Coastal Trip, Day 2: Much More Golf in Monterey

My Thursday was quite busy, even by my standards, but I didn’t slow down too much over the rest of the weekend. Friday found me playing another 54 holes as I made my way up to the Monterey Peninsula.

With my original Tahoe plans falling through, I figured it was a good time to visit one of my favorite places and play a few of the remaining courses that I hadn’t been too before. Though, in the case of Thursday’s first stop, it was somewhat familiar ground…

Bayonet & Black Horse (Black Horse Golf Course) • Seaside, CA • 8/8/14

I had the opportunity to play the Bayonet course back in 2011 and really liked it, so I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to come back and play Black Horse. Most people I know tend to prefer Black Horse, so I was hoping it lived up to the hype.

It did.

I had booked a 7:00 tee time through GolfNow for a fantastic price of $59, which I wouldn’t have expected to see here on a Friday morning. Bayonet & Black Horse are known as two of the more reasonably priced (yet still high quality) options on the Monterey Peninsula. Still, their Friday and weekend rates are usually a bit more steep. Whatever the reason it was that price, I snagged the time and arrived with a smile on my face.

Even though they told me I was going off first, I ended up going off second behind a local couple (who I’m told play here almost every morning). After a few holes, they realized I was riding their tails and let me through. After that, I had the place all to myself, other than the occasional maintenance worker in the way. I finished 18 in about two hours flat, which gave me all sorts of options for the rest of the day.

I was really impressed with Black Horse on all levels. This is a fun layout and the conditions were excellent. Both of these once-military courses were renovated at some point and not all the locals liked the changes, but as a first-time visitor I found Black Horse to be fantastic.

Whereas Bayonet is a bit more narrow with a lot of trees in play to shape the holes, Black Horse has a more “open” look from tee to green on most holes. The occasional tree does come into play, but the shape of the course comes from the natural contours and winding fairway cuts up, down and around the hills.

Probably the most notable feature of Black Horse is the abundance of some squiggly and intimidating bunkers that dot the course. Basically, the more you can avoid them, the more you are going to like your final score. They are not to be trifled with, especially as they seem to have a magnet-like effect where your ball is drawn to settle in one of the awkward little “fingers” to force an uncomfortable recovery shot.

The other thing that you can’t help but notice at Black Horse is just how tough the greens are. I’ve heard a lot of people complain that they were a bit too severe with the undulation. They are definitely tough, but they didn’t seem as gnarly as I was led to believe. Of course, it helped that conditions were soft and damp early in the morning, so the greens would hold approach shots better than when dried out. I can imagine they really give you fits when they’re hard to hold because most of the collection areas aren’t that forgiving either.

As noted, the course was in exceptional condition. There are few very minor weak spots here and there, and the rough was a bit inconsistent at times (sometimes really deep and sometimes only pretty deep, but always punishing). The tee boxes and bunkers were good. The greens were excellent. They were firm and fast, yet receptive as I mentioned Like so many courses throughout California, there are some of outer areas where they are obviously just leaving alone to conserve water, but nothing that really affects play.

The Bayonet & Black Horse facility offers two great golf courses with a few nice ocean views. For a fraction of the price it costs to play the Pebble Beach Resort courses, these are two excellent options to consider when planning a Monterey trip. Now that I’ve played both, I probably would concur that I liked Black Horse better of the two, but I’d play Bayonet in a heartbeat again, as well.

Some pictures from Black Horse Golf Course (8/8/14):

 

I had plans to play Del Monte Golf Course in the afternoon, but needed to wait until at least 2:00 in order to get a better rate. By finishing at 9:00 at Black Horse, I had ample time to squeeze in an extra round at one of the area’s lesser-known tracks…

Monterey Pines Golf Club • Monterey, CA • 8/8/14

If you are talking to someone rattling off a list of courses in this area, it may be awhile before they mention good old Monterey Pines. They may not mention it at all, in fact, but I have had a few local playing partners in the past who told me it was a decent little track. I knew I’d play it someday, so Friday turned out to be that day.

I got out there around 9:30 and walked right on. I had already been looking at Monterey Pines as an in-between option. They had some nice GolfNow times for Friday, but I wasn’t able to book anything in advance because I didn’t know when I’d finish at Black Horse. Unfortunately, those times were gone when I checked again Friday morning. They were very appealing in the $30 range, whereas what I ended up paying as a walk-up was a less-desirable $53. That was with a cart, though this would be a good walking course. The price stung a little extra because I had just paid only $6 more for the far superior Black Horse.

I started off by myself, but caught up to the crowd after a few holes and joined up with a threesome of really nice guys ahead of me. They were all locals who obviously play here a lot, so they gave me plenty of insight, though course knowledge really isn’t that necessary here. For the most part, what you see is what you get.

I really didn’t know much about the course, but I guess the name had me envisioning a lot of trees and kind of a tight, hilly inland style course. Maybe a mini version of Poppy Hills or something. It wasn’t that way at all. Most of the course is pretty open. The best stretch of the course is toward the second half of the front nine, where it is a little bit hilly and the holes have some nice designs. The back nine is very flat without too much trouble to get into play outside a couple of key water hazards.

One reason a lot of serious golfers might overlook Monterey Pines is because it’s technically an “executive” layout with a par of 69. From the blue tees, the course tops out at 5,554 yards with two par-5s and five par-3s. There are a few short holes like the 264-yard par-4 4th, but otherwise it’s a pretty standard mix of hole lengths. There aren’t any significantly long holes, though, which is why the total yardage is quite low.

Monterey Pines isn’t a terribly difficult course, but there’s just enough variety and enough challenging holes to keep you entertained. It would be a good place for someone learning the game and wanting to take an intermediate step up before playing a bigger course, but it’s decent enough to keep golfers of any level engaged in the round and working for a good score.

The course was in pretty solid shape. The greens were excellent—receptive, smooth and quite quick. The rest of the course is not quite as nice, but still pretty solid. The tee boxes were pretty good for a course that gets a lot of iron play off the tees. The fairways were mostly good, the rough was a mixed bag and the bunkers were quite nice with sparkly white sand.

If you are coming in from out of town for a big Monterey trip, you probably don’t need to bother with Monterey Pines. It’s a good locals’ course, especially because they have some good member/discount programs and also offer perks for military folks.

Some pictures from Monterey Pines Golf Club (8/8/14):

 

Last but not least, I had one more round to play on Friday…

Del Monte Golf Course • Monterey, CA • 8/8/14

This is the course that I’ve passed over numerous times on previous visits to Monterey. It’s one of those that generates some mixed feelings.

On one hand, it’s owned and operated by the Pebble Beach Resort, which obviously offers some prestige and sets your expectations pretty high when it’s mentioned in the same breath with sister courses Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Spanish Bay. It’s kind of the red-headed stepchild of that bunch, but how you might view Del Monte is all relative.

That’s because on the other hand, Del Monte has some history to it that makes it more intriguing. It was first opened in 1897 and is recognized as the “oldest course in continuous operation west of the Mississippi.” That’s certainly a mouthful, but it’s kind of a cool thing to get to play a course that has been there for almost 120 years.

In contrast to its bigger siblings, Del Monte offers a more low-key, no-frills kind of golf experience. I got the sense it’s pretty easy to walk on and get out quickly on most days. Also, they offer the “Duke’s Club” membership, which a lot of locals will buy and use for greatly discounted rates and preferred tee times. Overall, it feels more like a locals’ course that just happens to have a major resort affiliation.

For visitors, that means higher rates than the course is probably worth. However, it also means some higher standards of conditioning and some service aspects to make it feel worthy of being a part of the resort’s rotation. The normal morning rate here is $110, which doesn’t include a cart. At 2:00, the rate goes down to $85 and does include a cart. After 4:30, it goes way down to $40, but I’m not sure if that includes a cart or not (I assume not). I was okay paying the $85 to get done at an earlier hour and ensure that I finished all 18 before dark.

I got out right at 2:00 with another single, but we were stuck behind a couple of slow groups all round. My partner was a Duke’s Club member and obviously had a strong affinity for the course itself. He told me a lot about it. Unfortunately, he left after nine holes and I was stuck as a single in the middle of the pack. The total pace of just over four hours wasn’t too bad, but it seemed like it should have been quicker as I saw a few open holes ahead.

As for the course itself, it’s a pretty simple old design. I was really hoping to love it for its old school charm and traditional features, but it’s just not one that will blow you away too much—especially compared to so many really spectacular options in this area. It’s not a bad course by any measure. It’s not super long, but it still offers plenty of challenge. It may be a little plain by today’s standards, but it’s very far from boring.

The greens at Del Monte are the course’s biggest defense. My playing partner explained how fast they normally roll. They were only at medium speeds for us Friday, but still pretty slick on anything downhill. Most of the greens here seem pretty simple and they are all fairly small. They are not quite as small as Pebble’s tiny greens, but are perhaps equally as deceptive. None of the slopes or breaks look that severe, but they are much trickier than they appear.

Like Pebble Beach, they leave the grass on the lips of many bunkers grown out for a nice rugged look. Overall, around the greens is where Del Monte looks its sharpest visually. Of course, with it being an inland course you don’t get the dramatic ocean views, but the setting is still pretty nice.

The course was in good overall shape with full water conservation in effect. They are maintaining the tee boxes, fairways and greens quite well. The fairways were a little inconsistent at times, but were mostly quite green and lush. The rough was inconsistent and got worse the further you strayed from the fairways. The bunkers had good sand, and even though they were rolling slow by Del Monte standards, the greens were in very nice shape.

I mentioned the water conservation as you can really see it throughout the course in the extraneous sections of rough and other outlying areas. It’s pretty much just bare dirt right now and looks rather ugly. If they had some more “native” looking areas (fescue, sand, scrub brush, pine needles, etc.), it would look much nicer framing the holes. It’s definitely not a super high-end presentation in its current state, though it’s perfectly understandable considering the drought and those areas don’t affect play much at all. It’s just more of a visual detraction.

You don’t quite get that “special” feeling at Del Monte like you do the big name courses around here, but it’s a solid track with a rich history and just enough service touches to feel like you are playing something above average. It’s worth a visit if it’s part of your big trip package, but set your expectations accordingly and try not to measure it too much against its sister courses.

Some pictures from Del Monte Golf Course (8/8/14):

 

After golf, I got dinner at what has become my favorite little restaurant in Monterey. Kind of a dumpy little Italian place called Caruso’s Corner on North Fremont Street. The fresh, warm bread appetizer is amazing and the food is delicious. Giant portions. I tend to go back and forth between the chicken parmesan and the baked lasagna, which are both awesome!

 

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