Touring the Pebble Beach Resort Gives Us an Inexpensive Look at Several Leading American Golf Courses
With enough free time off to attend a friend’s wedding on the Monterrey Peninsula this week, I received a totally unexpected vacation. In addition to a ceaseless regimen of wonderful food, scenic views, conversation, warmth and sunshine, I took my own advice, and went on the gorgeous 17 Mile Drive around the Peninsula. Some of America’s rarest golf courses live there in the Pebble Beach Resort . And, to my surprise, some of them are public. Someone like me can play them. I grew up, as many of us did, watching the various professional and pro-am tournaments played at the Pebble Beach Golf Links, and I once got to walk the 18th in the middle of winter, when no one was looking. This, however, was a real close-up view of the entire group of courses.
Most of the Pebble Beach green fees are hefty, but you can tour them for $10.75, then decide which one will be the centerpiece of your next vacation. We not only visited the golf courses in the 17 Mile Drive, but dozens of beautiful stopping points along the Pacific coast, and an ascension into the highlands late in the drive. My first impression of the courses in general was the juxtaposition of so many elements, They are manicured to the nth degree…and then suddenly they are not. The wildness of the peninsula’s natural beauty is given free reign. Remember the sight of Arnie hitting off the rocks down below the cliffs at ocean’s edge? Yes, it is beautiful and dangerous. The bunkers are almost elegant, but some look as if they intend to take over the course and sneak up on you when you’re not looking. Tree placement is at one glance refined, designed with finesse, until one realizes that they were here when the early explorers came, and they’re going to cause trouble.
Immediately upon driving in, we arrived at the Spanish Bay Links, an ocean course that flirts with Monterrey pines before returning to the rocky water’s edge. What is called by one observer as a course of “sensory overload,” a bagpiper brings us in each night. I suppose that might help to soothe a fierce inner battle with the elements. Robert Trent Jones designed it with Tom Watson and Sandy Tatum. It was built from an abandoned sand mine. Talk about a serious upgrade!
Another Robert Trent Jones product, Spyglass, was named after Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Jones’ father built the first five holes, and the result has ranked as high as 5th in the category for “America’s Greatest Public Courses.” After the first five, one visits the Del Monte Forest after the narrow greens and wind. In the center of the drive is the Peter Hay 9 hole course. The Executive pitch-and-putt requires modest $30 green fees. Bring your wedge for an exhaustive workout, on holes ranging from 61 to 104 yards. You will likely get even more wedge practice at short range.
In the center of the Pebble Beach extravaganza is the Pebble Beach Links Course itself – the most famous of all. It has been ranked #1 in the country, and is known to some as the greatest ‘novelty’ course in the world. It has hosted a tour event in every year since 1947, and will host the U.S. Open in 2019. If you ever get the chance to walk the shore along the par 5 18, do it, and by all means visit the Cliffs of Doom!
Following the star of the show, we visited Poppy Hills, the newest of the resort courses. In a sense, this course is my favorite, played almost exclusively within the forest. There’s no rough to contend with, only 100 foot plus branched behemoths. A par 71, Poppy Hills vaulted into notoriety when it replaced Cypress Point for the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am when the latter wouldn’t admit an African-American member quickly enough. I didn’t really expect a course to be up there on the high part of the tour. The forests are both elegant and threatening.
Naturally, to reach these courses, you’ll have to contend with Spanish, French, and Italian villas among the luxury homes, complete with spectacular landscaping mixed with the natural elements. I don’t generally spend time gawking at what the rich are doing, but when such beauty is created in the effort…well alright, just this once. One another characteristic of the 17 Mile Drive struck me – the lack of noise. Even the most clueless tourist seemed to understand that for both nature-lovers and golf-lovers, this was a magical place. It brought out the best in all of us on the day we drove through, and then it was back to more marital feasting, where we weren’t the least bit quiet.
I wish such a journey for all golf lovers at some point in their lives. It should be done, at least once. And when you do, bring the clubs for the public courses. You don’t have to know Tiger or Arnie to get in.