Bayonet and Black Horse golf courses

Wayne reviews the Bayonet and Black Horse golf courses of the Monterey Peninsula.

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In golf as in life, it takes time to earn a reputation. Changing one can be even more challenging. Hence, the dilemma for the Bayonet and Black Horse golf courses inside the renovating Fort Ord Army base on the Monterey Peninsula.

Both Bayonet and Black Horse had become synonymous for difficulty. "Long, narrow, really hard, trees, branches," some golfers still say . They would be the ones who have not returned since architect Gene Bates ripped out trees, opened vistas, rerouted holes, contoured greens, and replaced the distance sapping kikuyu fairways with bent grass. The new courses opened in late, 2008, following a 13-million dollar renovation. They could receive some awards by the end of 2009.

"I barely recognize this place," said one of my playing partners when we arrived. It will change, even more, after developers build a 275 room Fairmont Hotel, condominiums, and 125 home sites.

The courses remain difficult, but now, at least, golfers have fighting chances. Bayonet stretches 7,104 yards from the longest of five teeing options, and Black Horse 7,024, from the back tees of six. "It's better, but Black Horse still kicked my ass," reported a high handicap friend, who played the course two weeks ago.

"Will you return?"

"I'm still licking my wounds."

Our group, with handicaps ranging from 2 to 12, played both courses in one day, with scores skewing from the mid-70's into the high 80's. We discovered a tale of four nines.

All eighteen holes of the Black Horse, and the back nine of Bayonet, feature generous fairways and large landing areas. By contrast, Bayonet's front nine retains the old feel, with some narrow, tree-lined fairways demanding distance and accuracy.

For all the elevation changes and blue sky where trees used to be, you may most remember the new green complexes. They can be steep and undulating to the extreme, particularly on Black Horse. Those greens rolled without much pace on the day we played, and they may have to remain that way. In our opinion, the course will suffer from slow play if maintenance allows them to run much faster.

On Black Horse, we quibbled with a redundant design theme around greens --- closely mowed collection areas with drainage grates at the bottoms of dips and swales. We found the complexes to be sporting, but, those ubiquitous drainage grates detract mightily from both their playability and aesthetics.

We liked the new bunkering on both courses, finding their odd shapes with multiple capes and bays to be aesthetically pleasing. These bunkers present many challenges. Neither course offers a better example than the 295-395 yard, par-4 seventh at Black Horse. This is a hard right turning dogleg from an elevated tee with a magnificent view. For players seeking a more challenging line, six bunkers guard the inside right. They look tempting, but require a 260 yard carry from the back teeing ground, and 240 yards from the blue. Assuming you know your game and play the proper tees, those are fair and exciting distances.

Such options make Black Horse the more fun to play. On the 343-415 yard, par-4, tenth, a player can swing away. Favor a shot to the left side because the hole opens that way. From the right, a player must safely carry four large, deep bunkers into the severely sloped green.

Bayonet is the more difficult and classic course, on which we found many well-executed holes.

After an errant drive, the 436 yard, par-4, second, played like a monster with green tentacles. Those trees are not as dense as they used to be, but more than enough, and seem out of context with the rest of the course.

The 290-419 yard, par-4, twelfth doglegs left up a hill and around bunkers to a tight green that appears to have materialized like a Brigadoon in the foggy forest. It is peaceful, quiet, and serine.

The 275-393 yard, par-4, 16th, is a classic of strategic design mixed with penal elements. The hole plays uphill to a green opening on the right. In true strategic design fashion, the premiere fairway bunker is also to the right. If you challenge that bunker, the green will be receptive to your approach. Should you miss left, however, be careful of two fairway bunkers that might snatch your ball and steal your chance for birdie.

In summary, whatever you remember about Bayonet and Black Horse in their military incarnations, these course have changed. Their challenges remain formidable, but the renovations have made them more fair and memorable.

We should add, however, that as these have become resort courses, your round will also be more expensive. Fees range from $75 to $160 dollars .. a steep escalation from what they used to be, but a middle price point for golf on the Monterey Peninsula.

www.bayonetblackhorse.com

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