Half Moon Bay Ocean Course in Half Moon Bay, CA
Tee Time: October 15, 2015, 2:20, 68 F, overcast
Designer: Arthur Hills, 1997
Playing Partners: Craig, Larry and Leonard
Tees: Blue, Par 72 (71.2 rating/125 slope/6,470 yards)
Course Handicap: 6 (5.7 index)
Stats: 87 (44-43); 37 putts; 6/13 fairways; 8/18 greens; 3 penalty strokes
Based on the pictures alone, Half Moon Bay’s Ocean Course is a must play. I’ve heard stories of five and six hour rounds, which is always a mood killer and stayed away. But since I had some time to kill before Stanford’s 7:30PM Thursday-night dismantling of UCLA, what better way than to spend a few hours next to the ocean just a few miles from Palo Alto? I was taking a gamble with a 2:20 starting time, given that sunset right now is just after 6:30. Surprisingly, there were only a few waits and we managed to get all my 87 strokes in before the stars came out. While slow play is the worst thing in golf, there are worse places to be trapped than on this relatively new links layout on the Northern California coast. And at a fraction of the cost of some other cliffside courses a few miles down the road, any Bay Area resident or guest should head out here once.
The course opens with a blind par 4 that plays much shorter than the 376 yards listed. In true links fashion, you can play a tee shot across the corner or even into the 18th fairway to really cut off a good chunk of yardage before hitting to a green well below the fairway. The 332-yard 2nd is an easy hole that looks much longer than it is. With your first vista of the expansive Pacific Ocean, coupled with the forced carry of about 180 yards over the nature trail to the fairway, it can be intimidating. But any shot from the fairway is 120 yards or less, so just don’t vomit all over yourself on the tee shot and you’ll be fine. The par-3 3rd plays away from the ocean and gives a view of the million-dollar homes that have some of the best views in the country. The short 4th is a 481-yard par 5 that shows its teeth near the green. I went for it in two, reached but bounced off to the left and ended up with a nasty lie with the ball at my waist. I went on to double bogey. It took me 2 shots to go 470 yards and 5 more to go 15.
The 5th is an open par 4 of 431 yards, deservingly the 1-handicap at the Ocean Course. Sharing a fairway with #4, you can swing hard and play from anywhere if you avoid the sand traps on the right. At least that’s followed by a harmless 365-yard par 4 with no trouble and a shape that funnels everything back into play. The 7th features the most water on the course. A tricky 155-yard par 3 that is all carry over a pond to a slick green. One of the tighter drives is at the par-5 8th, a 500 yard slight dogleg-left that opens up after hitting past the tall trees near the tee box. There is some trouble on the way, but other than playing to a shallow green, it’s not a tough par. The 9th is the final of the front side’s trio of par 3’s. At 166 yards and uphill, it plays lengthy and the green has some subtle mounds to negotiate.
The back side is where this course becomes memorable. Playing back toward the coast, the 10th is a massive 550-yard par 5 that is as pretty a hole as there is, like something straight out of the UK. The 422-yard 11th is a long par 4 with a tough carry to the fairway and a nasty bunker in the middle of the landing zone. The longest par 3, the 195-yard 12th plays to a two-tiered green. Depending on the weather, this could play much longer than the yardage. The 13th is tight-driving par 4 of 409 yards. Then there’s the beautiful 14th, an uphill 506 yards with the foothills as a backdrop to this dogleg left. The 15th is the final hole before the great trio to close. It’s a straightforward, 385-yard par 4 with the ocean looming in the horizon behind the green.
The 16th might be the prettiest hole in all of Half Moon Bay. Hitting downhill to the fairway, there are sand traps to catch misses on both sides. The tee boxes are right against the cliffs, and every group before us took pictures with the ocean in the background. Then my group did, too. Might as well. It’s also got one of the toughest approach shots, over a hazard to a very wide and shallow green. The finishing 18th is the one hole you can put a Titleist in the Pacific Ocean if you’re not careful. A blind tee shot, all you can see with a driver in your hand are cliffs and a sliver of fairway. From there, the 527-yard par 5 isn’t overly tough, playing right to the back door of the resort with a couple sand traps and a running trail in your path.
Half Moon Bay’s Ocean Course is worth getting out to for the golf and views. But even more exciting was the crazy amount of wildlife all over the course. Especially now at the end of summer where you can even see migrating whales out at sea, which unfortunately I didn’t spot. But, and I don’t know birds that well, I know for sure I saw a heron, red-tailed hawk (catching dinner), red-winged black bird, pelican, other blackbirds and a golden eagle (up close). You don’t even get that much variety at the zoo, let alone a golf course. Oh, and after the round, if you happened to absolutely clean up in your matches, maybe stay at that Ritz Carlton. It looks sweet, with patio fireplaces and private balconies with amazing vistas. But it’s also $600/night minimum. Better start saving.
#17, Par 3, 149 yards, 16-handicap, My Score: 4
The most dramatic hole at Half Moon Bay’s Ocean Course has to be the par-3 17th. It’s got everything. A terrifying tee shot over the cliffs, views of the ocean and sandy shore below and also of the resort looming in the distance. On paper it’s not a very tough one, at 149 yards to a large green. But when you have one eye on a Pacific Ocean sunset it’s hard to make flush contact. Just don’t go too far off line and hit one of the dogs running around on the beach sixty feet below.
Layout: B+; a fun links layout, it isn’t the most memorable or challenging, but definitely worth playing
Amenities: B, there’s barely any parking, but everything else there is nice. Pro shop well stocked and good food waiting
Staff: A-; I didn’t actually see many staff here, being late afternoon and all. But I did find the ones I did see pleasant
Difficulty: B-; from tee to green, not much to worry about. But on the greens, these are some of the trickiest, fastest ones I’ve played in California for sure. Try not to leave anything downhill
Scenery: A; nothing better than a sunny fall afternoon with the natural look of this course set atop the rugged cliffs of Northern California
Value: B+; not bad at $130 for basically a twilight round, but it’d be nice to get a little more for your greens fee
Overall GPA: 3.33 (B+)