On Wednesday morning I returned to the Pro Shop at Pebble Beach Golf Links to see if there had been any cancellations. Much to my disappointment, there had not. I checked on the Thursday morning slots and there were two still available. I repeated my routine from the day before and returned to the lobby of the lodge to work on my blog. I had received confirmation of a tee time for early Friday morning at The Preserve in Carmel Valley. If I couldn’t get onto Pebble Beach on Wednesday, it would be all or nothing on Thursday.
By noon it became abundantly clear that this was not the day that I would play Pebble. But the outlook for Thursday was optimistic. The two slots were still available, and the assistant pro assured me that if I showed up at 7:00 on Thursday morning, he would reserve one on the two late morning slots for me without me having to try to get through on the reservation line. Since I wasn’t going to play Pebble, I decided to take a day off from golf on Wednesday and give my back a rest. I had considered going back to MPCC to play the Dunes Course. I hear that it is as nice as the Shore Course. I spent the rest of the afternoon working on my blog before heading back to my hotel in Monterey.
I arose early on Thursday morning and drove back to Pebble Beach. The assistant pro who assured me that he would reserve the slot for me was in the Pro Shop waiting. The slot was available. He entered my name and my 11:15 tee time became official. I was now all set to play Pebble Beach Golf Links. I texted my caddie, Jordan with our tee time and returned the Monterey Marriott for breakfast followed by relaxation before returning to Pebble to play some golf.
I returned to Pebble around 10:15. The driving range for Pebble Beach is at a practice facility that is a short bus ride away. I took the ride from the Pro Shop to the Practice facility to warm up. I returned to the resort of find Jordan waiting for me. While there is not a driving range in the immediate area of the resort, there is a putting green. There were still a few minutes to practice putting before my date with one of the most iconic courses in all of golf. Even those who don’t play golf know about Pebble Beach. The two courses in the US that most golfers dream of playing are probably Augusta National and Pebble Beach. Augusta National was the first course I played to begin my quest to play the top 100 Courses in the US in one year and Pebble Beach Golf Links would be number 47.
After a few putts on the massive putting green in the heart of the Pebble Beach Village, I made my way to the first tee. There I met the threesome that I would be joining. They were a mother, father and son from the San Diego area. When I am paired with other groups, I always ask them two questions before we start our round. I ask if their significant other knows that they are out playing golf and whether they are in a witness protection program. I then go to explain that I have a blog and what to make sure that it’s ok if they happen to show up in a random picture on my blog. I let them know that I don’t what to cause relationship or legal problems. I do this in jest. Every time I’ve asked those questions in the past, I’ve gotten a lot of laughs and received permission to freely include them in pictures. For the very first time, I got a “we would rather not.” They were a very nice family and I enjoyed playing with them, but you will not see them in any of the pictures.
The tee box for the first hole at Pebble Beach is sandwiched in between the Pro Shop on the left and villas on the right. There was a very commercial feel to standing on the tee box. It felt a little cheesy and not at all as I expected it would. When I played the Old Course at St. Andrews several years ago. It felt so surreal. When I stood on the first tee at Augusta National, I was nervous and excited all at the same time. As I stood on the first tee at Pebble Beach, I was somewhat disappointed in how unremarkable it felt.
I chose to play from the gold tees. They measure just over 6450 yards with a 72.6 rating and a 136 slope. Pebble Beach Golf Links opens with a short par four. The first hole measures just 345 yards. It has a fairway that bends left to right around trees on the right. There are bunkers on the left immediately past the bend. The fairway narrows as it approaches a green with a long bunker on the left and two bunkers on the right. To avoid hitting through the fairway on the left, I chose to hit a three hybrid and fade it around the trees on the left. I set up to start the ball just off the inside of the first bunker on the left. The ball started on that line and faded just as intended. The only problem was that I didn’t hit it far enough. My ball landed behind the trees on the right. I hit the ball 205 yards but needed 215 yards to get around the trees.
I was 145 yards out from a back of middle pin position. I chose to hit a 9 iron through the gap in the trees and fade it back toward the pin. I chose a 9 iron which is my 140 club rather than an 8 iron to ensure I got over the trees if I missed the gap. Again, I hit the shot I wanted, just not far enough. The ball landed just short of the green.
I chipped on to five feet and made the putt after Jordan gave me an excellent read, to open my round with a par.
The par fives at Pebble Beach Golf Links are rated as the most difficult holes on the course with one exception. That exception is the 495 yard par five second hole. It is rated as the 10th hardest hole. The hole plays as a par four during most professional tournaments. It is wide open and straightforward up to the last 120 yards before the green. The fairway is wide with three bunkers on the right and one on the left.
At 125 yards from the green, the fairway is narrowed by an alley of trees and then ends at 100 yards out just before a long and deep bunker. The fairway starts again about 50 yards from the front of the green. The green has a long bunker along the left side and a small one followed by a long one on the right side. I hit a 230 yard drive into the wind and to the right fairway.
I tried to lay up to the middle of the fairway and leave 120 yards to the green. I pulled the ball and it went farther than I expected. The ball landed on the left edge of the fairway, but I was blocked out from the green by tree branches overhanging the fairway.
No problem, I thought. I figured I could hit a low six iron shot under the branches and get the ball to run up on the front of the green. The ball came out too high and hit a branch and dropped, leaving 80 yards to the pin. I missed the green and landed in the right green side bunker with my fourth shot.
I hit my sand shot to 12 feet but left my bogey putt short of the cup. I made the short putt for a double bogey.
The third hole is a 375 yard par four with another wide open fairway that has bunkers and a ridge on the right and bunkers and a depressed area on the left. The view to the green with a bunker on the left and two on the right, provides the first view of the ocean. I hit a three wood off the tee to avoid reaching the bunkers on the right. My ball carried 210 yards, leaving 170 yards to a back right pin position.
I set up aligned with the left edge of the green expecting to hit a fade. The ball started on line, drew slightly and landed in the green side bunker.
I tried to land my sand shot just on the green but hit the top of the bunker. The ball rolled back in. With the experience from the first failed shot, I hit my second sand shot to twelve feet. I made the putt to save bogey.
The fourth hole is one of the easiest holes on the course. It is a 320 yard par four. The tee box is sandwiched between trees. From the tee box the fairway looks wide open. There is 180 yard carry over rough and a bunker to reach it. There is sand all along the left side. The right side is not visible from the tee box. The fairway necks down as it approaches a green that is guarded by bunkers on all but a narrow opening on the front. I hit my drive to the right fairway leaving just under 90 yards to the middle of the green.
As we emerged from the tee box I got my first glimpse of the remarkable Pebble Beach and the unremarkable Pebble Beach. To the right was the ocean with beautiful scenery. What I saw to the left I could find on any poorly maintained municipal course. The fairway was not the plush green scenery that I had seen on television and it was full of divots. I fixed my view on the right where I was captivated by the beauty of the coast line.
I hit my approach shot fat and left it just short of the green. I hit my chip a little thin. The ball rolled past the flag and off the back of the green. I chipped on to 3 feet and made the putt for a bogey.
The fifth hole is a 145 yard par three. It is the first hole that plays completely along the ocean. It is a beautiful hole with the ocean off to the right, mountains in the distance behind the green, and a ravine that separates the tee box from the rest of the hole. The green has a front right bunker, a back left bunker and two smalls one off the back. The right side of the green falls off a cliff into the ocean. There is a slope on the left side of the green.
I pulled my tee shot. The ball hit the slope on the left and rolled on to the green to 30 feet from the cup. We misread the putt. I hit it with good speed, but it broke much harder at the hole than expected and ended up 2 feet right of the hole. I made the putt for my second par of the round.
The next hole is Pebble Beach in all its glory. It is probably one of the three most recognized holes on the course. It is the 500 yard par five sixth hole which plays along the ocean on the right and has a steep rise to an uphill green. The fairway curves left to right along the ocean. On the left from about 240 yards out from the tee box there is sand in the form of various bunkers all the way up to the green. The last 160 yards of the fairway slope toward the ocean. It was both breathtaking and daunting in the same moment. All I remember thinking about as I swung my driver was to just not hit the ball into the ocean. I hit my drive 280 yards down the middle of the fairway and felt a sense of relief.
As I stood over my ball, I realized that the most difficult part of the hole was still in front of me, not behind me. The second shot is a scary uphill shot over the edge of the ocean. When my son was six years old, I took him on his first ride at Disney World. As we strapped into our seats, he looked at me and asked, “Dad, are you sure I’m ready for this?” How he felt at that moment is how I felt as I looked at the intimidating second shot from the fairway on the sixth hole at Pebble Beach.
I told my son that he had to trust me, and it would be ok. That is exactly what my caddie who had the same name as my son said to me. He said,” Mr. James, trust me. Just hit a 200 yard shot on that line and it will all work out.” I trusted him, swung the club and hit my ball over the edge of the ocean into the fairway just 90 yards short of the green. I breathe a sigh of relief.
I was concerned about my drive. I focused and hit the ball to the middle of the fairway. I was concerned about my second shot. I focused and hit the ball to the middle of the fairway. I wasn’t concerned about my approach shot. I thought I could relax with the most difficult part of the hole now behind me. I didn’t focus, and I pulled the ball way left. It took me four more strokes to get the ball to the bottom of the cup for a disappointing double bogey.
The seventh hole at Pebble Beach is the most spectacular and beautiful hole on the course. It is a short but difficult par three. The hole plays downhill to a green that is on a peninsula that jets into the ocean. The green is almost surrounded by bunkers that separate it from the ocean. The hole measures just 98 yards from the gold tees. I usually draw my 60 degree wedge, so I aligned just along the right side of the green, just left of the bunker. I made solid contact and the ball went as straight as an arrow. It landed just to the left of the bunker and then kicked in and rolled to the right edge of the bunker.
My sand shot got hung up in the rough between the bunker and the green. I chipped on to five feet but missed my bogey putt. This was the second most famous par three that I’d played on my quest. The first was the 12th hole at Augusta National. I missed a short putt and made a double bogey on that one two.
After the majestic and iconic seventh hole, the course turns back into a muny. The houses off the eighth hole certainly wouldn’t be found around your average muny, but the fairway was in worst condition than that of some of municipal courses that I’ve played. The view to the right of the tee box is awesome. The view to the left, not so much.
The hole is a 400 yard par four with a hard dogleg right. It begins with a wide fairway that ends at about 155 yards out. The fairway resumes across a cliff and continues to a green with bunkers along the right and the back. A drive to the left eliminates the need to play over the cliff. I aimed down the left side of the fairway but pulled the ball. It hit the cart path and rolled to 185 yards out, leaving a blind shot to the green.
I got a line from Jordan and hit my five hybrid along that line. I caught the ball flush. I knew it was on a good line but couldn’t see where it landed. Jordan was concerned that I may have it too well and into the bunker behind the green. The concern intensified as we approached the green and didn’t see the ball. I was relieved to find the ball hung up in the rough just inches from the back bunker.
I chipped on to five feet but missed my par putt and tapped in for a bogey.
The ninth hole is an ungodly long par four. At 460 yards, it plays as long as the par five second hole. The fairway is just long and narrow. There are a couple of fairway bunkers along the left side and the beautiful views of the ocean continue along the right side. I pulled my drive to the left. The ball hit the cart path and rolled almost forever, well at least until it had reach 335 yards; my longest ever with or without cart path help!
I was left with 135 yards to a small green guarded by front left bunker. My approach shot landed short of the green. I chipped on and two putted for a bogey to finish the front nine with a 46.
The 10th hole follows the ninth hole right along the ocean as the beauty of the course continues with spectacular views of the coast line. The 10th hole is a 430 yard par four. There is a cluster of bunkers off the left side of the fairway that start at about 250 yards from the tee box and continue for 80 yards. The green has a bunker along the left side and one that wraps around the back. The ocean protects the green on the right. I popped my drive up and it landed in the middle of the fairway, a long way from the green.
I laid up with my second shot to about 100 yards. My third shot landed short of the green. I chipped on and made the putt for a bogey.
As we left the 10th green, we turned away from the ocean, leaving it and its beautiful spectacular views behind, at least for the moment. The holes become ordinary again, but the views of the homes remain extraordinary. The 11th hole is a 350 yard par four. The first 150 yards or so are over rough. There is a bunker in the left part of the beginning of the fairway and one on the right a few yards before the green.
I hit my drive to the middle of the fairway leaving 140 yards to back middle pin on a very tiny green that is at a 45 degree angle to the fairway. There are bunkers along the left and right side of the green and one off the back of the green. With the green at an angle to the fairway, I had two choices for a line for my approach shot. I could go right at the flag but would have to carry the bunkers on the right to reach the green or I could fade the ball around the bunkers. With a nine iron in my hands, I decided to just go right at the flag. The ball landed 20 feet below the hole.
I left my birdie putt just short of the cup and tapped in for my first par on the back nine.
With the par three twelfth hole we complete the turn back toward the Pro Shop. The hole measures 185 yards and plays level to another postage stamp green. The green has a depth and a width of about 15 yards. There is a rather large bunker about the same size as the green on the front left, one a few yards short of the front right and two off the back right. In other words, there is more sand than green. My tee shot landed short of the big bunker off the left front of the green.
I pitched over the bunker onto the green. The ball rolled 10 feet past the flag. I made a bogey on the hole after my par putt stopped short of the cup.
The 390 yard par four thirteenth hole has a fairway that is shaped like and electric guitar. The beginning of fairway is wide and has a long bunker along the left side. There are also three small bunkers on the right side as the fairway narrows to form what looks like a guitar fret board. The green looks like the head of the guitar with bunkers on both sides that could serve as tuning pegs. I hit my drive to the right fairway.
As we walked toward my ball, Jordan pointed out what was once the home of Bing Cosby and the location of the famous clam bake that was the prelude to what became the Pebble Beach Pro-am. The clam bake is where millionaires Eddie Lowery and George Coleman made a bet that led to one of the greatest matches in golf. Eddie who had been the caddie for Francis Ouimet when he won the US Open in a surprising upset, bet George that he could take two amateurs and beat any two professional golfers on the planet. It turned into a match where Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson played against Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward. I believe “The Match” is one of the greatest golf stories ever told. If you have been torturing yourself by reading by blog, give yourself a treat and read this great book by Mark Frost. He also wrote “The Greatest Game Ever Played” which tells the story of that US Open that Francis Ouimet won with 10 year old Eddie Lowery on his bag.
My approach shot landed in one of the bunkers short of the green. I hit onto the green and two-putted for a bogey.
My only double bogey on the back nine came on the 560 yard par five fourteenth hole. The hole is parallel to the fourth and fifth holes. There is a view of the Pacific Ocean to the left of the fairway across those holes. The long and narrow fairway bends left to right with bunkers on the left and right up to about 250 yards before the green. I don’t know whether it was the ocean or just my poor play, but I spent a lot of time in the sand on this hole, including hitting my drive to the fairway bunker and hitting my fourth shot into one of the greenside bunkers.
The fifteenth hole probably has more trees than any other hole on the course. There is an alley created by trees between the tee box and the fairway. There are also trees off the sides of the fairway. There are many more on the left than the right. The hole is a 375 yard par four with a fairway that has several bunkers along the left side and one on the right that is about 60 yards from the green and essentially cut into the fairway. There is also one in the left fairway at about 110 yards from the green. I hit my drive to the right, across the cart path, just inches away from some nasty thick rough.
There were trees between me and the pin which was positioned on the front right portion of the green. There are bunkers to the left and the right of the green and one behind the green. I was just 130 yards from the pin. I thought my pitching wedge would easily clear the trees. I hit the ball a little thin. It caught the top of a tree and landed well short of the green.
I pitched onto the green to the left of the hole and two-putted for a bogey.
Pebble Beach Golf Links closes with a par four, a par three and a par five. I needed to par two of the last three holes to break 90. I had done it before and thought I could do it again. I got off to a good start by hitting my drive to the middle of the fairway on the 375 yard par four sixteenth hole.
The fairway is very wide but has a bunker in the middle of it that can be easily carried with a drive of at least 180 yards. The fairway narrows considerably at 230 yards from the tee box and has a couple of bunkers off its right side at that point. There are also trees on the left and right that form a narrow alley at about 50 yards from the front of the green. There is a long bunker with two branches and a small round bunker between the trees and the front of the green. I easily carried the bunker in the middle of the fairway with my drive.
With my ball in the middle of the fairway and 165 yards to the hole, I took dead aim at the pin which was in the middle of the green. My ball started on line but faded slightly as it approached the green. It landed to just to the right of the green.
No worries, I thought. A chip and a putt gets the par on the first of the last three holes. I chipped onto the green. The ball rolled six feet past the hole. I saw the line as it rolled by the hole, but still couldn’t make the par putt. I settled for a disappointing bogey.
After missing the par putt on the 16th hole, I needed to par both remaining holes to break 90. The par three 17th hole took us back toward the ocean. The hole has a long and shallow bow tie green with a large sand area in the front and several bunkers behind it. The Pacific Ocean serves as the back drop to the hole. The hole plays level with the tee box. The task was a simple one. I needed to put the ball on the green and then get it to the bottom of the cup in two putts or less. With the pin on the left side of the green, I pushed my tee shot to the right. The ball hit on the back of the green and rolled into one the bunkers behind the green. I now had my work cut out for me.
I hit my sand shot on the exact line I wanted, but just not far enough. I left a very tough par putt over a ridge and down to the hole.
It was a putt that was too difficult for me to make. I missed the putt and made a bogey on the hole. There was only one thing to do now and that was to birdie the final hole.
The 18th hole a Pebble Beach is one of the most famous finishing holes in the world. I believe it is meant to leaving a lasting positive impression of the beauty of the course. This 530 yard par five has a narrow fairway that follows the contour of the coast as it bends right to left to a round green. The tee box is about as close as you get to the ocean on the course. The views are stunning and breathtaking. The best shot on the hole is a draw that starts along the right side of the fairway, then turns back to the middle. I didn’t have enough confidence in my swing to play a draw. Besides, I needed to birdie the hole, so a better shot for me was one that shortened the hole by starting over the ocean and fading back to the middle of the fairway. That is exactly what I need, albeit not without a little butt puckering as I wondered it the ball would cover the edge and land in the fairway. It did, and I was relieved.
I had 285 yards to the front left pin. I could take the easy route and lay up to about 100 yards and be almost assured of a par or I could get the ball as close to the green as possible and try to pitch it close for a birdie attempt. I chose the latter. Now I needed my draw swing. I did something I rarely do. I took a practice swing. I then lined up toward the condos to the right of the fairway with the expectation of a draw. I made my best swing and hit the ball dead straight for 220 yards. The ball landed in the rough off to the right.
With 80 yards to the hole, I took out my lob wedge and shanked the ball to the bunker along the left side of the fairway. With that shank went all my hopes for breaking 90. I put my fourth shot onto the green, fifteen feet from the cup.
My best hope now was to sink the putt for par and score a 90 for the round. I hit a good putt, but it missed the cup. I made the next putt for a bogey and a 45 on the back nine for a total score of 91. It was my poorest showing of the week.
Just a word or two on Pebble Beach before I finish. The holes along the ocean, lets call them the Magnificent Seven, are some of the most breathtaking holes in all of golf. The rest of the course is unremarkable. In my opinion the course is over hyped and over commercialized. It is too crowded, too slow, and the fairways are not well maintained. I considered MPCC and Spyglass Hill to be better experiences. I now wonder if Pebble Beach is somewhat like the Mona Lisa. It was a great masterpiece with its texture and detail at the time it was painted, but frankly after staring at the little painting on the wall at the Louvre on three separate visits, I didn’t get what makes it so special and am not too ashamed to admit that. I do get what makes Pebble Beach Golf Links special and wouldn’t say the emperor has no cloths, but I would say the emperor has only gloves, underwear, and a top hat in the form of the beautiful holes a long the ocean. The rest of the course is unremarkable, the beautiful homes notwithstanding. Also I would to state that the golf staff at Pebble Beach was marvelous, as a matter of fact I will call them the marvelous seven. They were helpful, accommodating, and very friendly. I enjoyed the time I spent interacting with them.
My comments on the course are just opinions. I love art, especially impressionism, but am not an art expert, so I think its ok if I don’t get the Mona Lisa. I am also not an expert at golf course architecture, so just take my remarks for what they are worth.
After my round at Pebble Beach, I drove to Carmel beach and watched a beautiful sunset.