Bayonet, Seaside. Gen. Robert McClure with renovation by Gene Bates, 1954 (2008).
Let’s say this first: This is a lovely place to play golf. I would play there again without hesitation on a Monterey trip. But because it is a course in the Monterey area—where there are plenty of great golf courses to fill out any length of trip itinerary—it is worth doing a little nitpicking even for a nice place.
I first saw Bayonet (and its sister course Black Horse) from the window of a bus in 2007. It was a confusing look at that time. There are few sites not actually on the ocean as lovely for golf—on a broad hill with abundant views out to Monterey Bay, gentle rolling hills, and with sandy terrain. But the existing courses were choked by trees—lovely cypresses that they were, they blocked many of the views and made the corridors I could see look narrow. And the course was being torn up. I now know it was the beginning stages of a Gene Bates renovation but at the time it seemed as likely that they were tearing up an old military base course to turn it into condos or something.
For the better part of a decade after that, I didn’t think about Bayonet and Black Horse again. I played golf in Monterey in 2012 and heard the raves about Pacific Grove and of course Pasatiempo further up the coast. But not a word about Bayonet and Black Horse.
It is still largely thus. On a later trip in 2018 I made a point to at least drive by, and I was blown away by what I saw. Long views out to the bay with trees accentuating but not choking the holes. Dramatic bunkering and rolling hills. I was eager to play both courses when I again returned to the area.
I wish I could say what I found was a must play or a real hidden gem. It’s not quite that.
I never played the pre-renovation Bayonet but based on aerials and commentary, the renovation didn’t change the routing much. Bates took a course defined by narrow tree-lined corridors and few, small bunkers and widened the corridors by removing trees only to build more than 50 huge bunker complexes. A course that had, by my count, just four fairway bunkers, now has more than 20. Bayonet now has no bunkerless holes and only two without fairway bunkers.
Immediately after the renovation, the consensus of those who had loved the old Fort Ord was that they had ruined the place—of course, that’s a common refrain after a renovation. The old Bayonet was a universally acknowledged beast of a course—long and narrow with small, tricky greens. But many loved its particular brand of pain.
The course is still plenty hard if that’s what you’re looking for—the 74.8 rating attests to that—and though 7,100 yards isn’t what it used to be, it’s plenty long in the typically heavy air around Monterey Bay. It’s just hard in a different way than it used to be. And it’s not the unique spot that it was.
For a course built atop a giant sand dune, the bunkering seems entirely unnecessary (and the white sand used in the bunkers reinforces this). Not too far up the road at the Olympic Club is one of the game’s fine examples of how a course can succeed with virtually no fairway bunkering. The conditions here are similar enough that I can see why the earlier version of the course worked—sloping land and trees create all the interest you need in the landing areas. All the bunkers Bates added here feel basically like eye candy first, though of course they do serve to increase the difficulty of the holes as well, they are so large and so overly stylized that the overall impression is one of decoration over strategy.
Probably the weakest feature of the original course was the routing. The front nine seems to have gone through multiple iterations and re-numberings and the back feels like you’re consistently going uphill, then down, then back up again. The course’s most famous routing feature is “Combat Corner,” the severe right-to-left doglegs that Gen. McClure designed at the 11th and 12th, supposedly to aid him in his matches (he apparently played a wicked lefty slice). That feels more like a bug than a feature to me.
Unfortunately, few routing changes were made. Bates moved the ninth fairway to the left, turning the hole into a dogleg right (this to accommodate housing of all necessities), built a new tee on the 11th that turned it into even more of a severe dogleg, angled the 14th to play more directly east, and moved the 15th green about 50 yards closer to the tee. They also moved the 17th hole 50 yards east (basically into the crook of the dogleg on a hole on the Black Horse course) to make room for a planned resort hotel, which as it happens was never built.
I suppose it would have been difficult, given the existing corridors and trees to entirely blow it up and create a new routing, but given how extensively they did change things in some areas (for the sake of development, mostly) it feels like more could have been done.
McClure had found some good spots for holes, though, and there a number of holes on today’s Bayonet that I quite enjoy. The first and 10th are parallel par 5s that play downhill off the tee into a valley and then back up to greens set on a hill. The first is longer, but with a good drive the 10th can be reachable.
The fifth is a short par 4 playing slightly downhill with everything running away from you toward the bay. The view is excellent but the green is shallow and it is tough to get a shot to clear the menacing bunker in front but still stop on this slippery green.
The seventh is uphill almost the whole way, notably so right at the green. There’s a deep bunker protecting the front left of the green and a huge tree just left of that that can play havoc with an approach coming in from the left side. But the right side of the fairway is dominated by one of Bates’ huge fairway bunkers, one of the most effective on the course. The ideal play is to carry the bunker, but it’s uphill and if you don’t make it then you will probably be laying up with your second shot on a sub-400 yard hole, never a fun prospect.
The “Combat Corner” concept as a routing conceit doesn’t do much for me, but it’s a nice pocket of the property. A conservative tee shot to the corner on the 11th will leave no more than a short iron in, but the tee shot is downhill enough that you can challenge the trees and bunker at the corner if you wish. The chance to have a shot club in hand for the approach may be worth it given the gauntlet the next few holes present.
The 12th goes back uphill, again turning left past a deep bunker. Anything left here is in deep trouble—there are thick woods left of the dogleg, but even shots that drift just into the left rough will find trouble in the form of a dead oak tree about 100 yards from the green. Another deep bunker guards the front right of the green.
The 13th is back downhill but is 480 yards and is often back into the breeze. You have to fit the drive between staggered bunkers on either side of the fairway and then drop the approach between deep bunkers on either side of the green.
The challenge eases over the closing holes—the 15th is a short par 4 to a green tucked behind trees and though the 16th is significantly uphill, if you can avoid the bunkers, it can offer a birdie chance as well. But the best birdie opportunity may be the 18th, a short par 5 that bends right and finishes at a green overlooking the bay.
But while there are plenty of good holes here there are no great holes and, given the advantages of the site, not getting more out of it seems a pity. I mean no offense to Gene Bates—I quite like the course he designed at San Juan Oaks and he did some good work when with the Nicklaus Design Team—but it does feel a little bit like a lost opportunity. At the same time Bates was renovating Bayonet and Black Horse, Renaissance Design was doing their renovation of Commonground in Colorado. The scale of the transformation there puts into perspective how much could have been achieved here.
As I said above, I’d be happy to visit Bayonet again. It’s a wonderful spot to play golf. But the feeling I cannot shake is this—it ought to be more.
California 3rd Quintile