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Monday, January 5, 2015

Poppy Hills Thunders Back

Poppy Hills #17
One of the most successful course renovations in recent history was revealed last year at Poppy Hills, the home course of the Northern California Golf Association (NCGA) on the Monterey Peninsula just a few minutes from Pebble Beach.  Robert Trent Jones, Jr., totally transformed his original 1986 design to make it better integrated with the natural landscape and more playable for golfers at all levels.  He didn't make it easier, just better.

Poppy Hills now features wider fairways with less artificial mounding and fewer out-of-place bunkers that previously punished seemingly perfect shots in the fairway. To keep it challenging, there's now very little grass rough to keep your off-line drives from rolling into the trees of the Del Monte Forest. That unfortunate roll also happens more frequently now, too, because the fairways were rebuilt to make them firm and fast. Hit it straight and you'll be happy.

You'll also see many new sandy waste areas, many of them in front of tees, that not only give Poppy Hills the scruffy, natural look favored today but greatly reduce the water and chemicals required to maintain essentially unused acreage. The look and playing conditions aren't far from the new Pinehurst #2.

Poppy Hills plays tougher than the yardage, so don't let elevated testosterone levels push you into a set of tees you'll regret.  Basically, you can add 300 yards to the numbers on the scorecard to dictate your optimum length. The three-poppy (white) tees at 6,299 yards (70.5 rating/126 slope) actually play more like 6,600 using that formula.  From the tips, it's 6,672. The shorter tees measure 5,215.  Par, by the way, is 71.

Extensive bunkering and ample elevation changes aren't the only things adding difficulty to Poppy Hills. The greens and approaches now play hard and fast just like the fairways. Unless you've got a wedge game that drops the ball with a parachute, it's best to land your approach in front of most greens and let it run on. That's true on the par threes, too. It's no fun playing from behind most of these devilish greens.

Like the Pebble Beach Resort courses, Poppy Hills is a daily-fee facility that gets heavy play. NCGA members get some preferential treatment, so make your tee times as early as possible. Carts are available as are pull-carts, but arrangements for caddies should be made in advance with a call to the pro shop.

Local knowledge helps greatly here, so consider playing Poppy Hills two or three times--you won't regret it.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

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