Poppy Hills Golf Course shouldn't be the Rodney Dangerfield of Pebble Beach golf
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- It has to be tough trying to live up to Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill Golf Course and the Links at Spanish Bay. That's the task for Poppy Hills Golf Course, an excellent Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that's always been overshadowed by its big brothers at Pebble Beach.
Up until this year, it was also part of the rotation of the PGA Tour's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, until it got replaced by the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club. Back in 1991, Poppy Hills replaced Cypress Point, one of the most beloved golf courses in the world.
What came before and after is a double whammy to be sure. Measuring up to Cypress Point and the Shore Course is tough duty, indeed.
One of the aspects that hurt Poppy Hills was the timing of the AT&T. During the winter, the lies can be thin and the ground can be wet with all the winter storms the area gets. And without all the spectacular coastal views that some of the other courses have, players are hard-pressed to overlook less than perfect conditions.
But in the summer, it's in wonderful shape, says Justin Williams, head golf professional at Poppy Hills Golf Course. "It got a little bit of a bad rap in the AT&T."
Poppy Hills GC: Home of the NorCal Golf Association
Despite its Pebble Beach address, Poppy Hills Golf Course is not part of the Pebble Beach Co. In fact, it's owned and operated by the Northern California Golf Association, which makes its home there.
That fact is extremely beneficial to golfers who are members of the NCGCA. They can play this wonderful layout for $55 during the week and $72 on the weekend. The rack rate for the rest of us is $200, though there are other special rates, including twilight, which is worth looking into.
Opened in 1986, Poppy Hills Golf Course cuts through the Del Monte Forest, through towering pines and cypress trees. Most of the holes are doglegs, which means being able to work the ball is a desirable trait. It can also play difficult for many players, but the fairways are generous enough for the most part.
Most of the greens are also large and elevated with plenty of slope, making putting one of the better challenges. The par-72 course tips out at nearly 6,900 yards with four sets of tees. Slope rating from the back tees is 74.6/144. (PGA Tour player Matt Gogel holds the course record at 62.) There are five par 3s and five par-5 holes, giving the layout great variety.
One of the toughest par 3s is the second, which has a huge green that can yield putts of close to 100 feet. It plays 172 yards over a large ravine.
Poppy Hills Golf Course's par 5s are also interesting. No. 4 is a double dogleg, as is the ninth and 18th, which features six strategically placed bunkers.
The 10th, a reachable 516-yarder, is one of the most picturesque holes on the course. A large pond and lone pine tree fronts the green, bringing in a great amount of risk for anyone trying to hit the green in two.
Poppy Hills Golf Course: The verdict
Judged on its own, Poppy Hills is a very good golf course. When I played it in May, it was in outstanding condition, including the Poa annua greens, which were as good as any on the Peninsula. Combine that with interesting and challenging holes, terrific scenery, on-cart GPS and a nicely laid-out clubhouse, and you've got a pretty enjoyable golf experience.
The clubhouse also serves as headquarters for the NCGA. Inside, there's a large golf shop that shares an open area with Porter's Grill, which has several brews on tap, including Guinness (a plus at any golf course). The clubhouse also has a huge outdoor deck, excellent for enjoying Pebble Beach's mild weather and watching golfers come in on the ninth and 18th holes.
Practice facilities at Poppy Hills are also more than adequate with a large range, practice greens, practice bunkers and a short-game area. Lessons are available from the professional staff, and NCGA members can take advantage of periodic free clinics.
Staying near Poppy Hills
If you're playing Pebble Beach Golf Links, you're probably staying at the Lodge or the Inn at Spanish Bay. But if you're not, there are endless options on the Peninsula, including bed-and-breakfasts, chain hotels and some unique places on the Peninsula.
Among the options are the Monterey Inn on Cannery Row and the Portola Hotel and Spa in Monterey. Many of the rooms at the quaint Monterey Bay Inn overlook the Pacific Ocean. Leaving the door cracked at night brings in the faint sound of the surf as well as the occasional bark of sea otters, perfect for slumber. You can also take advantage of one of the property's hot tubs, which also overlooks Monterey Bay.
The Portola Hotel & Spa is located in downtown Monterey near Fisherman's Wharf. It offers 379 residential-style guest rooms and suites, 50,000 square feet of meeting space with the adjacent Monterey Conference Center, a full service spa and two distinguished restaurants, including Peter B's BrewPub, Monterey's only microbrewery.
June 3, 2010