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 of 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 on Wednesday, I decided to give my back a rest and take the day off. I had considered going back to MPCC to play the Dunes Course since I heard that it was as nice as the Shore Course, but I decide to spend the time working on my blog instead.
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 at Pebble Beach Golf Links became official. I texted my caddie, Jordan “See you around 10:45,” before return to the Monterey Marriott for breakfast.
I returned to Pebble around 10:15 and hopped on the bus for the short ride to the practice facilty to warm up. I’d had a great round on the Shores Course at MPCC and a good round on Spyglass. I was curious as to how I would handle the sixth, seventh and eighteenth holes. After my warm up I returned to the resort and made a few putts on the practice green behind the first tee. The hands on the clock appeared to be moving as slowly as the string of cars driving along 17 Mile Drive. I was anxious from my date with one of the most iconic courses in all of golf to begin. 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 it and Augusta National. 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 walked over to the first tee where I introduced myself to the mother, father and son from the San Diego area that I was paired with. When I am paired with new people, I always ask 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 want to make sure that it’s ok if they happen to show up in a random photo. I them in jest that I don’t want to cause relationship or legal problems. I’ve always gotten laughs and permission to take as many pictures as I wanted. Not this time. The son, a financial planner and the father an attorney both said they’d rather not be in any photos. They turned out to be nice guys but I hope they are not running for the mob.
The tee box for the first hole at Pebble Beach is wedged 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. 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 that measures just 345 yards. It has a fairway that bends left to right around trees with bunkers on the left just beyond the bend. The fairway narrows as it approaches a green with a long bunker on the left and two on the right. To avoid hitting through the fairway on the left, I set up to hit a three hybrid toward the left bunkers and let the ball fade around the trees. The ball started on that line and faded just as intended but flew just 205 yards instead of the 215 I needed. It dropped short of the trees.
With 145 yards remaining to a back of middle pin position, I asked for my nine iron. I executed the shot with the exact amount of left to right bend that I wanted, but again left if short of my target. The ball landed just off the green.
I chipped on to five feet. Jordan gave me an excellent read. I stroked the ball and watched as it dropped in the cup 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, the 495 yard second hole. It is rated as the 10th hardest hole. The hole plays as a par four during most professional tournaments. The fairway is wide and the hole play straightforward even with the two bunkers off to the left and one off to the right. That is until you get to the last 120 yards.
At 125 yards from the green, the fairway is narrows throug a shallow alley of trees and then ends at 100 yards out just ahead of a long and deep bunker. It picks up again at about 50 yards from the front of a green with a long bunker along its left side and a small one followed by a long one on its 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, landing on the left edge of the fairway which left me by overhanging tree branches.
No problem, I thought. A low six iron under the trees should do the trick. The ball came out too high and hit a branch which slowed it down. It stopped 80 yards from the pin. I hit my fourth shot right at the flag just left of the bunkers off the right side of the green. The ball faded ever so slightly and dropped in to the bunker.
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 with bunkers and a ridge on the right and a depressed area on the left. I caught my first view of the ocean as I looked out at the green with it bunkering off both sides in the distance. I chose a three wood off the tee to take the bunkers on the right out of play. My 210 yard tee shot left 170 yards to the back right pin.
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 got too cute and tried to land my ball just over the edge of the bunker. The ball hit on top and kicked right back to my feet. With a little less sand on the second shot, the ball landed twelve feet from the cup. I rolled the ball into the cup to save bogey.
At 320 yards, the par four fourth hole is one of the easiest on the course. The tee box is sandwiched between trees. The fairway looked wide open. A 180 yard shot carries the rough and a cross bunker. I saw sand on the left but was block out on the right by the trees just off the front of the tee box. I could still see that the fairway narrowed as it approached the green. Jordan said it was safe to hit my drive. I hit toward the sand on the left and let the ball fairway back to the right side of the fairway leaving just 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 all at the same time. 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 caught the unmanicured turf before catching my ball and left my approach shot just short of the green. I made up for it by hitting my chip a little thin and watched as the ball raced past the cup and off the back of the green. I chipped back on to three feet and sunk the short putt for my bogey.
The scenic 145-yard fifth hole with mountains in the distance beyond the green is a the first hole that plays completely along the ocean. The tee shot requires a carry over a ravine on the right and a bunker off the front of the a green that falls off into the ocean on its right side.
I pulled my tee shot. The ball hit the slope on the left side off the left side of the green and rolled to 30 feet. Jordan and I missed read the putt after watching the line the ball took after it kicked off the slope. The ball broke much harder at the hole than we had anticipated. It came to rest two feet right of the cup. I tapped in for my second par of the round.
My heart was pounding as we walked to the sixth tee box, the first of the three iconic holes I dreamed of playing. The five hundred yard hole with its steeply rising fairway follows the contours of the clift that drops off into the ocean on the right. Looking out from the tee box, the fairway looks as narrow as a hiking trail between the bunkers off to the left and the edge of the cliff off to the right. The view was breathtaking and daunting within the same moment. The last thought that went through my mind as I swung my driver was to not slice the ball into the ocean. My ball rose gradually as it sailed down the middle of the fairway traveling 280 yards before it came to rest. I was felt a since of relief as I handed my driver back to Jordan.
As I stood over my ball, I understand what David must have felt when he looked up at Goliath. I’d faced many intimidating holes on some of the most coveted golf courses n the country. None put as much fear in my heart as I felt when I realized that the drive on the sixth hole is a pie of cake compared with the uphill second shot over 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 left to right slopping fairway as it curved along the ocean and climbed toward the green.
I said to my son, “just trust me. Everything will 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 again 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. It seems like it is always the things we fear least that get us in golf and in life.
There is no need to describe the par three seventh hole. It is one of the most photographed holes in golf and its beauty is legendary. Still just like no pictures or descriptions prepare you for standing on the northern rim of the Grand Canyon, none prepare you for standing on the seventh tee box overlooking the postage stamp size green with white capped waves splashing all around it. The short but difficult hole has caused fits for many over the years. The bunker around the green almost fade away as you stand in awe of the scene in front of you. The hole measures just 98 yards from the gold tees. With the green resting well below the tee box, Jordan and I agreed that my 60-degree wedge would be enough to reach the back middle pin. I usually draw my lob wedge figured the bunkers along the right side of the green were outof play. To avoid the bunkers off the left side of the green I hit my tee shot over the right bunkers expecting a fade. I struck the ball pure. It flew as straight as an arrow and dropped just left of the bunker before kicking in.
My sand shot got hung up in the rough between the bunker and the green. I chipped on to five feet and just as I’d done of the famous par three twelfth hole at Augusta National, I missed my short bogey putt and recorded a double bogey.
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 many of the 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 caight my five hybrid flush along the exact line Jordan gave. Jordan immediately said, “you probably hit that one too good. It might be in the bunker behind the green.” My hear sank. I hate when great shots end up in bad places. Our concerns 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 yet another short putt and settled for a bogey.
At 460 yards, the ungodly long par four ninth hole plays almost as long as the par five second hole. The narrow fairway with a couple of bunkers along the left side and beautiful views of the ocean and mountains in the distance off the right side appears to go on forever. I pulled my drive to the left. The ball hit the cart path and seemed to roll endlessly in the direction of the green. It didn’t stop until it had traveled 335 yards, a career best, with or without the assistance of the cart path!
On the longest par four on the course, I was left with just 135 yards to a small green guarded by front left bunker. My approach shot landed short of the green. My putting woes continued as I chipped on and missed another short par putt. I finished the front nine with a 46, my worse nine hole score on the peninsula.
The 430-yard 10th hole contnues along the ocean with spectular views of waves washing ashore along the beach. Some of the sand from the beach sits in the cluster of bunkers off the right side of the fairway starting at about 250 yards out. I could see the green and it bunkers in the distance with the ocean off to 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 finally made a short putt but for a bogey rather than a par.
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 homes reamained extraordinary as the lined fairways that became ordinary. The first 150 yards of the 350 yard eleventh hole are covered with rough. A bunker in the left fariway catch my eye as I stood on the tee box.
I hit my drive to the middle of the fairway leaving 140 yards to back middle pin on a very tiny green 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.
We made the turn back toward the Pro Shop as we approached the tee box for the 185-yard par three twelfth holewith its tiny fifteen yards by fifteen yards green. The bunker to the left of the green is almost the same size. The other bunkers that surround the green are smaller, but still there is more area around the green with sand than area cover by green on the green. My tee shot landed left of the bunker off the front right 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 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. I could see the ocean as I looked across the holes but think this is one of the best inland holes on the course. 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.
There are probably more trees on the fifteenth hole than any other hole on the course. They form an alley between the tee box and the fairway. The hole plays 375 yards with bunkers separating the edge of the fairway and the trees. There is also a bunker in the 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.
Between the trees on the right and the bunkers on the left, I didn’t have much room for error between my ball and the front pin 135 yards away on a green with bunkers on the left, the right, and behind it. I hit a pitchting wedge to make suyre I got over the trees. I hit the ball a little thin and it caught the top of one of the trees causing it to come up 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 finished strong when I needed to 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 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 which plays level with the tee box. The task was a simple one. I had 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. It 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 bogey the hole and with it my dreams of breaking ninety would evaporate if I didn’t birdie the final hole.
The finishing hole at Pebble Beach is one of the most famous eighteenth hole in the world. I believe it is designed to leave a lasting positive impression to justify the cost of the round. 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 I got to the ocean on the course. The views are stunning. 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 exact shot I hit, 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. To do it I had to draw the ball. 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. It was the final nail in the coffin of my dream of breaking90. 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 along the ocean. The rest of the course is unremarkable, the beautiful homes notwithstanding. But I do think golf staff at Pebble Beach is 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.