AUTHOR’S NOTE: There will be a longer piece forthcoming, but I owe it to you to satiate your appetite and to share this treasure with you.
I’m in Pebble Beach, CA, but even in this mecca of superlative golf, both public and private, the golf takes a back seat for now. There are many wonderful human interest stories to tell about this small patch of Heaven on Earth upon which it seems God himself smiled. Monterey is best known for pricey resorts, pretentiousness and California attitude. I prepared myself for some semblence of that.
Boy, was I wrong.
This may be a private club and there may be strict rules…no cell phones, period…no short pants period, men or women…act civilly to each other at all times…(shouldn’t these rules be in place everywhere?) But the warmth, sincerity, accomodatingness and humanity of these people – privileged to live in the heart of one of American Golf’s most blessed plot – rivaled even the hospitality of Oregonians and North Carolinians. On this trip, I saw Cypress Point, Pebble and Spanish Bay, but the members and staff here not only have beauty and challenge in their golf course to match, it’s as though all your nicest friends somehow hit the lottery, moved here, formed a club and live in harmony.
As we sit here today, MPCC is the latest and last masterpiece of Mike Strantz, who passed away yesterday. As many of you know, his cancer has been cruel and ruthless. At the exact same time God smiled on him and gave him the chance to add his name to the great pantheon of designers who make Monterey Golf one of the world’s gold standards, he was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue. Mike did not smoke, chew or have any other vice that would have been an intuitive cause. To this day, the source of his cancer remains a mystery.
Through chemo and radiation, he kept working at this site. He believed in his heart, it kept him alive. You have seen Pebble, Cypress and Spyglass on TV or other video or pictures. MPCC is just as beautiful. Now you can understand how the land worked its magic on Mike to inspire him. Well Mike worked his magic back to the land and responded with what may be his greatest work.
“I wanted to shape the course to sweep with the natural terrain…the rocks…the trees and grasses…the ocean. I dreamt that the course would appear to dance among the cypress trees on this coastline forever. I wanted to players to feel a sense of wonderful discovery.” Mission accomplished.
While working the project, Mike underwent radiation to battle the cancer. Luck was not kind – the radiation reflected off his dental work and destroyed his salivary glands. He could no longer eat or drink for his sustinence as we can. Later, doctors removed 90% of Mike’s tongue, but still he worked, designed, sketched and granted interviews. When I met last summer with Mike, his wife Heidi sat with us offering to interpret any answers to my questions that might be difficult to understand. Happily, our mutual love of the game and understanding of architecture made his answers easy to follow and the interview flowed as well as a Tom Brady operated New England Patriot offense. Despite all the treatments and medication, Mike never took me up on my offer of a break or a rescheduling. His love of golf energizes him at all times.
KInd, sincere, warm Mike was the perfect person both for the job and for the kind, warm and sincere members and staff. This is an ultra private club, but the members are welcoming and inviting. My visit occurred during their co-ed member tournament, but there was never a question of my visit being an inconvenience. Head pro David Vivolo could be the PGA Professional’s poster boy for Mr. Congeniality. Members eagerly vied with each other in their offers to play with me, so I took the oppurtunity to play with as many as I could. I started my round with a few holes with Glenn, a marshal whose “aw shucks” warmth and witty banter helped celebrate my birdies and comfort my stinker shots. Then a few holes with a foursome of ladies. Then three holes with Idaho transplant Mike and his 14 y/o son Bryson, a solid stick and a wide receiver and free safety on his high school football team. “I love tackling guys,” he confessed as he pitched one over a patch of lethal brush and scrub and onto the back of the second green. Even the lady whose roof I belted with a wayward drive came out to smile and say, “No harm no foul…and keep those wrists turned over.” (Don’t worry purists…houses only line three holes and they are well recessed…I tried to bite off way too much of the corner…Darn Taylor Made driver…)
I played the coastline holes in poignant solitude. just me, the ocean, the deer (dozens), the crashing surf and the course. Not a soul in sight, even on tourney day. It moved my to the depths of my golf soul as only bandon Dunes had before.
And then there is Pinnacle Peak…The magnificent 11th hole. A par-3 downhill to a sweeping green framed by fragrant Cypress. The tee boxes are set high on rugged rocky outcroppings with commanding, staggering views of the majestic coastline. This was the last hole Mike designed at the course. Talk about “finish with a flourish.” It is unparalleled beauty. I sat here in solitude for twenty minutes and remembered Mike iwth a grateful, but heavy heart. It was the most sad moment of my golf career to be here at such a hard moment for his family, but I am ever so grateful for their generousity at setting up my visit weeks ago.
In typical Strantz fashion, typical routing requirement go out the window. There is no “36-36 two loops of nine holes with two par-3s and two par-5s” to rein in his vision. instead the 35-37 = 72 course has FIVE par-5s and FIVE par-3s because as Mike would say…”that’s what the land told me to put there.”
To be continued…