PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- It's official. Poppy
Golf Course has just stolen the title of
"best golf value on the Monterey
Peninsula" from Pacific Grove Golf Links.
Blasphemy? No way.
While "Poppy" has always
offered NCGA (Northern California Golf
Association) and SCGA (Southern California
G.A.) members sub $100 golf, the layout
wasn't the fan
favorite that nearby Spyglass (expensive) or
Pacific Grove (under $50) have always been.
The layout was a bit quirky in places, but it
was the "tough comps" nearby
that caused a harsher criticism than if Poppy
was located almost anywhere else.
Poppy Hills' architect Robert Trent Jones,
Jr., who also handled the redesign,
acknowledged as much during a media
presentation on opening day, saying the
exclusive golf zip code forced everyone to
up their games.
And did they ever.
Before I get into a few of the changes and
modifications, here's a bit of background. The
NCGA has 150,000 members and was the first
to have its own golf course (Spyglass, now
part of Pebble Beach). They run an amazing
tournament program that includes the most
extensive list of affiliated (points) events in
the country. Win player-of-the year in
Northern California, and you've really
accomplished something. The NCGA's
championships are split between Spyglass,
Poppy Hills, and other member clubs. That's
quite a carrot when trying to qualify for the
Four-Ball -- long played at Spyglass. Indeed, a
chance to become
intimate with a course they might not be able
to afford otherwise.
At Poppy, the same beautiful Del Monte
Forest setting still provides the backdrop, with
the same deer roaming freely around the
fairways. Quite frankly, I've always been
surprised that Poppy Hills was a bit of an
'outsider'. Back to those tough comps
I guess. Now that I've played it, I can tell you
this -- the tee sheet is going to be full for a
long while so get on it ASAP and if you're not
a member of the NCGA, let us know and we
set you up. One round will pay for the
Redesigning a course, according to Jones,
is like "renewing your vows." That
pretty much sums up Jones' feeling about
Poppy Hills. (The name came from an NCGA
member contest, by the way.)
At the top of the list of goals was saving
California's most coveted resource.
"It's all about water
conservation," says Jones' associate
Bruce Charlton, matter-of-factly. The team
relied on a high tech system from Toro to
pinpoint water usage on the property and
important statistics like salinity.
Another goal -- make it fun. "Firm. Fast.
Fun." is the new mantra,
embroidered on the commemorative opening
day cap. The fairways are easy to hit if you
play the right tees, and the ground game has
been brought into play with the closely-mown
areas and slopes around the greens. Like
Bandon Dunes? You'll love Poppy. Don't worry
-- there's plenty of challenge; try playing the
5th hole from the back tee for starters. I hit a
pretty solid drive and still had 200 yards left.
Thankfully, the pond on the right that has
stolen too many of my balls was removed.
The opener is still a nervous starter
the "steering committee" tends to
grab a hold of the club at the top if you're not
careful -- a hazard runs down the right side
and as firm as Poppy now plays, there isn't
much to stop a slice. On the par-5 9th hole,
the second shot requires much more thought
due to the stream that was exposed as part of
the redesign. NCGA Executive Director
Kezirian told me it was always there, they
just needed to expose it. He also told me that
for his staff, not being able to play golf on the
course outside their office window (hey, are
they hiring?) was something akin to Seasonal
Affective Disorder. Suffice to say, the cure is
at hand and the best employee perk of any
golf association just got better.
THE BIGGEST HOLE CHANGES -
The 11th and 12th
Jones said that the 90-degree dogleg left
12th (a par 5) was constricted by a number of
environmental issues when the course was
built, as well as the desire to have a par of
72. Now, the 12th is a straightaway par 4
with a dramatic view of the Monterey Bay
from the elevated tee. It's probably a three
wood shot for many top players, as the O.B.
stakes on the right still loom large. The 11th
is still a par 3 but has been totally redesigned
to accommodate the new 12th. It's awesome
- I can hit my draw on the left front and have
the big slope funnel it back to the middle of
the green. The closing holes are as strong as
The tall Monterey Pine guarding the second
shot shortcut to the green on the par 5 18th is
a shotmaker's delight. And who doesn't like
ending off with a par 5?
There isn't much I don't like about the
new Poppy Hills. If I had to pick one thing, it
would be the amount of wood chips used to fill
in the non-planted areas - but usually if you're
in there, you deserve it. Over time those
wood chips will soften up and get filled in with
pine straw and brush.
Poppy Hills really fires on all cylinders
and is sure to get you pumped up to play golf
from the minute you put a peg in the ground
or hit balls on the practice range. And it's
walkable - which always makes for a great
From the big picture issues like
environmental sustainability to the playability,
fun, and even the wooden rakes, flagsticks,
and tee markers, the Poppy Hills redesign was
extremely well thought out. I believe it was
worth every penny of the $7 million invested
by the NCGA. This is a course that their
members, visitors, and the Champions Tour
(coming to Poppy for the Nature Valley First Tee
Open in September) will immediately
enjoy. I suggest you join the NCGA as soon as
possible by becoming part of AmateurGolf.com’s
NCGA Associate Club.
View our Poppy Hills 2014 Photo
from Opening Day.