Black Horse

Black Horse, Seaside. Gen. Robert McClure with renovation by Gene Bates, 1964 (2008).

Originally built about a decade after Bayonet, Black Horse mostly sits on the south side of the same large property. When Gene Bates renovated Bayonet, he did the same with Black Horse—similarly removing trees, tweaking the routing in a few places, and adding a tremendous number of bunkers.

The bunkers at the renovated Bayonet are sort of amoeba-like—large and lobed, but with smooth edges, not unlike jigsaw puzzle pieces. But on Black Horses Bates and his team went for a scruffier bunker edge look. The bunkers are similarly sized and with the same kinds of wings and lobes to them, but the edges have that chunky look around the edges which is very popular in modern design. The two renovations were completed essentially concurrently—first they completed Bayonet’s front nine, then the back nine of Black Horse, etc.—so my impression is that the choice was simply made to differentiate the two courses. For me, though, the contrast simply serves to reinforce how unnatural the bunkering on both courses is.

Black Horse even more than Bayonet didn’t need much of an aesthetic boost. Especially with most of the trees removed, the site is gorgeous, offering long view out toward the bay from many spots, majestic old cypress trees, a rolling hills.

The Black Horse property offers great views out toward the bay.

You can certainly tell that this was the second course on the property, because the routing feels a bit forced in places and there are a couple long transitions from greens to tees that you don’t get on Bayonet. Both courses are quite hilly but Black Horse would be a harder walk just due to that.

The course opens with a par 5 that bigger hitters might be able to reach but eight large bunkers guard the hole within a hundred yards of the green. The third heads uphill. It is not a long hole, under 400 yards on the scorecard but with a steeply uphill second hot the front left bunker plays very deep, so it is best if you can approach the green from the right side of the fairway—to do that you must carry a large fairway bunker 230 yards off the tee as well as resist the temptation to aim more directly toward the green above.

After crossing the entrance road, the fourth plays back downhill. While much longer on the scorecard, a good drive in the fairway can run a long way here and it is entirely possibly that a player will have less club for their second shot on the 445-yard fourth hole than on the 390-yard third. The fifth is another long par 3, with deep bunkers right, a tree just left of the green, and the green itself sharply divided by a ridge.

The sixth may be the best hole on Black Horse and it is entirely a Bates creation. The hole heads straight back up the hill toward the entrance road. It is only 265 yards even from the back tee but it is all uphill—about 60 feet uphill in all—and the green is set behind a tee and several deep bunkers. There’s very little opportunity to run the ball on here. There’s only a very narrow strip of fairway to the far right edge of the green and it is steeply sloped right in front of the surface so if you want to reach the green you need to carry it all the way to the front edge. Otherwise it’s a lay up to the wide part of the fairway—200 yards or less, hopefully to the correct side of the fairway so you have a clear view of the hole not blocked by the tree.

The two left bunkers seen from the tee of #6 are actually left of the left edge of the green but seeing them there draws the eye away from the proper line for the hole, which is typically right of the tree.

Back across the entrance road the seventh heads back down the hill again and is the last hole playing along the Bayonet holes. The tee shot doglegs right around six bunkers that run all the way up to greenside so you have to carefully judge the club and line you want to take. The second shot looks out toward the bay but it is no time to be complacent as the green is tricky.

The next three holes run parallel to each other up and down and along a broad hill and are, for my money, the least compelling golf holes on the property. Many trees have been removed from along these holes, however, and the views from this hillside out toward Monterey and the bay can help keep you engaged.

The 11th is a tricky driving hole. It doglegs right and several cypress trees guard the inside corner of the dogleg so you have to get it by them, but you can bail left to play the angle because there are two bunkers on the outside corner of the fairway (and out of bounds beyond them). The second shot is slightly uphill to a green benched into a hill with a deep bunker left.

The green at #11 from the left rough. This is definitely not the preferred angle into this green.

The 12th is very much a risk-reward hole. A par 5 of only 508 yards it can be very reachable, but the fairway is very narrow and turns hard left, with thick trees on O.B. down the left, and trees and bunkers down the right. The next hole is a long two-shotter with bunkers and trees challenging the drive and a small green protected by a deep front bunker as well as a runoff long.

The 14th is a classic golf hole—you drive downhill and then play back uphill to the green. In the fairway there are staggered bunkers. As at the third hole, the best line for your second is to get your drive past the right fairway bunker to open up a better line for the second shot. The green is well above the level of the fairway and has a notable false front, anything that comes up short can roll a good way back down the hill.

This par 3 features five bunkers but three of them are set well away from the green. The biggest challenge here is the length of the hole and the fact that it typically plays back into the breeze.

Large flashy bunkers again pull the eye away from the target at #15.

The 16th is another short par 4 but not really drivable except for real bombers. Bunkers 35 yards short of the green present the risk/reward challenge here. The green is elevated and hard to run a ball onto but even simply getting a ball beyond those bunkers leaves a relatively simple chip (there’s also a slim strip of fairway that runs along the left side of the hole). Otherwise a layup must go to the bottom of the hill between those bunkers and a centerline bunker about 150 yards out.

#16 is another classic down-then-up hole.

After another long par 3 at the 17th, the finisher is a long par 5 that plays well downhill off the tee. The holes wraps around a low area to the left with a green that has multiple tiers.

While I think the bunkering is over the top—both in styling and in the sheer number of them—I don’t really have any doubt that the Bates renovation made wholesale improvements to Black Horse, which looks to have been a fairly pedestrian course prior to the changes. I think it is still the lesser of the two courses on the property—it got the second choice land, which makes it a more awkward routing and there are more simply indifferent holes at Black Horse, but it’s not a distant second. The courses complement each other and a 36 hole day here is not a bad way to spend a day (nearly) on the peninsula.

California 3rd Quintile [2019]