Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Return to the Ocean Course – Half Moon Bay Golf Links lures me back

I first played the Ocean Course at Half Moon Bay Golf Links some five years ago, and again, once or twice, in the next couple of years. Realizing that I hadn’t visited in at least three years, I recently booked a tee time there, taking advantage of the combination of their very friendly twilight rates and the long days as the summer solstice approaches.

Half Moon Bay Golf Links’ combination of a classic linksland golf course – the Ocean Course – and the traditional sunset piper may have you thinking you’re playing a round at the home of golf and not in Northern California.Photo courtesy The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay

Everything was as I remembered it from earlier visits. The service at the pro shop is exemplary, from check-in to getting your clubs secured in your cart. The course conditions during my recent visit were similarly top-notch. Helped, no doubt, by the past winter’s abundant rain, the fairways and greens were in beautiful shape, and even the rough and native areas were manageable (don’t ask me how I know this…).

As I mentioned in my 2013 article on the Ocean Course, the sister layout to Half Moon Bay’s Arnold-Palmer-designed Old Course is as close to true Scottish links golf as I think you are likely to find on the West Coast. The coastal shelf which lies between the crashing Pacific surf and the Coast Range hills in long, intermittent stretches from as far north as Mendocino to south of Big Sur is perhaps a bit more fertile than the semi-barren linksland which sheep—and bored Scottish shepherds—transformed into the home of golf, but the rolling terrain, fescue turf, and wind-dominated weather present a reasonable facsimile of the ancestral conditions.

There is one small drawback to a twilight round on the Ocean Course, and it’s dictated by a convergence of the course’s physical layout and its geographic setting. We think of the sun setting straight away from the shoreline on the Pacific Coast, but as the sun approaches its most northerly position in the sky in the run up to the solstice, that’s not strictly true, and the golden orb sinks into the sea 30-odd degrees north of west. While the coastline runs almost exactly north and south at Half Moon Bay, the sun is setting further north—and several of the holes on the Ocean Course are laid out at angles that line up almost directly into the setting sun. If you are having a less-than-straight driving day, those into-the-sun tee shots and approach shots, especially on the back nine, can be problematic.

Golf is an outdoor activity, though, so we expect weather and light conditions that are not always ideal—it’s part of the game. Awareness of weather conditions and how they can affect play are part of the deal, and part of what makes golf such a challenging and, ultimately, satisfying game. In the end, what counts is the whole experience, and the Ocean Course at Half Moon Bay Golf Links provides a rare and very satisfying golf experience. The wide, inviting fairways present challenges by way of subtle contours and uneven lies, and the smooth-rolling greens require a bit of close study to determine the breaks and the true line to the hole.

I love a good American Parkland-style golf course (like Half Moon Bay’s Old Course), but the Ocean course is a nice look at the other side of golf – virtually treeless, with close-cropped fescue turf that invites the running game when windy conditions dictate it; and all without the cost of a flight to Scotland! The Ocean course will challenge you, without a doubt; with slopes ranging from 119 (red tees) to 136 (whites, for women) it is definitely a course which demands respect, but which also rewards good play.

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