Ken Woods knows the questions that are coming.
For the past 18 years, Woods has been the head pro at Pasatiempo Golf Club, an Alister MacKenzie classic nestled amongst the barrancas and ridges of Santa Cruz, California. His position is mainly an administrative one, regularly coordinating tee times with tour operators from around the world who are putting together trips for clients.
Invariably, those golfers want to know about the rich history of the property, and Woods is there to play the dual role of head pro and historian.
“We get a lot of questions, but we never get tired of it,” Woods said.
Where is MacKenzie’s house? It’s left of the fairway on the par-5 sixth hole, a short wedge shot from the green. He lived there from 1929 until his death in 1934.
And what about his ashes? They were spread across the famous three tiers of the 16th green, now the home to routine four-putts.
What is the connection between Pasatiempo and Augusta National? It’s a close one. Marion Hollins, the recent World Golf Hall of Fame inductee who worked with MacKenzie to develop Cypress Point, hired the iconic architect for her Pasatiempo project in the late 1920s. When the legendary amateur Bobby Jones came to play the 1929 U.S. Amateur at nearby Pebble Beach, he stunningly lost in the first round and went on to spend ample time with MacKenzie before an inaugural exhibition match that he had already agreed to play the following week at Pasatiempo. Jones, through playing Cypress Point and Pasatiempo on the trip, discovered that MacKenzie was a kindred spirit with a similar design philosophy. A year later, Jones hired MacKenzie to design Augusta National. Despite being more than 2,000 miles apart, the two courses share some striking similarities.
During (Woods’) time leading the golf operation, Pasatiempo has grown from a rough-around-the-edges hidden gem to a trendy powerhouse that now charges $385 green fees.
This is the type of material Woods gets to explain in detail to guests at one of the country’s most singular facilities. Despite Pasatiempo’s 430 members, the semi-private facility still allows 25 percent of its play to come from outside of the club, meaning Woods spends much of his time balancing member requests while still leaving ample room for the masses of golf lovers who want access to a club that feels just as exclusive as some top-tier private clubs.
“It’s definitely unique because we really haven’t found another club that has the similar type of setup as we do,” Woods said.
During his time leading the golf operation, Pasatiempo has grown from a rough-around-the-edges hidden gem to a trendy powerhouse that now charges $385 green fees. It all starts with the golf course, which underwent a lengthy Tom Doak-led renovation throughout the 2000s to bring the layout back to its original state. In particular, the rugged bunkering and treacherous green complexes were revived to world-class levels. But beyond word of mouth and the course itself, Woods has been at the center of pushing for a heavy marketing campaign that now has golf purists and enthusiasts considering Pasatiempo in the same sentence as its Monterey Peninsula neighbors.
“We’ve been reaching out to golf publications and trying to put ourselves out there,” Woods said. “Getting into the top 100 was a huge push for us, which we did last year. People are really taking a liking to seeing the course on Golf Channel, which is televising the Western Intercollegiate that’s been here for 75 years. That’s obviously a huge marketing tool for us, which has been great. We’ve seen so many people coming through here that have been watching the tournament over the last two or three years on television and can’t wait to get here to play it.”
Woods was born for this role. He grew up in nearby Aptos, working at Seascape Golf Club from junior high until college where he played golf at Cal State-Stanislaus in the San Joaquin Valley. Recognizing that he wasn’t going to make it as a tour pro, Woods instinctively went the club-pro route, starting in Northern California at Ukiah Valley Golf Course for five years before being hired as an assistant pro at Pasatiempo in 1996.
He left Pasatiempo in 2002 to take his first head-pro job at Poppy Hills, a public course on the Monterey Peninsula. That didn’t last long. By 2004, he had moved back to Pasatiempo as the head pro.
It was just where he belonged.
“When I got the job at Poppy Hills, I really felt that I would be able to go down there and do my thing where I didn’t have the kind of members who were always demanding and asking questions of you,” Woods said. “I thought I wouldn’t have to answer to 400 bosses because it was a public course. And once I left, I missed the relationships. I missed the people I was serving.
“I think halfway through my professional career, I knew I wasn’t going to do anything else the rest of my life because I just enjoy the relationship part of this business.”
Click on images of No. 4 and No. 16 above to enlarge.
Woods grew up playing tournaments at the course – it was a $4 entry fee at the time – and describes himself as a “card kid” who had access to the practice facilities and course during college. Back then, the conditioning was nothing like it is today.
“They had white daisies in the fairways and the grasses really weren’t consistent,” Woods said. “Now when you play, hitting off the fairway is like hitting off the fringe. Just overall, the course is much better than it was in the early ’80s.”
Now 55 years old and a 31-year veteran of the golf industry, Woods is deeply satisfied that 23 of his club-pro years have been spent at Pasatiempo. When asked what the most gratifying part of his journey has been, Woods goes back to the essence of the course.
“I think just being a part of history and being a part of this golf course where I grew up just 15 minutes south of here,” Woods said. “I had no idea Pasatiempo was the best golf course in our area when I was growing up, but even when I started working here as an assistant pro, just the gravity of what this golf course is and what MacKenzie and Hollins mean to the world of golf … it took a while to sink in.
“Seeing it grow and seeing people enjoy it is just as gratifying as having those relationships with members. It’s been 18 years on the second or third go-around, and I appreciate it every day.”
Editor’s note: GGP/Biz will not publish a Friday story this week in observance of Independence Day weekend.
Top: The tee shot at Pasatiempo’s par-4 first hole plays southward toward Santa Cruz, with Monterey Bay as the backdrop.
Photos: Courtesy Pasatiempo Golf Club
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