Cigar Aficionado

Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay

If you've spent any time in the Bay Area of San Francisco, you've probably driven right past Half Moon Bay. It doubtless never occurred to you that there are two fine golf courses there and a superb Ritz Carlton Hotel on the bluff overlooking the courses and the mighty Pacific. Half Moon Bay might be the most undersung golf destination in the U.S.

No, it's not the Monterey Peninsula, two hours farther to the south, nor do the courses rival Pebble Beach or Spyglass Hill. But this is the only oceanfront golf-and-accommodation destination in the greater Bay Area. Fly into San Francisco and you are only a half-hour from the exhilarating golf of the Old and Ocean courses and the pampering of the Ritz.

The Old Course is an Arnold Palmer layout. You'll see a sentimental picture of Palmer in the clubhouse hitting a tee shot along the bluff on what would become the 18th hole. That hole is one of the best in California, and the final three holes are a stellar and challenging finish.

The newer Ocean Course, by Arthur Hills, is intended to be links-like and has largely achieved that already. But both courses are being updated under a new management company, and Mark Kendall, the principal of the management group, wants the Ocean Course, with its gorgeous waterfront finish, to be much truer to the links style. Large, closely mown areas around the greens and the introduction of fine fescue grasses will become the standard. The goal on the Old Course is to have it playing fast and firm and to clear out the thatch and soggy areas.

The pro shop has an especially impressive selection of cigars that are managed by Burlingame Tobacconists. The 20 or so varieties include Montecristo Classic El Conde, Davidoff Anniversary No. 3 and Avo XO Intermezzo, which are available for smoking on the clubhouse terrace.

The Ritz Carlton Hotel is an abiding place that exists primarily as a destination for locals from San Francisco and San Jose. Despite plenty of hustle and bustle here, the hotel retains a relaxed atmosphere and a playful demeanor. After all, the place serves s'mores—you can have marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers brought to you at one of the communal fire pits overlooking the ocean, and make your own. You can also reserve a first-floor room that has a private fire pit.

The rooms are as luxurious as you would expect from a Ritz. Those that overlook the ocean have window seats ideal for listening—to the barking of seals, the screeching of sea birds, the crashing of waves. The food is top shelf, from the Navia restaurant to the Conservatory Lounge to the Eno Wine Bar.

Among the several golf-hotel packages is the popular $519 deal that provides a room for a night with unlimited golf for two over two days

Hey, stop off on the way to Monterey. You might stay awhile.

Visit and or call 650-712-7000.