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MacKenzie’s Masterpiece: Cypress Point Golf Club

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The fabled links at Cypress Point Golf Club have captured the imagination of golfers worldwide since opening in 1928. From the cliffside par-3 16th to the spectacular closing holes overlooking the Pacific, Cypress Point offers breathtaking beauty and a heart-stopping challenge equal to its more famous neighbor Pebble Beach.

Bobby Jones stated “Pebble Beach is more difficult, but Cypress is more fun.”  From Ben Hogan to Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods, all of golf’s legends have tackled these epic links. Canadian legend George Knudson claimed that if he could only play one course in the world, it would be Cypress Point, a sentiment no doubt shared by many who have had the experience and those of us who long for it.

In this post, we’ll discuss why Cypress Point is considered by many to be the finest golf course on the planet. We’ll look at the unique history behind its founding, break down the genius of MacKenzie’s routing and strategic design, and relive some of the greatest moments from championships and celebrity rounds over the years. We’ll learn some facts about the course, suggest some further reading, and show some videos to bring the course to life. As always, the images are simulated to provide context.

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Cypress Point’s Origins

Cypress Point was conceived in the mid-1920s by Samuel F.B. Morse, the founder of the Pebble Beach resort community. Morse had a vision to build an exclusive, world-class golf club along the rugged coastline near Pebble Beach. However, it was Marion Hollins, a champion female golfer and key early member, who was instrumental in bringing that vision to life.

Originally, Seth Raynor was hired to design and route Cypress Point. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1926 before construction began and his role was limited to an initial routing of the course. After Raynor’s death, Marion Hollins brought in Alister MacKenzie to take over the design. MacKenzie likely used some aspects of Raynor’s routing but made significant changes as well. MacKenzie called it “infinitely more spectacular and beautiful” than even the great links courses of Scotland and Ireland. The site features dramatic oceanfront holes along the Pacific coastline, as well as wooded inland holes through cypress trees and sandy dunes. His routing took full advantage of the spectacular seaside landscape, incorporating ocean vistas, forested areas, and massive sand dunes.

McKenzie brought in Robert Hunter, author of the seminal golf architecture book “The Links,” and gave him great credit for his contributions to the design. The Cypress Point project began a partnership between MacKenzie and Hunter that led to several other famous California courses, including Pasatiempo, Meadow Club, and others. 

The course opened for play in August of 1928 to wide acclaim and was quickly hailed as a masterpiece. The onset of the Great Depression soon after did impact membership numbers and club finances early on, but Cypress Point’s remote location and private ethos allowed it to maintain its exclusivity and high standards over the decades.

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Notable Events

Cypress Point has hosted many prestigious golf tournaments, most notably the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (formerly known as the Bing Crosby Pro-Am) from 1947 to 1990. Legends like Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, and Arnold Palmer all competed in the event. Other notable events held at Cypress Point include the 1981 Walker Cup, where an American team led by Hal Sutton defeated Great Britain and Ireland 15-9 in a hard-fought contest.

Cypress Point has also seen its share of memorable exhibitions and celebrity members over the years. Well-known figures like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Clint Eastwood have all been members at various points. In 2019, an exclusive gathering was held at the club featuring six former U.S. Open Champions. The clubhouse also houses photos, scorecards, and other memorabilia documenting famous rounds and moments in the club’s history.

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The Course

The spectacular seaside landscape provided a blank canvas, with majestic woodlands, sandy dunes, cliffs, and ocean frontage, allowing MacKenzie to create a superb variety of holes and landscapes across the route. Several fairways now wind seamlessly through massive sand dunes, with greens nestled among sand islands and outcroppings. The infamous par-3 16th requires a heroic 222-yard carry over the Pacific to a putting surface encircled by sand.

Taking full advantage of elevations from cypress groves atop hills to seaside cliffs, MacKenzie blended these terrain elements together masterfully through the positioning of holes, greens, and bunkers. His bunkering work is considered some of his best ever, as the hazards match the natural sandy wasteland and dunes so well that they are camouflaged.

Cypress Point is renowned for its spectacular oceanfront holes, but it also features some memorable inland holes that wind through the Del Monte forest. The 4th hole is a tricky 370 yard par- 4 that gives players their first real taste of Alister MacKenzie’s use of optical illusions with bunkers strategically placed to make distances difficult to judge.

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The 16th Hole

The creation of the legendary 16th hole at Cypress Point involved a sequence of visionary architects, as it is the one hole that Seth Raynor seems to receive definite credit for. Playing 218-235 yards to an exposed green well-guarded by bunkers, the tee shot requires supreme accuracy and nerves to carry the ball over waves crashing below. Any miss leads to almost certain bogey or worse.

Marion Hollins herself made a pivotal contribution to the iconic 16th hole. She stood on the cliff-top site, hiked up her skirt, and boldly struck a shot over crashing waves to the cove below. This convinced a doubtful MacKenzie that the demanding par-3 was viable. While Raynor may have first identified the dramatic site, it was Hollins’ persistence and MacKenzie’s routing that brought the breathtaking 16th to life. Its beauty and difficulty have made it one of the most acclaimed par-3s in golf.

The 16th hole has seen its share of drama over the years. During the 1952 Bing Crosby Pro-Am, the average score was a shocking five strokes over par, with multiple tour professionals like Lawson Little and Henry Ransom carding quadruple bogeys or worse. This difficulty has led to criticism that the hole is unfairly challenging. The 16th distills the essence of Cypress Point into one unforgettable hole – the ultimate combination of beauty, strategy, and drama.

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Notable Holes

The back-to-back par-5s on holes 5 and 6 offer a nice contrast. The 5th plays uphill, and doglegs left around a forested ridge. The 6th then plays dramatically downhill with a fairway sloping hard from right to left, giving players a clear view of the ocean for the first time. The green is perched atop a sand dune, and falling short is not advised. These holes demonstrate MacKenzie’s expert routing skills and set the stage for the unforgettable oceanfront holes. The routing through the forest, dunes, and along the coast is simply masterful. While the 16th understandably gets most of the accolades, the rest of the course should not be overlooked.

Rather than fight against the spectacular natural landscape he was gifted, MacKenzie’s genius at Cypress Point was building a strategic, fun, and varied course that enhanced the terrain. The 16th hole and closing oceanfront stretch have become iconic. Playing Cypress Point remains the ultimate dream for many golfers drawn to experience MacKenzie’s greatest masterpiece.

While the course itself has remained largely unchanged over its 90+ year history, staying true to its original Alister MacKenzie design, it did undergo a restoration project in the early 2000s to recapture the original beauty and playability of Dr. MacKenzie’s routing. The restoration updated and rebuilt all 18 greens, bunkers, and tee boxes using modern technology while preserving the timeless strategy and aesthetic that makes Cypress Point one of the most revered courses in the world.

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Did You Know?

The Bing Crosby National Pro-Amateur, better known as the Crosby Clambake, was founded in 1937 by entertainer Bing Crosby as a casual pro-am event at Rancho Santa Fe Country Club near San Diego. It became one of the biggest events on the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing. In 1947, Crosby moved the Clambake north to the Monterey Peninsula, where it was played at Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, and Monterey Peninsula Country Club.

Cypress Point was part of the tournament’s rotation from 1947 through 1990. The scenic, cliffside course was a major draw for pros and celebrity amateurs at the Crosby Clambake. However, the club ended its affiliation with the tournament in 1991 due to controversy over its membership policies.

In 1956, Cypress Point hosted an impromptu exhibition match just before Crosby Clambake. Dubbed “The Match,” it pitted top pros Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson against elite amateurs Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward in an epic showdown. Hogan and Nelson narrowly defeated the upstart amateurs in front of a large gallery assembled as the round progressed, as word spread at the nearby Crosby tournament. The event generated such buzz that it is considered one of golf’s seminal exhibitions and helped mark the turning point when professional golfers began to overtake amateurs in stature and public acclaim. You can read the whole story in Mark Frost’s book “The Match” or our summary in “Cypress Showdown.”

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Cypress Point Today

Cypress Point remains one of the most exclusive and coveted golf experiences in the world. While the club keeps its membership strictly limited to around 250 distinguished members, its reputation and mystique continue to captivate golfers globally. Getting an invitation to play Cypress Point is considered the ultimate badge of honor in golf circles.

Cypress Point has hosted several prestigious amateur golf events, most notably the Walker Cup in 1981, and is scheduled to host again in 2025.  Most recently, Cypress Point hosted the Cypress Point Classic collegiate event in 2023.

The course itself continues to rank as one of the top 3 in the world year after year. Its iconic par-3 16th hole overlooking the Pacific and closing stretch along the oceanside cliffs are viewed as some of the most spectacular in the game. Under the stewardship of current golf professional Casey Reamer, Cypress Point maintains its founder’s vision of fast-paced walking golf with caddies. The strategic design by Alister MacKenzie has stood the test of time with only minor updates, letting the majestic seaside terrain take center stage.

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Further Reading

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Alister McKenzie’s Cypress Point Club
by Geoff Shackleford

Summary: Alister MacKenzie’s Cypress Point Club, by Geoff Shackelford, is a biography of both the creation and the creator of this legendary and elusive layout. Typical of Shackelford’s work, the book is richly detailed and painstakingly assembled. Remarkable vintage photographs and insightful text not only take you back to the 1920s, they take you through the mental and physical process that went into developing each and every hole — including the spectacular 16th, arguably the most famous hole in the world.

Throughout the world, few golf courses are as revered as California’s Cypress Point Club — not just for its breath-taking beauty but for its architectural significance. Located on the Monterey Peninsula along the white sands and steep cliffs that border the Pacific Ocean, the beauty of Cypress Point is the equal of its more famous neighbor Pebble Beach. Unlike Pebble, however, the history of Cypress Point has been relatively unknown. That is, until now.

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Sand and Golf
by George Waters

Summary: “Sand and Golf” explores how sandy terrain uniquely suits golf, studying similarities and differences between courses worldwide with sandy features. It examines all aspects of the relationship between sand and golf, from the sport’s origins in Scottish coastal dunes to its global spread onto sandy sites. Written by golf architect George Waters with a preface by renowned designer Tom Doak, it details through examples and illustrations why firm, rugged, windy sandy terrain makes creative shot-making integral to the game. The book appeals to knowledgeable golfers interested in course design and architecture, analyzing the art and science behind why golf belongs on sand.

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Golf Architecture
by Alister McKenzie

Summary: If you were ever in doubt as to what strategic design really means, why it is superior to other philosophies of golf architecture, what makes St. Andrews Old Course “infinitely superior to anything else,” or why the great sin in golf architecture is any feature that looks unnatural, you will find your answers here. In reading Golf Architecture you will learn to judge the merits and demerits of any hole you play, knowledge that will add considerably to your enjoyment in playing old, familiar courses as well as new ones.
Alister MacKenzie was not the most prolific designer, or even close, but who can approach his achievement of having designed three courses that are consistently listed among the top ten golf courses in the world? Royal Melbourne in Australia, Cypress Point in California, and Augusta National in Georgia are among the brightest jewels in the golfing crown.


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The Links
by Robert Hunter

Summary: A masterpiece of architectural literature, The Links is the first book that fully addresses the complexities of the golf course in terms of design, construction, and definition of the game. Written in 1926, Robert Hunter conceptualized The Links as a complete study, a manual for golf course architects and design enthusiasts, specifically written to advance the field of study in a way that had never been tried before.

Although Hunter was not a golf course architect by trade, or even a golfing professional, his background as a dedicated socialist reformer led to his unique understanding of the relationship between golf and its greater contribution to society. The challenges posed by golf, as well as the beauty produced by the singular nature of the world’s most famous links, led Hunter to conclude that diversity is what makes golf the cherished game that it is. In The Links, he postulates, “It is not the love of something easy which has drawn men like a magnet for hundreds of years to this royal and ancient pastime; on the contrary, it is the maddening difficulty of it.”


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Anatomy of a Golf Course
by Tom Doak

Summary: The book explains the thought process and strategies used by golf course architects in designing courses, including factors like hole length, placement of hazards, and routing. It aims to help golfers understand why certain design choices are made so they can better approach playing the course. Written by acclaimed golf architect Tom Doak, it appeals to both knowledgeable golfers and beginners interested in course design and architecture. The book also includes an appendix with examples of noteworthy golf courses that are worth studying.


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The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever
by Mark Frost

Summary: Dive into the drama of a 1956 showdown between golf’s greats, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan, and top amateurs Harvie Ward and Ken Venturi. This enthralling audiobook delves into the backgrounds, characters, and the high-stakes bet that made this match a pivotal moment in golf history. One of my personal favorites; I read this one when it first came out and am now on my second listen of the audiobook.

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18 Holes With Bing
by Nathaniel Crosby

Summary: In this memoir, professional golfer Nathaniel Crosby shares memories of playing golf with his father, beloved entertainer Bing Crosby, and the life lessons Bing taught him about golf and life through their time together on the course. The book provides an intimate look at Bing’s passion for golf, his friendships with celebrities, and his special bond with Nathaniel fostered through their mutual love of the game. Written as a heartfelt tribute, the book illuminates Bing Crosby’s life as a golfer and father.

Videos

Cypress Point Flyover
Steve Elkington on 16th
Caddie who Camped at Cypress
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