After a great round on the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club and a much-needed night of sleep, I awoke on Tuesday morning with some uncertainty. I had come to the Monterey area and the Carmel Valley with the expectation to play Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill, Monterey Peninsula Country Club(MPCC), and The Preserve. I had firm tee times at Monterey Peninsula and Spyglass Hill. My home club was working with The Preserve to schedule at tee time there. The wildcard was Pebble.
To book a firm tee time before the day of play at Pebble Beach, you are required to stay on property for a minimum of three nights. Rooms start at around $1000 per night. If you are on a romantic outing with your lovely wife, cost isn’t an issue. If you are on a golf excursion with your buddies, you can split the cost. If you are going solo like I was, that would be one expensive round of golf. As you can imagine, I did not pre-book a tee time for Pebble Beach. I did however monitor their website during the week leading up to my trip too track open slots for singles.
There was a tournament at the course that week, so there were very few slots available. All I needed was one. I did not yet have it, but what I did have was a resolute belief that things would eventually work out. I am a strong believer that the combination of a positive attitude and a willingness to work hard and never give up goes a long way in life. The never giving up part involves continuing to look for options and pathways to success even in the face adversity.
While I recognize that I’m only talking about a round of golf here, I believe that the laws of success apply to every aspect of life. Some say golf is life and life is golf. I know it’s only a game, but how you face this game can say a lot about how face life. I believe that your road in life is determined by the decisions you make and the actions you take at the intersection of your aspirations and adversity.
What should you do when your biggest dreams come up against your biggest challenges? Do you shrink under the pressure or do you dig deep and find the best version of yourself to face the challenge. For me, I try to dig deep and find a way. I didn’t have a firm tee time for Pebble, but I never doubted for one moment whether I would get onto the course.
I had scheduled my round at MPCC for the afternoon of my arrival in the area and at Spyglass Hill for Thursday afternoon. I’d asked my club to schedule my round at The Preserve for Friday morning. This provided me with the maximum amount of flexibility to play Pebble Beach on a moment’s notice. My plan was to hang out at course on Tuesday and Wednesday in hopes of an opening that I could fill. The only open slots that I’d seen online were two that were available for Thursday morning and some late afternoon slots that were not guaranteed to finish.
I arrived at Pebble at 7:30. I met the starter and several of the assistant pros. I discussed my quest and my plan for playing Pebble over the next few days. They took my name and number and said they would contact me should a slot open. I gathered my laptop and notes and headed to the lobby of the lodge there on site. I spent the morning marveling at the views from the lodge and working on my blog.
I checked in with the starter every couple of hours but to no available. At 1:00 pm, I decided to bag it for the day. I called over to Spyglass Hill to ask if I could move my Thursday tee time to the current afternoon. They were able to accommodate me for a 2:00 tee time. I decided to take it and try again on Wednesday and Thursday for Pebble. During my wait at Pebble, I’d spent quite a bit of time talking to the assistant pros and they had assured me that they would do everything they could to help me get onto Pebble on either Wednesday or Thursday. When you are trying to play the top 100 courses in the US as ranked by Golf Digest for 2017-18, you need all the kindness and generosity that people are willing to offer. This is not a challenge that can be met by one person alone. I have been fortunate and most blessed to have so many good people helping me on this exciting journey.
I made the quick drive from Pebble over to Spyglass Hill. I was surprised at how unassuming the pro shop was. There was no clubhouse, just a pro shop on one side of the street and a snack shop on the other side. I checked in at the pro shop to confirm my tee time and ensure that I’d have a caddie. I then headed over to the snack shop to grab a hot dog and a coke.
Following my lunch of champions, I hit a couple of balls on the practice range. My swing felt as fluid as the day before. I was well rested and relaxed. I then practiced my putting. My caddie, Jordan, arrived just before it was time to head to the first tee. This was my third time with a caddie whose name was the same as my son’s. At twenty, this Jordan was just a few years older than my son. Jordan was an accomplished young golfer. He’d won a tournament at Spyglass which then entitled him to around on Pebble Beach. His father had gotten him into caddying. He seemed like nice young man who was quite mature for his age.
As Jordan and I approached the first tee, we were joined by David. David and I had been paired as singles. He was from Connecticut but also owned a home in Southern California.
David and I agreed to play the gold tees. The course measured just over 6500 yards from the gold tees with a rating of 73.8 and a slope of 140, putting it on the high end of the difficulty scale. Spyglass opens with a very difficult par five. It is rated as the third most difficult hole on the course. The tee box is elevated above a narrow fairway that curves right to left with trees hugging both sides rather tightly. Not much of the fairway is visible from the tee box. There are no fairway bunkers, but there is a large irregularly shaped bunker between the end of the fairway and the green. The fairway ends about 50 yards short of the front of the green. There is also a bunker along the left side of the green and one off the right front of the green.
The hole plays 565 yards. I powered a drive 300 yards down the left middle of the fairway. It was probably the best drive I had ever hit. It frightened me though because just 24 hours earlier, I’d hit one of my worst drives and ended up with the best round of my quest to play the Top 100 Golf Courses in the US as ranked by Golf Digest for 2017-18. It also probably had the opposite effect on Jordan as it did on Bill the day before. Bill was likely thinking about what he’d gotten himself into after my first tee shot and Jordan was probably thinking he had a very low handicap golfer for his loop.
My ball was just right of the middle of the fairway 250 yards from the middle of the green. I was tempted to go for the green in two, but with that rather large bunker in the 50 yards between the end of the fairway and the green, Jordan and I agreed that I should lay up to the middle of the fairway, 80 yards out. I followed my best drive ever with a six iron to 85 yards out, just 18 inches left of the middle of the fairway. Who was this guy and what had he done with Jimmie?
I had hit my 60 degree wedge very well at MPCC and created several birdie opportunities. With 85 yards remaining to a front middle pin position, it was the perfect club for the shot. I unfortunately pulled the ball a little to the left. The ball landed on the green below the hole and 20 feet to the left.
I hit my birdie putt on the line I wanted but it broke slightly less that expected and skimmed the hole. I tapped in to open my round at Spyglass Hill with a par.
The second hole is a short par four with a wide open pear shaped fairway. However, to get to that fairway, you had to navigate a narrow tree lined alley off the front of the tee box. The fairway sloped severely from left to right as it twisted its way to an uphill green. The only bunker on the hole was the one off the right side of the very narrow green. With the hole measuring just 320 yards, I hit my three hybrid off the tee. My tee shot came off the face of the club to left and skimmed the trees. That skim prevented my ball from going farther left. The ball landed in the left rough 135 yards out.
The flag on the uphill green, looked a lot farther than 138 yards. With the ball below my feet, I lined up along the left side of the green. My 9 iron was clearly not enough club to reach the front middle pin. My ball landed in the left rough, short of the green.
I left my first chip short of the green. My second chip skimmed the hole and almost went in. I made the remaining short putt for a bogey.
The third hole is a beautiful par three that plays downhill to a green with the ocean’s deep waves splashing behind it. The holes measures just 145 yards, but on this day with the wind in our face, the downhill nature of the hole was offset by the wind. I played the number and tried to hit a draw with my 8 iron. The ball hung out to the right and landed pin high, 20 feet from the hole.
My birdie putt skimmed the hole again. I was just a fraction off on my lines. I tapped in for my second par of the round.
That Jimmie guy who I was wondering what happened to, reappeared on the 360 yard par four fourth hole. This short hole has a fairway with a lot of room to the right once you clear the 160 yards of native vegetation between the tee box and the beginning of the fairway. There is a ten yard band of rough that encircles the fairway. Beyond the band of rough there is sand on both the left and right sides. The fairway narrows significantly at about 120 yards from the middle of the green and ends 30 yards short of the front of the green. I decided to tee off with a three wood, aim down the left side and cut the ball back to the middle of the fairway. That didn’t work. I got under the ball and popped it up. The ball landed short of the fairway, leaving 210 yards to the green.
Having not learned my lesson, I tried to recover by hitting a cut over the sand along the left and back to the green. I hit California before hitting Titleist and the ball didn’t clear the sand. It hit in the sand 60 yards short of the flag.
The green on the fourth hole is over 50 yards long, but only 10 yards wide. I hit a good third shot from the sand but carried the ball about five yards too far. The ball landed in the rough to the right of the green.
I didn’t get my chip high enough to stay on the back tier of the green. The ball rolled below the flag. My bogey putt broke off its line right at the hole. I tapped in for a disappointing double bogey on what should have been an easy hole. This was my first double bogey since early in my round on the Shore course at MPCC. I shouldn’t have, but if I’m honest with myself, I lost a little confidence in my swing on the hole. I didn’t hit a single shot that was consistent with what I had in mind when I swung the club.
The fifth hole is a 180 yard par three with a bicycle seat shaped green. The tee box is perpendicular to the left side of the bicycle seat (from of the green). There are three small bunkers along the front of the green and two large ones off the back. The green was slightly uphill.
My weakened confidence affected my club select on the hole. I chose to hit a 5 iron out of the fear of leaving the ball short and in one of the front bunkers. My weaken confidence didn’t however affect my swing. I flushed the ball right at the flag. The ball flew over the flag and into the bunker behind the green. This was bad time to discover that if I hit my five iron really well, it will go almost 200 yards.
After flushing my tee shot, I learned just how far my sand shots don’t go when I get too much sand. My ball landed in the rough between the bunker and the green and nestled down for a nap. I chipped on to two feet and made the putt for a bogey.
The course was starting to back up some and Dave and were spending a lot of time standing around. I could feel my back starting to tighten. I play my best golf when I can keep moving. We were now at a point where movement had slowed.
The sixth hole is a 415 yard par four with a narrow fairway that doglegs from left to right as it cuts through the trees. There aren’t many fairway bunkers on this course, but there are two on this hole. They are about 250 yards out from the tee box and on each side of the fairway. This was a day where I just couldn’t get the ball to fade. I started my drive along the edge of the tree line on the left. The ball stayed left and land in the rough about five yards off the fairway. There were 190 yards to the flag.
We stood and awaited while the group in front of us putted out. I could feel my back muscles continuing to tighten. I got under the ball and popped it up on my second shot. The ball landed in the fairway, 85 yards short of my target.
I pulled my third shot into the bunker off the left side of the green. I hit out of the bunker to 20 feet but missed my bogey putt and made a double on the hole. A couple of Ibuprofen would have been good right about now.
The seventh hole is a 515 yard par five with a long straight fairway. There are two bunkers on the left at about 220 yards out. The already narrow fairway gets extremely narrow on the final 100 yards to an uphill green with a pond off the left side. There are trees on both side of the fairway. I finally got a ball to go to the right when I hit my drive into the trees.
I thought about hitting my driver off the deadpan but if it didn’t cut it would go deep into the trees off the left side of the fairway. I allowed Jordan’s good judgment to rule and I hit a 120 yard shot back to the fairway which left 190 yards to the flag.
My approach shot hit just off the front left edge of the green and rolled down toward the pond. From our vantage point in the fairway we couldn’t tell whether it went into the water. You can imagine my relief when we found it hung up in the rough just a few feet from the edge of the pond.
I pitched on to 15 feet past the flag. I missed my par putt but made the next putt for a bogey. I had now gone four holes without a par. And I needed to find a way to relax my back muscles. I started to stretch but I could still feel the stiffness. Maybe that long plane and car ride followed by 18 fantastic holes of golf was starting to have an effect on my muscles.
The eighth hole is rated as the toughest hole on the course. It’s a par four that measures 380 yards but plays longer since it’s uphill. The fairway bends ever so slightly to the left as it slopes to the right. There are probably around 120 to 130 yards between the edges of the tree lines off the left and right sides of the fairway. So, there is plenty of room to land your tee shot and be free of trouble. This hole just screams “come and get me!” I hit my drive 230 yards down the middle of the fairway, the ball rolled slightly to the right.
While I was only 150 yards from the flag, it was playing more like 160 yards. I hit my approach shot to the right side of the green, almost pin high.
My birdie putt was on line but stopped a foot and a half from the cup. I made the next putt for par to end my drought.
The front nine finishes with a long and tough par four. The hole measures 415 yards and has a narrow fairway that bends slightly to the right. There is a single fairway bunker on the right on the inside of the bend. I got under the ball again on my drive and popped it up to the left side of the fairway leaving 230 yards to a green with a back left pin position.
The green has a large and deep bunker on the left and a small one on the right. The 230 yards were uphill, so they were playing like 250 yards. The slight right bend in the fairway set up nicely for a driver off the deck shot. It was the only shot that I thought I could reach the green with. I lined up toward the bunker expecting a fade from the driver off the deck that could run up on the front of the green.
I caught the ball cleanly and solidly. The ball started at the bunker and stayed on that line. It didn’t move one yard to the right nor the left. The ball landed in the bunker on the left side of the green.
I hit my sand shot to 30 feet right of the pin. I missed my par putt but made the next putt for bogey to finish the front nine with a 44.
The back nine start with a 380 yards par four. The fairway is wide at the beginning and has a bunker off the right side as it makes a left turn toward a well bunkered green. The fairway narrows considerably past the bunker and after the turn. My drive came off the club to the right on a line toward the fairway bunker. The ball flew the bunker and landed just past it, leaving 170 yards to a back pin position.
I hit a six iron for my approach shot. It was too much club. The ball hit on the back of the green and bounced into the rough.
I chipped on to 3 feet left of the flag and made the putt to open the back nine with a par.
The 11th hole is a 490 yard par five with a sweeping fairway the bends left to right and narrows after the bend. It has similarities with the par five first hole in that the fairway ends at a bunker at 70 yards from the front of the green. There are also additional bunkers in that space. The bunkers continue along the right side of the green. While waiting on the group in front of us and dealing with back stiffness, I somehow managed to find my swing again on the drive on this hole. I crushed the drive 280 yards to the middle of the fairway, leaving just 220 yards to the flag.
The ball was on a slight downhill slope. I hit my five wood fat. The ball landed short of the green in the rough between the end of the fairway and the front of the green.
I pitched on to the front of the green. My birdie putt missed the hole two feet to the right. I made the two-footer for my second par in a row on the back nine.
After we finished the hole, we ran into Jin Park, the Head Pro for Spyglass Hill. Since we were waiting on the group in front of us anyway, I stopped to talk to Jin about my quest and let him know that his course was the 46th one that I’d played so far. Jin grew up in Seattle and played at Sahalee Country Club. We talked about how narrow that course is. As the group in front of us cleared the green, I wrapped up my conversation with Jin and headed to the 12th tee.
The 12th hole is a 160 yard par three with a long and narrow green that is considerably lower than the tee box. There is a pond along the left side of the green and bunkers off the front, the side, and the back. I took dead aim at the flag, but the ball came off the club face on a line along the left edge of the green. My butt cheeks tightened as I consider the prospect of my 8 iron tee shot landing in the pond along the left side of the green.
The ball landed safely pin high on the left side of the green. I relaxed my butt cheeks and headed to the green with my putter in hand.
My birdie putt missed on the amateur side of the cup. I tapped in for my third par in a row. I still wasn’t sure what happened, but I was back to making good swings.
The thirteenth hole is the fourth most difficult hole on the curse. It is a par four that measures 435 yards. It has a tree lined fairway with lots of rough between the edges of it and the trees. The fairway plays fairly straight. There are two bunkers on the left and one on the right between 200 and 275 yards from the tee box. It is another with an uphill green. The green has a bunker on the left and one on the right. I hit my drive 235 yards to the right fairway leaving 200 yards to the flag.
I still hadn’t learned my lesson on not being able to intentionally fade the ball anymore. I tried to do so with my approach shot. The ball started left and went farther left landing to the left of the left greenside bunker. I left my pitch shot in the rough, one foot shy of the green. I chipped the next shot into the cup to save par. It was my fourth par in a row on the back nine and my fifth par in the last six holes.
The fourteenth hole is the final par five on the course. It measures 525 yards and plays to a narrow fairway that continuously narrows as it winds through the trees on the way to the green. There are no fairway bunkers but there are bunkers on each side of and at the back of the green. The wait for the fairway to clear was painfully long, literally. I sat on the bench while we waited. This was a mistake. My back stiffened even more while I was seated. Once the fairway was clear, I hit my drive to the left rough.
The ball was sitting up enough in the rough for me to hit my driver again. I didn’t catch the ball cleanly and again it failed to fade. The ball hit the rough on the slope off the left side of the fairway and stopped dead.
I hit my third shot to the rough, left of the green and left of the bunker. I pitched over the bunker onto the green. The ball stopped 10 feet from the hole. I then left my par putt one foot short of the cup. My bogey putt dropped into the cup and my string of pars ended at four.
The fifteenth hole at Spyglass Hill is one of the shortest holes that I’ve played during my quest, but it is far from being the easiest. Even with the pin all the way back, this beautiful par three measures just 130 yards and was playing downhill with a slight helping breeze to 125 yards. The hole is almost Augusta like, but the view is disrupted by a house behind the green. There is a tree lined alley from the tee box to a green with water on the right and several bunkers on the back. David hit first and put his tee shot 12 feet right of the flag. I aimed to the left of the flag hit a high draw with my gap wedge. The split the difference between David's ball and the green, placing my ball just six feet right of the pin.
With David’s ball pin high on almost the precise same line, I was smelling a birdie. After several birdies on the day before at MPCC, I was in want of one here badly. Jordan and I saw the line with Dave’s putt and were confident that we had the right line. I however, failed to execute. I pulled the putt and missed the hole. I tapped in for a disappointing par.
After facing the shortest hole on the course, it was now time to take on the longest par four on the course. The sixteenth hole measures 455 yards from the gold tees and was playing into a slight breeze. If the hole wasn’t on the back nine I think it would be rated as the most difficult hole on the course rather than the second most difficult. On most courses the front nine has the odd handicaped holes and the back nine has the even ones.
The hole has a narrow tree lined alley between the tee box and a fairway that makes a dogleg to the right at 230 yards out. There are no fairway bunkers on the hole, just trees, rough, and the fairway. On a normal day this hole would set up perfectly for my fade, but on this day, I had been unable to hit a controlled fade. With the layout of the hole, Jordan and I had a discussion on whether I should try to hit a fade with my driver and risk going through the fairway if it didn’t fade, or just lay back with a three wood and have a longer shot into the green. There was also a hazard off to the left. I didn’t realize it until I chose to hit the driver and pulled the ball into the hazard. I took a drop and laid up to 150 yards out, albeit in the rough on the slope off the right side of the fairway.
I recognized that the ball would go left off the uphill slope but didn’t give myself enough room to the right. My fourth shot hit into the bunker on the left side of the green. Fortunately, I was able to get up and down from the bunker to save a double bogey.
I’d made par on the shortest hole on the course and double bogey on the longest par four on the course. The shortest par four on the course follows the longest one. The 17th hole measures 310 yards, has a wiggly fairway that is pretty open with one bunker on the left and three on the right. They are all within 110 yards of the green. The fairway ends about 10 yards short of the green. The green is surrounded by five spaced out bunkers. I hit my three hybrid off the tee to the right rough. The ball was 135 yards out but was siting up and at a great angle to the flag.
I hit a nine iron right at the flag. The ball hit short of the flag and rolled right toward it. It looked like it would roll right into the hole, but it missed it by a couple of inches to the right.
I didn’t get the eagle but had an easy tap in birdie. Suddenly, my stiff back wasn’t such a bad thing after all!
The final hole is a straight forward 390 yards par four. There is a bunker off the left side of the fairway at 215 yards from the tee box. The hole was playing directly into the setting sun which had fallen below the tree line. I hit my tee shot to the right, just short of the bunker, leaving 185 yards to an uphill green.
There were bunkers on the front and back left and on the front and back right. I pulled my approach shot to left of the left front bunker.
My number one priority on my third shot was to get over the bunker. Unfortunately, I over performed and got over the bunker and the green. My ball landed in the bunker on the right side of the green. I hit my fourth shot onto the green and two-putted for a double bogey to finish the back nine with a 40 and a total score of 84.
As Tiger would say, I didn’t have my A game, and there were several swings and a couple of putts that I’d like to have over, but all and all it was a good round. The caddie system at Pebble Beach is similar to Bandon Dunes. Your caddie can follow you from course to course. I got Jordan’s cell number and told him I would call him to let him know when I’d be playing Pebble. I wasn’t on yet, but I knew that somehow things would work out.