Half Moon Bay Course Review

by Darin Bunch

The gathering place. Every resort worth its room rate has one. For some, a simple bar or spot by the pool does the trick. Other places host a top-floor club hoppin’ with live music and top-shelf beverages. I’ve even seen downstairs bowling alleys where friends meet up to share stories and roll deep into the night.

But at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, the place to be is right outside, on the northwest terraced lawn, in the late afternoon.

That’s where we ended up moments after putting out on the 18th hole of the Half Moon Bay Golf Links Ocean Course. The sun was setting. There was no time to dally, and the Ritz-Carlton staff knew it, even if we didn’t. Like clockwork, they cleaned our clubs, directed us to our reserved deck chairs overlooking glowing fire pits and the darkening Pacific beyond, and even offered each of us a pair of Oakley slip-on sandals to replace our golf cleats, which they were more than happy to get cleaned up and drop off in our rooms, bagged and ready for the next day’s round of golf.

Drinks flowed. Old friends were reacquainted, and new friends introduced, all as the sun made its way down to the horizon with a cloud- enhanced flare before disappearing into the night.

Even after daylight’s departure, we warmed by the fires in the chilly air, some donning windbreakers, others wrapping up in fluffy Ritz- Carlton robes. The night was off and running, with so much more ahead of us — dinner, more conversation, most likely more libations and finally deep, relaxing sleep in the spacious rooms adorned with feather beds, soft duvets, 300-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets and 100 percent goose down pillows. And that was the night Half Moon Bay joined my growing list of Favorite Places.

Of course, the aptly named Ocean Course, designed by Arthur Hills and opened in 1997 after an 11-year process, had already done a good job of enticing me all day with its seaside beauty and opportunities for creative shotmaking, not to mention the wide-open linksy feel that allows me to do what I love most — hit driver.

But the course is no pushover. When the world’s best women golfers arrived in 2008 for the LPGA Samsung World Championship, the Ocean held its own despite Paula Creamer’s 9- under-par winning total over four rounds.

These days, General Manager Bill Troyanoski has dreams of making it play even firmer and faster to provide more links character and encourage a variety of approaches to scoring par or better, especially when the prevailing winds whip across the defenseless terrain.

Troyanoski calls it “Links Enhancement,” a program he hopes will position the Ocean Course as one of the premier links golf experiences in the United States through a series of agronomic upgrades. “We have the layout and the setting,” he says. “The agronomic enhancement to the Ocean Course is the final piece in providing a true links-style playing experience.”

As part of the project, rough is mowed down around the bunkers to bring traditional links hazards back into play on tee shots. Native fescue heights around tee boxes, between holes and in other non-playing areas are raised to provide golfers with visual, strategic cues about how to play holes and to enhance the links-style atmosphere.

Green complexes and surrounds are cut to “just above green” mowing height, enhancing ball movement on the ground, adding multiple shot opportunities and fostering creativity in the short game. And putting surfaces are firmer and faster, placing a premium on approach- shot placement and ball-striking, as well as reading the speed — not just the break — of putts.

“We are bringing the contours of the course back into play, and putting the onus on the golfer to factor in bounces and roll, not just carry,” Troyanoski adds. “The quality of the shot has more significance than the distance, shifting the premium from length and power to accuracy and creativity. The ground game will come back into play and be a major factor, and the emphasis on the aerial game will be dramatically decreased.”

It’s a bold aspiration for a resort built, quite literally, on a fearless foundation. You see, the Ritz-Carlton sits about as close to the ocean as the laws of physics (and the California Coastal Commission) will allow. And large beams support the nearby cliffs that mark a definitive out of bounds for shots to the right of the Old Course 18th green.

Speaking of the Old Course, it provides a stark contrast to its windswept younger brother — at least for the majority of its routing through home-lined corridors. Originally created by Francis Duane and Arnold Palmer in 1973, with an update from Hills in 1999, the Old Course is a classic American design, with a series of strategically-demanding holes linked through the property’s interior. And although much of the round offers a more intimate ambiance than the Ocean, the Old Course emerges onto the Pacific coastline for the famous, par-5 finisher, boasting a stunning tee-to-green view in front of the Ritz-Carlton’s amphitheater-like setting, where visitors staking their claim to sunset seating can watch round after round come to a close — sometimes in watery defeat, other times with cheers of par-making pride.

Throughout the property, you’ll find another kind of pride — pride in how each guest is treated, whether they be a couple on a romantic getaway or a group outing designed around playing the most golf holes for their money. In fact, group activities might just be what the Ritz-Carlton and Half Moon Bay Golf Links crews do best, especially when it comes to setting out unforgettable spreads. Whether it’s a free-form buffet-style dinner you want (with everything from crab legs to carved tenderloin) or a sit-down, old-fashioned clam bake on the Old Course 10th tee, virtually no guest request goes unrequited at this luxury resort.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of other dining options throughout the property, from Mullins Bar & Grill next door to the Golf Shop to the hotel’s signature restaurant, Navio, where the freshest catch from neighboring Princeton Harbor and produce grown along the coastline are featured throughout the menu.

And if you need something extra quick while making the turn after nine holes on the Old Course, there’s always the homemade carne asada tacos that occasionally get cooked up by the crew working the Snack Shack. Try ’em with the hot sauce and a cold beer, and you’ll quickly see that Half Moon Bay doesn’t settle for serving your typical, everyday golf course fare.

And perhaps that’s what returning visitors love about this little stretch of coastline only 20 minutes from San Francisco and San Jose — this isn’t your run-of-the-mill resort where pretense and status reign supreme. In fact, despite the proximity to the city and world- renown brand name, the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay simply feels like another time, a place of slower pace where drama lives in the rugged surroundings and friendly people gather to watch spectacular sunsets. Where golf is less about swing position and numbers on a card and more about hitting each shot to the best of your ability at that precise moment in time. And where a glowing fire pit can be the center of the universe on a chilly evening.

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Amateurgolf.com, Inc.
6965 El Camino Real 105-631
Carlsbad, CA 92011

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