Half Moon Bay
The San Francisco Treat
By Scott Kramer
Ahh, Northern California. I've been to San Francisco several times. I've played Pebble Beach. But I'd never been to Half Moon Bay, even though I'd heard great things about the quaint little town that's 23 miles southwest of the San Francisco airport. Several people I know who'd visited there were floored by the scenery and vibe. And that excited me. So I decided to check it out.
From SFO, we drove the 40 minutes into town on a Sunday morning. It seemed like everyone in the Bay Area was heading to the beach, to escape the heat. Our route took us right through Half Moon Bay's mile-long main drag. The town was actually larger than I had imagined and loaded with coffee shops and busy restaurants.
We finally arrived at the Half Moon Bay Golf Links that consists of two public courses - the 14-year-old Arthur Hills-designed Ocean Course and the 38-year-old Arnold Palmer-designed Old Course - as well as the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay. You might logically assume that the courses were property of the castle-like hotel - which by the way is designed to resemble a grand Scottish hunting lodge. But they're not. In fact, anyone can play them. The hotel and golf happen to be marketed together, so there are fantastic stay-and-play deals to be had.
After a quick lunch at Mullin's Bar and Grill inside the golf clubhouse, we head to the Ocean Course's first tee. Seventeen of the holes sport ocean views, and some of them are visually spectacular. The links-style layout is so wide open that many drastic hooks and slices can easily be found lying on adjacent fairways. Less-skilled golfers will truly appreciate the win-win math of that scenario, as they lose fewer balls and take fewer strokes. Even accomplished players will likely be tested along the way, as afternoon gusts can perk up suddenly along the coast - especially on the bluff where the course is situated. At some points on the course, I can envision myself being in Scotland. But turn around and see the gorgeous mountains inland, and it quickly brings you back to Northern California. The par-5 18th hole plays dramatically along the cliff, directly above the beach to your left. A walking trail attracts plenty of non-golfers, which makes my playing partners certain they're going to inadvertently nail someone with their tee shots. Fortunately, no one got hurt. The course is incredibly scenic. Many of the holes have a similar feel to them - wide fairways, open views, rolling terrain, and immaculate condition - but No. 18 I will never forget because of its setting, drama, and the view of the hotel behind the green. And the fact that while we were playing, a whale made its presence known just off the beach. Living in Southern California, I often play courses along the water. But the links-y soul of the Ocean Course makes it a unique and worthy destination.
After the round, I checked into the Ritz-Carlton. One word describes this place: Wow. The grounds, details, luxury, views, friendliness, efficient service, and food are all world-class. I go to dinner in the hotel's Navio restaurant. It's truly one of the nicest restaurants I've ever set foot in. Yet the service is normal and friendly - anything but pretentious. It overlooks the Pacific and the daily-changing menu is essentially what's called Northern California coastal cuisine - soups, salads, beef and fish all with a hint of healthiness to them. Although I will say that the scrumptious peanut butter ice cream dessert ladled with chocolate sauce was well worth all of the extra calories. I take a post-dinner stroll on the terrace. Many of the ground-floor rooms have patios equipped with natural gas fire lines, to add atmosphere. I can't help but notice the s'mores bar at the terrace's upscale fire pit that's entertaining children and adults, alike.
After a great night's sleep, I start my morning with a workout in the fitness center followed by a cappuccino in the club room - that's the swanky room you need an access card to. The Ritz-Carlton, I'm told, is renowned for having the best in class of these in its hotels. Then I head downstairs and across the driveway to the Old Course, a total of 150 steps from the hotel front door. This layout turns out to be a gem of a parklands-style design. It meanders through housing developments, which makes it seem relatively mundane compared to its sister course. In fact, you forget you're near the ocean because you simply don't see it for most of the day. Yet the player-friendly holes are fairly challenging and forgiving, and the terrain wavers between flat and hilly. Not only are the course and its many evergreens mature, but everything's in spectacular condition. People at the facility tell me that this is the member's favorite layout and I can certainly understand the sentiment. It's very playable, the greens are immaculate, just as they are at the Ocean Course. But where the breaks on the fairways and greens are dramatic on the Ocean Course, they're more subtle and predictable on this course. Everything's a smooth and lovely ride, and then comes a jolt: You're suddenly on the 17th tee box, staring at a reasonable-length par-3 where the green is perched right above the ocean. That's followed by the finisher, a par-4 along the cliff that may be even more brilliant than No. 18 on the Ocean Course. The green is just below the patio of the Ritz, and hotel guests frequently gather at the outside bar and cheer any great approach shots. Which can be rather intimidating and fun, at the same time.
The next morning, I check out. The ride back to SFO is just about 20 minutes this time - without much traffic to speak of. Along the way, I think about what a great two-day getaway Half Moon Bay is. Or how it would perfectly complement a trip to Pebble Beach and Monterey, about 90 minutes south. Maybe next time. For sure, there will be another time.
Revised: 09/22/2011 - Article Viewed 2,523 Times - View Golf Course Profile
Written By: Scott Kramer
Scott Kramer, former senior editor of Golf Magazine, is a freelance golf equipment writer based in Carlsbad, Calif. - the unofficial capitol of the golf equipment industry. His work can be found on a regular basis in publications, such as T&L Golf, PGA Magazine, Met Golfer, Golf Tips and Private Clubs.