either uphill or downhill to various degrees. The prevailing wind is off the coast, so your slope/wind mantra becomes “uphill/downwind; downhill/upwind”.

The Old Course opens with a longish, but not difficult, par-5, the course’s #13-handicap hole. At 529 yards from the blues and slightly uphill, Hole #1 is a gentle lead-in to your round. A good drive and second shot around the mild left-to-right double-dogleg will leave you with an uphill wedge shot to the moderately back-to-front sloping green. Overshooting the green on your approach will find you in light rough on uphill lies – prime real estate for those who are handy with a chip shot, but still tricky because the green is now sloping away.

The second hole on the Old Course will quicken your pulse a bit. Ranked #3 in difficulty, the 402-yard par-4 was one of the beneficiaries of the Arthur Hill remodeling work that took place on the front nine in 2000 – a major component of which was reshaping and repositioning bunkers, and eliminating bunkers that served no strategic purpose.

Hill’s rework of #2 repositioned a pair of bunkers on the left side of the fairway to pinch in the landing area, and though the effect appears negligible at first, their position ups the ante on your tee shot considerably. Shy to the right off the tee, as the bunkers encourage you to do, and you will find yourself with a less-than-ideal angle for your approach to the left-to-right-angled green. Take on the bunkers, which requires an uphill drive of considerable length, and you will be rewarded with a more comfortable approach to the green, and no complications from the left-front greenside bunker. It is a classic risk/reward par-4 of subtle but effective design.

The third hole is the first of The Old Course’s four par-3’s, and one of two in which water comes into play – #13 is the other. The water is more a visual than an actual hazard at #3, as even from the blues and the tips there is little carry over water, but it lies there on the left awaiting a pulled tee shot, and if the hole is cut well left a ball that overshoots the putting surface will find the pond where it curls around behind the left-hand lobe of the green. The remaining par-3’s on the course – numbers 7 and 17 – are dry, but both face west, into the prevailing wind; a breezy day will toughen your tee shot on these “one-shotters”.

The variety of the holes on The Old Course make for an entertaining and challenging round of golf. A couple of sharp dogleg par-4s on the front side – numbers 4 and 6 – will test your distance control off the tee, as you will want to lay a well-placed tee ball at the corner in order to leave yourself the best approach to the green. The par-5s test your mettle with more than just raw length: #5 is a left-swooping downhill run with bunkers guarding the inside of the corner and water right of the green; #10 is an uphill dogleg-right with an inviting first shot, but a strategically-placed bunker that turns your second into a risk-reward proposition; #15, the final par-5, is another left-trending downhill hole – it also presents an inviting tee shot, but water lines the left side of the fairway and pinches in to guard the left side of the green.

With all the variety and interesting challenges that holes 1 through 17 on the Old Course present, the big payoff of your round is the justly-famed 18th hole. Several holes on the upper section of the course offer glimpses of the Pacific Ocean, and at 17, the last par-3, the ocean bursts fully into view as the backdrop for the green, but it is 18, running alongside the cliffs back toward the hotel, that summons the full drama of the oceanside setting.

The Old Course’s 18th hole is a beauty at any time of day, but for my money, the westering sun that shines in your eyes for the tee shot at #17 turns the 18th hole into a picture postcard – illuminated by the the golden glow of the late-afternoon sun, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel provides a dramatic backdrop as you tee off on #18.

Sloping away downhill from the string of tee boxes behind the 17th green, the 18th’s main fairway terminates at an unassuming barranca which marks the low point of the course – and perhaps the low point of your round should you challenge it in an effort to reach the approach area below the green with an heroic carry. Legend has it that when Arnold Palmer was laying out this hole, he backed further and further up the bluff, hitting balls as he went, until even he couldn’t carry the barranca – and that’s where the back tees were placed.

Keep your tee shot left, away from that big blue lateral hazard to your right – the Pacific Ocean – and allow for the downhill carry, and maybe some roll, when you pull a club for this shot. Sharp play around the green at the 18th may be awarded with applause, especially in the late afternoon, as the green is overlooked by the common-area patio and lawn in the crook of the building, and a number of ground-level rooms with firepit patios facing the sunset. Hotel guests gathering for afternoon refreshments and a view of the setting sun will be your gallery as you close out your round on The Old Course.

A round of golf on the Old Course at Half Moon Bay Golf Links is an experience that you will long remember (especially if you earn some applause at the 18th green…), and one that you will want to repeat. The quality and variety of the course, and the gracious and attentive treatment you receive from the staff, will tempt you back to the the Old Course again and again.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay – scenic beauty, great golf, luxurious accommodations

If the first things that come to mind when you think of Half Moon Bay, California, are pumpkin patches, Christmas tree farms, the Mavericks surfing contest, seafood, and the rugged beauty of the San Mateo County coast, that’s fine – the seaside community at the junction of Hwys 1 and 92 is justly famed for all of those things. There are two more thing which the mention of Half Moon Bay should bring to mind, however: luxury resort accommodations and great golf.

The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay

Situated on the coastal shelf between the rising foothills of the Coast Range and the crashing Pacific Ocean surf, just off Hwy 1 about 3-1/2 miles south of the town of Half Moon Bay, The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay resort provides an unlooked-for luxury destination in the long stretch of ruggedly-beautiful California coast between the Monterey Peninsula and San Francisco.

The 6-story resort hotel features 261 rooms, ranging from the merely luxurious “standard” rooms to top-of-the-market suites – with most rooms featuring ocean views, and many having outdoor firepits.

Situated in a dramatic setting on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Ritz-Carlton
Half Moon Bay offers luxurious accommodations, and all the amenities expected of a 
first-class luxury resort.
No first-class luxury resort can aspire to that designation without amenities above and beyond well-appointed hotel rooms and suites, and The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay does not disappoint when it comes to dining, spa facilities, or available activities.

The resort’s main restaurant, Navio, serves coastal cuisine featuring fresh, local ingredients. At the time of my visit to the resort last September the first local salmon catch in three years was brought in by the fishermen of Half Moon Bay, and chef de cuisine Sean Eastwood and his staff certainly did well by this local delicacy. For fine dining – including a wine cellar featuring the finest selections from regional, national, and international vintners – Navio stands with the best that the Central Coast region, from the Monterey Peninsula to San Francisco, has to offer.
Navio, at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, offers fine dining in elegant surroundings.
Other dining options at the resort include the bistro menu offered in The Conservatory Lounge (with live music in the evenings), and informal, fireside dining at Mullins Bar & Grill at the golf course clubhouse. My favorite from the Mullins menu: the smoked ribs. The resort has its own smoker, and the smoked ribs that they serve rival any that you will find in the BBQ capitals of the South and Southwest U.S.

Opportunities for indoor and outdoor exercise activities abound at the resort. The 24-hour fitness center features state-of-the-art cardio- and weight training equipment, daily aerobics classes and a yoga studio, and outdoor activities include tennis, bicycling along the coastal trail, and of course, golf on the two award-winning golf courses.

For those with relaxation in mind, or looking to work out the kinks after exercise, the resort features a complete spa facility with 16 treatment rooms, whirlpools, a co-ed Roman mineral bath and a complete range of massage services, facials, manicure and pedicure treatments, and more.

The Roman mineral bath in the spa at Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay is ideal for relaxing after an active day.

No matter which of the services and facilities you take advantage of during your stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, you can be certain that the courteous and attentive staff will do their best to ensure that you enjoy your stay.

Half Moon Bay Golf Links

Though I am as easily distracted by fine dining and luxurious accommodations as the next person, the focus of my visit to the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay resort was golf. The resort features two championship-caliber courses – The Old Course, a classic American Parkland-style course co-designed by Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane in 1973; and The Ocean Course, a true links-style layout designed by Arthur Hills in 1999. Hills was also responsible for major remodeling work on the Old Course, conducted in two phases: on the back nine in 2000, and on the front nine in 2009. I played the two courses on back-to-back days during my visit, and came away tremendously impressed by their playing qualities, their condition, and the professionalism and attentiveness of the staff.

Both of these distinctive courses deserve more detailed individual attention, so look for Parts II and III of this series to learn more about The Old Course and The Ocean Course at Half Moon Bay Golf Links.

What’s Coming Up in Bay Area/Northern California Golf in 2013

As we hang up a new calendar and welcome in the new year, it’s time to look ahead at what 2013 has in store for the golf fan in Northern California.

Amateur/USGA golf

The high point of 2012 for golf in the Bay Area was, of course, the United States Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, and while we won’t be welcoming the USGA’s biggest event back to the area again until 2019, when it returns to Pebble Beach, there is still plenty of USGA golf happening in Northern California in the coming year. 

In 2012 local courses hosted qualifying tournaments for the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Opens; respectively, Lake Merced Golf Club & Harding Park Golf course, and Half Moon Bay Golf Links. In 2013 Lake Merced Golf Club is scheduled to host a sectional qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Open; information on a local qualifying site for the 2013 Men’s Open is not yet available.

Two USGA championships will be contested in Northern California in 2013: the U.S. Junior Amateur July 22 – 27 at the Martis Camp Club in Truckee, and the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship September 21-26 at CordeValle Resort in San Martin, home of the Open.

Another distinguished amateur event on the Bay Area golf calendar – and one which has been there since 1917 – is the San Francisco City Championship. The oldest continuously-played municipal golf tournament in the United States, “The City”, as it is known, is played at the Lincoln Park and Harding Park golf courses, and can boast as past champions such illustrious local stars as 1964 U.S. Open Champion Ken Venturi (San Francisco), 1999 U.S. Women’s Open Champion Julie Inkster (Santa Cruz), and 1969 Masters Champion George Archer (Gilroy). Deadline for entries is January 15; competition in the various divisions takes place in late February and March. More information about the tournament is available at

Amateur events like these are well worth any golf fan’s time to come out and watch, as they illustrate so well the depth of interest and participation in the competitive game across the full spectrum of age and gender.

Professional golf
In the realm of professional golf in the Bay Area/Northern California, the Pebble Beach AT&T National Pro-Am needs no introduction. The AT&T is a perennial crowd-pleaser, the largest annual draw in the area for golf fans of all stripes. The tournament’s unique format, which features pro-am teams playing the full tournament over three courses, coupled with the unrivaled scenic splendor of the Monterey Peninsula, makes it a fitting opener for the Northern California golf season. This year’s AT&T Pro-Am will be played February 7-10.

The 7th hole at Pebble Beach is just one of the many scenic spots on this beautiful course. (photo by author)
Professional golf returns to Pebble Beach later in the season with the Champions Tour’s The First Tee Open, this year with a schedule change that moves the event from its early July time slot to the final weekend in September. The move to September is a good one for the tournament, as the weather on the Monterey Peninsula is generally more welcoming in late September than it is in early July. The lack of schedule conflicts with the PGA Tour that weekend may tempt some more of the PGA/Champions Tour crossover players to make the trip to Pebble for the event. The First Tee Open is a real treat for local golf fans – smaller crowds, budget-friendly ticket prices, and convenient nearby parking to watch championship-caliber golf on one of the finest golf courses in the world.

Next on the calendar for professional golf in Northern California is the Open, played October 7-13 on the challenging Robert Trent Jones II course at CordeValle Resort in San Martin. With the institution of the wrap-around season for 2013-2014, the Open takes a jump in prestige with its new role as the PGA Tour’s season-opener. The tournament’s new status as the players’ first chance to score FedEx Cup points in the new season should bring a deeper field to the event in 2013.

The Champions Tour returns to the Bay Area in the fall with their year-ending championship tournament, the Schwab Cup. Back in the Bay Area after a detour to the Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Arizona in 2012, the Schwab Cup will be contested at Harding Park Golf Course in San Francisco October 31-November 3. The Schwab Cup has a long history in the Bay Area: Harding Park hosted the Schwab Cup Championship in 2010 and 2011 following a 7-year tenure at the Sonoma Golf Club.

Another must-see event at Pebble Beach Golf Links in 2013 will be the Callaway Pebble Beach Invitational, November 19-24. A unique pro-am event which pits players from a variety of professional tours – PGA,, Champions, LPGA, and Symetra Tour – against each other in a length-adjusted format, the PBI is another extremely fan-friendly event. Spectators can walk the fairways at Pebble Beach, Spyglass and Del Monte right behind the pros, getting a perspective on these great courses that no other event can offer. Admission is free, and parking – which can be an ordeal when the AT&T Pro-Am or the U.S. Open are played at Pebble – is convenient, nearby, and free.

Unfortunately, the Bay Area/Central Coast region will continue to be without an LPGA tournament in 2013. The distaff Tour has been absent from the Bay Area golf scene since the demise of the CVS Pharmacy Challenge, contested at Blackhawk Country Club, after the 2010 season. Also missing from the local professional golf calendar is the Tour (formerly Nationwide Tour) event at TPC Stonebrea, which is on a one-year hiatus while the clubhouse at the course undergoes renovations.

The coming year holds lots of promise for Bay Area golf fans, with plenty of opportunities to see high-quality amateur and professional golf played on some fine area courses.