From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten:
Cypress Point, the sublime Monterey Peninsula work of sandbox sculpture, whittled Cypress and chiseled coastline, has become Exhibit A in the argument that classic architecture has been rendered ineffectual by modern technology.
I'm not buying that argument.
Those who think teeny old Cypress Point is defenseless miss the point of Alister MacKenzie’s marvelous design.
MacKenzie relished the idea that Cypress Point would offer all sorts of ways to play every hole. That philosophy still thrives, particularly in the past decade, after the faithful restoration of MacKenzie’s original bunkers by veteran course superintendent Jeff Markow.
Certainly one way to play Cypress is the full-bore, take-dead-aim, grip-it-and-rip-it, bomb-and-gouge approach. But it’s also a course where finesse still matters, where course management is still rewarded. Yes, long bombers can go low at Cypress Point these days, but so can short-hitting, thoughtful players, who much like sailors in a storm tack their way around bunkers, trees, dunes and ocean coves. And when the winds come up, as they often do at Cypress, it’s the latter approach that’s likely to be more successful.
MacKenzie never believed much in three-shot par 5s, so if the 491-yard par-5 fifth is just a driver and 8-iron to many, well, both shots must still avoid acres and acres of sand bunkers splattered across the rolling fairway.
Would the downhill 289-yard par-4 ninth, with its narrow stairstepped green tucked between sand dunes, be any more challenging if it would be lengthened 50 or 75 yards? It would still be reachable from the tee for big hitters, but out of range for ordinary players, robbing the majority of the fun and consternation of trying to drive a par 4.
Likewise, little would be gained by lengthening the tiny 139-yard 15th, which plays over a cauldron of swirling Pacific. Curiously, MacKenzie lamented that the 15th lacked, “a sufficient number of alternative shots necessary to play it.” But he forgot about the wind, which invariably is either directly into one’s face, or blowing out to sea.
As for the infamous par-3 16th, listed at 233 yards, its tee could be moved back up a hill to 260 yards, or even the 280-yard range. But why? To revive the debate whether Mackenzie originally intended the hole to be a short par 4?
One of the great myths of Cypress Point is that founding member Marion Hollins, the 1921 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, convinced MacKenzie to reduce the 16th to a par 3. Jack Fleming, who supervised construction of the course, set the record straight 50 years ago. MacKenzie always conceived the hole as a heroic one-shotter, alternatively as a drive-and-pitch-par 3. Describing the 16th to San Francisco golf writer Art Rosenbaum, Fleming related:
“Miss Marion Hollins and I watched as he [Dr. MacKenzie] took his place exactly where the back tee is today on the 16th. He said, ‘This is the place, over the water.’ We thought he was crazy and told him so, politely of course. Dr. MacKenzie would not budge. He said, ‘Dammitall, the land side is too simple. It they don’t have the game for it, they can play to the left. If they go to the green, they will be credited.’ ”
Ironically, the one hole Mackenzie wanted longer was the 343-yard 18th, where a conventional fairway later become forested by the encroachment of cypress trees. Mackenzie had designed a back tee 50 yards out on an ocean rock, even proposed a suspension bridge to reach it, but it was never built. Today, despite some tree clearing, it’s still the most confounding of holes at Cypress Point, where even a big hitter has no true advantage.
What’s not to like about that?
100 Greatest: Ranked since 1966.
2023-'24 ranking (and previous): 3rd.
Highest ranking: No. 2, 1987-'88.
Best in State: Ranked first since 2003 (including 2023-'24). Ranked first, 1985-'89, 1997-'99. Ranked inside the top 5 since 1977.