Monterey Peninsula Country Club (Dunes)
California, United States of America

Green Keeper: Bob Zoller

Monterey Peninsula, Dunes Course at Monterey  Peninsula, Seth Raynor, Rees Jones

The Dunes Course at MPCC has it all: a mix of inland and dunesland features (sometimes both in the same hole as here at the 11th)...

Monterey Peninsula, Dunes Course at Monterey  Peninsula, Seth Raynor, Rees Jones

...before getting to the rocky coastline at the 14th.

This website profiles nine Seth Raynor courses because his work leaves much to be admired. And yet, the Club Board at Monterey Peninsula Country Club made the right decision to modify their Seth Raynor Dunes Course at Monterey Peninsula golf course rather than restore it. How can this be?

Several reasons. First, Seth Raynor died in Florida at a relatively young age while the Dunes Course at Monterey Peninsula was still under construction. Similar to what happened at Lookout Mountain, his design team led by Charles Banks was inundated with numerous projects at the time of Seth Raynor‘s death, and were hard pressed to find the time to devote to so many projects.

In this case, the local Robert Hunter was called in to finish the Dunes Course at Monterey Peninsula and Hunter shared Alister MacKenzie’s view (as expressed in a letter to Samuel Morse in January, 1932)that  ‘…golf course construction is an artist’s work and not an engineer’s job.’ Hunter does not appear to have been captivated by Seth Raynor’s style in general and certainly, the architectural styles of a Cypress Point Valley Club of Montecito will never be confused with a Fishers Island or a Camargo.

Indeed, in the preface to Hunter’s The Links (which was published the same year that the Dunes Course at Monterey Peninsula opened), Hunter praises the work of numerous architects including Colt, Abercromby, Macdonald, Travis, Ross, Emmett, Tillinghast and MacKenzie. Seth Raynor’s name is conspicuous in its absence, especially given Hunter’s involvement at the time with the Dunes Course at Monterey Peninsula.

As all of this relates to the Dunes Course at Monterey Peninsula today, some Seth Raynor fans, which are a tough group to please, may be a touch disappointed not to find more of the famous engineer’s crisp lines and dramatic steep faced bunkering at the Dunes Course at Monterey Peninsula. However, many such features never existed to begin with as Hunter preferred a more natural – and less engineered – finished product.

Importantly, it needs to be noted that the construction budget from Samuel Morse was limited and this manifested itself underneath the ground where the drainage work was inadequate for Dunes Course at Monterey Peninsula since it is exposed to torrential rains. When these famous rains pelt down on the Monterey-Carmel area, the more inland fairways in particular puddled and remained soft for days. Poor grass coverage was a result and more importantly, the desired fairway firmness was unachievable. Tee balls would actually bounce back toward the golfer.

Given its windy location, the ability to play the game close to the ground is crucial, so something needed to be done. In 1998, the Club Board interviewed several different architects about improving the drainage on the Dunes Course at Monterey Peninsula. Firstly, they wanted to provide the infrastructure to carry away the large volume of surface water and secondly, to have a minimum grade of at least 1% throughout the Dunes Course at Monterey Peninsula.

Rees Jones’s plan of roughing up the flat, cupped fairways made the most sense to the Board and they proceeded with him.

Monterey Peninsula, Dunes Course at Monterey  Peninsula, Seth Raynor, Rees Jones

An example of how Jones roughed up the flat fairways to improve drainage. Pictured is the 13th.

Though his work was brought on by the desire to improve specifically the drainage, Rees Jones and the Board used this opportunity to enhance Raynor’s unfinished design, with the fourteenth hole being the most obvious example.

Originally constructed in 1926, the fourteenth was a half-hearted effort by Seth Raynor’s team that highlighted their limited budget. While it existed for over 75 years between 17 Mile Drive and the Pacific Ocean, its location was its sole merit as the tee and the green were as non-descript as one could imagine for such a glorious setting. With more resources at his disposal, Rees Jones did what Seth Raynor would have undoubtedly done if he had been on-site during construction: He pushed both the green and the tee as far right and onto the coastline as possible. This one shotter is now a white knuckler and lives up to the jaw-dropping setting.

Some traditionalists contend that Seth Raynor kept the tee and green well away from the Ocean for agronomic concerns. However, the angle of the shoreline and the arrangement of this rocky point are such that the waves break well back from the green. No, the fact is that Seth Raynor didn’t maximize the hole’s potential and to have faithfully restored it would have been nonsensical.

Rees Jones did further work to showcase the natural beauty of the property, and it is this natural beauty that ultimately distinguishes Dunes Course at Monterey Peninsula from so many others. For instance, a dense grove of cypress trees and underbrush ran along the last 100 yards to the right of the twelfth fairway. Since moving such a jungle is both time consuming and costly, and since it didn’t directly affect play, it had been left untouched for decades. Rees Jones, equipped with more resources, cleared the underbrush, and thus opened up panaramic views down the coastline. At the same time, wind now plays an even bigger role on the approach shot. Thankfully, of course, with the improved fairway drainage and the resulting firmness, the golfer can beat Mr. Wind by playing the low running shot.

Holes to Note

Fourth hole, 230 yards; An unusually difficult Biarritz because of the right to left sloping green. Most Biarritz offer a reasonably large target but this green follows the slope of the land down toward the distant Ocean. Missing the hole location to the right is verbotten and the golfer must stay to the left of the hole even if that means going into the left hand bunkers which leave a relatively straightfoward uphill splash shot.

Monterey Peninsula, Dunes Course at Monterey  Peninsula, Seth Raynor, Rees Jones

The view from the elevated 4th tee to the green well below. The right to left tilt of the green as well as the classic Biarritz swale is much in evidence.

Monterey Peninsula, Dunes Course at Monterey  Peninsula, Seth Raynor, Rees Jones

Sixth hole, 430 yards; This hole had a poorly placed bunker on the outside of the dogleg and Jones filled it in and created a long bunker on the inside of the dogleg, making the tee ball more strategic. By the green, he restored the back bunker to its original depth of eight feet and made the bottom flat in true Seth Raynor style.

Seventh hole, 170 yards; A wonderful version of an Eden hole with the clean lines of the green’s horizon allowing the golfer’s eye to catch the first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. For such a master at routing golf courses, this one shotter played from the top of one hill across a valley to the top of another must have been one of the first holes that Seth Raynor settled upon early on during the routing process.

Monterey Peninsula, Dunes Course at Monterey  Peninsula, Seth Raynor, Rees Jones

As with The Eden at The Old Course at St. Andrews, part the playing fear is what happens to one's tee ball that sails long. Charles Blair Macdonald's only criticism of the Eden in Scotland was that the golfer could play the hole with just his putter; no doubt he would have loved Raynor's version here.

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