Along a winding road as darkness begin to give way to light, I drove toward a new experience, golf in a nature preserve. The Preserve Golf Club is in the 22,000 acre Santa Lucia Preserve in the Carmel Valley. The drive from the entrance of the nature preserve to the club house takes thirty minutes. It was by far the longest approach to a clubhouse during my quest to play the top 100 golf courses in the United States as rated by Golf Digest for 2017-18. I made the drive at dawn as the black of night transitioned the deep blue of early morning with an orange horizon against the silhouette of the mountains in the distance.
Once my home club had confirmed my tee time with Brian Sleeman, the Head Golf Professional at The Preserve, I contacted Jim of Minnesota Nice fame to get contact information for his brother-in-law. I met Jim and another of his brothers-in-law, Bob while playing golf in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Jim and Bob hosted me at Interlachen and Spring Hills. They are married to sisters. Jim mentioned to me that his wife Kathy and Bob’s wife Jaymie, had another sister. He said that sister’s husband was a member at The Preserve. I’m sure if I had asked, Jim would have asked his brother-in-law to host me at the Preserve, but I had another contact who could help me get on and later discovered that my home club could arrange for me to play there. And Jim had already done so much to host me for a wonderful weekend in Minnesota, I dent’s want ask him to do even more.
Jim talked with his brother, explained what I was doing, and asked if he’d like to join me for my round at The Preserve. His brother-in-law, Bob (not the same Bob as the other brother-in-law), said he’d be happy to join me. So, there you have it, I would now have played golf with Kathy’s, Jaymie’s, and Krisann’s husbands. These three sisters from Minnesota who married three men, Jim, Bob, and Bob are the only three sisters who have husbands that are all a part of my quest.
Bob was waiting for me in the club house when I arrived at The Preserve. The exterior of clubhouse reminded me somewhat of the clubhouse at Dallas National and the interior reminded me of the one at The Golf Club. After Bob showed me around the clubhouse, I went to the Pro Shop to meet Scott Yeakel. Scott is an Assistant Pro at The Preserve. The Head Pro, Brain Sleeman was traveling, but he and I had the opportunity to talk about my quest by phone earlier in the week.
Following my chat with Scott, Bob and I headed to the driving range with John, who was assigned as our caddie for the day. John is from San Diego and grew up playing golf at Torey Pines. He told me that as a kid he could play unlimited golf there for $10.50 a month. John was taking a break from playing professional golf on the mini tours. He primarily played in Asia but has also played on tours in several other countries.
The driving range at the Preserve reminded me of the driving range at Baltusrol. They were both at the base of a mountain and long and narrow. Following some swings of the clubs and some putts we headed to the first tee in one of the most natural and most beautiful settings that I’ve seen a golf course in. It was fully light now and I could see the vastness and charm of the Santa Lucia Preserve.
I stood on the first tee in awe of the natural beauty around me as I looked down upon the narrow fairway framed my trees with a mountain in the backdrop on what is the first hole at The Preserve. We chose to play from the gold tees which measure 6600 yards with a rating of 72.3 and a slope of 137. The first hole measures 410 yards with a tee box that is elevated high above the fairway. With a slight chill still in the air and the morning dew still covering the ground, I hit my drive to the middle of the fairway, leaving just 80 yards to a middle left pin position.
Bob hit his approach shot before I hit mine. I watch as his ball landed well short of the green and ran up to pin high on the green. I decided to try a pitch shot to the front of the green and let my ball run back to the hole also. My ball hit just in front of the green and rolled back rather than forward.
I chipped onto the green to within fifteen feet of the hole. I hit my par putt on line, it ran out of gas just two inches from the center of the cup. I tapped in for an opening hole bogey.
The par three second hole is just as beautiful as the first hole. The hole plays 165 yards downhill to a wide open green with a bunker off the left side. The bunker and the severe undulation are the green’s only defense. I pulled my tee shot into the only bunker on the hole.
I then made an error that was based upon an unfair bias that I’m not proud of, but if I’m honest with myself, it is a bias that clouded my judgment. When I first saw my caddie John, he looked to me like he would be more at home on a surf board riding the waves off the Pacific Coast rather than playing golf. Even after he shared his golf credentials, I apparently didn’t trust his judgment over my own. He advised me to hit my bunker shot away from the flag toward the back of the green. He said that would be the only way I could keep the ball on the green and give myself a chance to make a bogey.
My ball was in the bunker on the upslope. I knew I could hit a sand shot with spin that could stop within 15 feet of the hole. I thought maybe he had a bias that was probably the issue rather than looking inwardly at my own bias. I hit the shot I wanted and the ball landed on the green. It started to roll and kept rolling until it was across the green and off the other side. I failed to get up and down for a bogey and recorded one of the few double bogeys that I made during my round. Lesson learned. I apologized to John and told him that I had made a mistake. I committed to listening to all other advice that he would offer.
The third hole is a short par four that measures 350 yards. It looks a little like the first hole in that it is scenic, has an elevated tee box, a narrow tree lined fairway and a mountain in the backdrop of a green that is framed by trees. There is one fairway bunker on the right at about 100 yards from the green and two more as the fairway approaches the green. I hit my three wood to the middle of the fairway leaving 135 yards to a back right pin position.
My approach shot barely reached the front of the green, leaving a very long putt. My birdie putt had good speed but missed the hole by three feet to the right. I made the second putt for my first par of the round.
The fourth hole is a 530 yard par five with a fairway that curves left to right to left to right several times as it moves up and down on the way to the green. The fairway gets really narrow in the landing zone for the drive and again at the landing area for lay up shots. There is a bunker off the right side of the fairway at about 125 yards from the middle of the green. John recommended that I hit a three wood off the tee to stay short of the area where the fairway narrows. I hit my tee shot to the middle of the wide part of the fairway leaving 320 yards to the green.
I wanted to hit my driver off the deck. John advised that I not do it. He recommended I hit my five wood which should get me past the single bunker on the right side of the fairway. It was sage advice. I hit my five wood to the fairway just past the bunker, leaving 115 yards to a pin that was positioned on the second tier on the back part of the green.
I’d pulled the ball on the shot to the green on two of the previous holes. There was a bunker off the front right portion of the green, but I was more worried about pulling the ball. I hit my approach shot along the right side of the green to protect against a pull. The ball went straight, easily cleared the bunker, and landed just to the right of the green.
I chipped on to 15 feet from the hole and made the putt for my second par in a row.
The fifth hole is a 340 yard par four. While most of the fairways so far had narrowed as they approached the green, the fairway on the fifth hole widens as it approaches the green and becomes one of the widest fairways on the course. The fairway slopes right to left at the beginning before leveling out as it approaches the green. There are bunkers on the left and right sides of the fairway at about 80 yards from the green. I hit my drive to on a straight line to the left fairway just short of the bunker. The ball rolled 20 yards back down the slope and two feet into the rough.
I took dead aim at the pin which was in the middle of the green. This time I did pull the ball. It landed off the left edge of the green.
I putted from off the green to five feet short of the cup. John was providing some excellent lines for my putts. I made the five-footer for my third consecutive par.
As we left the fifth green, we had an amazing view of the mountains around the course. I asked Bob and John whether it got any better than this. We were on a beautiful golf course on a beautiful morning. Life was good.
The par three sixth hole was set up to play long. The tee was back, and the pin was back. The hole measured 205 yards. The green is positioned between a narrow alley of trees and has a small bunker off the front right. My tee shot hit a tree to the left of the green and kicked back toward the tee box, landing in the native grass to the left of the rough off the fairway that is short of the green.
My pitch shot hit the slope just short of the green and rolled down the slope. I chipped on to five feet and made the putt for a bogey.
The seventh hole is a short 330 yard par four. The fairway is a shorter and wider version of the third fairway. The is a fairway bunker on the right between 210 yards and 250 yards from the tee box. I hit a 3 hybrid off the tee to stay short of the bunker but hit the ball long and right. It landed in the bunker leaving 120 yards to a back right pin on a green with two bunkers along the front and middle of the left side.
I hit my approach shot from the bunker to just short of the green.
I putted from the low cut rough around the green to eight feet from the cup. I missed the par putt and tapped in for a bogey.
The 500 yard par five eighth hole has an incredibly narrow fairway that snakes it past early bunkers on the left and right on the way to a small green that slopes from the edges to the middle. I hit a 250 yard tee shot with my three wood that started at the left bunker and faded perfectly to the middle of that extremely narrow fairway.
John and I decided that I should hit that same club to the green that I hit off the tee. I made a good swing that started on the left edge of the green and faded just a little too much. The ball landed to the left and about 10 yards short of the front of the green.
I pitched on to 15 feet. My birdie putt turned just before the hole and missed it by two inches. I tapped in for a par.
The front nine finishes with a long par four that has a fairway that starts out extremely narrow with trees hugging the left side, then swells a bit before narrowing again as it approaches the green. The fairway bends slightly to the left, there is a bunker at 240 yards from the tee. I got under the ball on my drive and hit it high. It landed in the middle of the fairway, 205 yards from the middle of the green.
I hit my approach shot way to the right and into a hazard. I took a drop, pitched onto the green and two-putted for an unfortunate double bogey. I had four pars on the front nine but killed my score with two unnecessary double bogeys resulting in a front nine score of 43.
The back nine starts with a short par four. The hole measures 335 yards. The tee box is offset to the right of the fairway. There is a single bunker off the right side of the fairway and nothing else but rough and fescue. There are trees along the left side of the fairway as it approaches the green. I hit my drive to the left fairway.
Being in the left side of the fairway presented a bit of a problem. There are trees just off the left side of the green with branches that overhang and blocked it. There is a bunker on the right side of the green. This left a very narrow landing area for my approach shot. I attempted to hit just inside the trees, but the ball caught a branch, kicked left and dropped behind a tree on the direct line to the flag.
John studied the line and resolved that this was good. He said that based upon the contour of the green, I could chip with my pitching wedge to the left of the tree and the ball would roll to the hole. He walked to the green pointed out a spot for me to land the ball. At this point I had total trust in his abilities. I chipped with my pitching wedge and landed the ball within inches of the spot the had given me. The ball rolled toward the flag, stopping just ten inches above the hole.
I tapped in for a par to open the back nine and made a mental note to add to John’s tip.
The 10th hole is a nice way to ease into the back nine. The 11th hole is a fierce 430-yard par four with a lot more rough, trees, bunkers, and fescue than fairway. While the hole is a challenge, the setting leaves you awe struck. I continued to find the fairway with my driver. I hit the ball to the left side of the fairway, 195 yards from the pin.
I got a little loose with my approach shot and hit it out of bounds. That second golfer hit the next approach shot to just off the green. I took over from there and chipped on and one-putted for what would be my only double bogey on the back nine. How I wish that second golfer had shown up for the first approach shot.
The 12th hole is a 370 yard par four. As with several of the previous fairways, the one on this hole is wide in the landing zone, but narrow as it approaches the green. It slopes from left to right at the beginning but flattens out as it winds toward the green. There is a bunker on the left at about 100 yards out. There is a lateral hazard just short of the bunker. I hit my drive to the left fairway. The ball rolled just off the fairway into the rough leaving 160 yards to a back left pin.
The ball didn’t come out of the rough with as much juice as I expected. The ball landed inches short of the green, leaving a long two putt.
I left the first put four feet short of the cup. I made the next putt for par to recover from the double bogey on the previous hole.
The first of the two par fives on the back nine is the 535 yard thirteenth hole. There is a 200 yard forced carry over trees to a fairway that is almost perpendicular to the tee box. The fairway is series of s curves. There are trees along the left side and bunkers in each of the curves on that side. The hole calls for a draw off the tee that starts off just right of the first fairway bunker and then follows the contour of the fairway to the middle. It takes 245 yards to carry the bunker. I hit my drive on a line just to the right of the bunker. The ball stopped just right of the bunker leaving 270 yards to the middle of the green.
I attempted to lay up with my eight iron short of the next set up bunkers on the left. I hit it flush. The ball had a slight draw on it. It carried farther than I had expected. It landed to the right of the last of the two bunkers and kicked to the left into the bunker, leaving 110 yards to a middle pin. My shot out of the bunker hit the lip and landed just beyond the bunker. The 13th green is very narrow. It is less than 10 yards wide. My shot from the rough landed in the fringe on the left side of the green.
I two-putted from there for a bogey.
The par three fourteen hole has a green that is nestled in the trees. There is a Tillinghast like bunker short of the green on the left that gives the illusion that it is at the green. There is also a small bunker just off the front left of the green. The pin was set in the back middle. The hole was playing 180 yards. I hit my tee shot right at the flag. It looked like I might finally make my first hole-in-one during my quest. I’ve made two during my 13 years of golf and have come close on a few during my quest, but none of the close ones dropped into the cup. The ball landed five feet short of the flag and somehow rolled uphill to the left, leaving a six-footer for birdie.
John took some time to read the putt. I’d made birdies at MPCC and Spyglass, but none at Pebble Beach nor the Preserve just yet.
That changed when the ball rolled down the hill and dropped into the bottom of the cup!
The fifteenth hole is another long par four. The hole measures 415 yards. The fairway bends and slopes to the left before narrowing and bending and sloping back to the right. The trees along the left hug the fairway. There is some room between the fairway and the trees at about 210 yards from the green, but that space is occupied by a couple of bunkers. I hit my drive high and down the right side of the fairway. The ball traveled just 205 yards, leaving 210 yards to the green.
John instructed me to hit my five wood on a line just right of the flag. I hit the ball a little fat. It landed a couple of yards short of the green and rolled left into the rough just right of the greenside bunker.
I chipped onto the green and the ball rolled five feet past the flag. My putt slid just to the right of the hole. I tapped in for a bogey.
The 135 yard par three sixteenth hole is the shortest hole on the course. Like two of the previous three par threes, the path to the green is framed by trees. The right side of the green is hidden behind trees. There are two bunkers along the left side of the green, the first of which must be carried to reach the green. John’s instructions were to land the ball on the left side of the green so that it could roll down to the flag. I hit the right club, but the ball landed pin high in the fringe. Had it landed just an inch to the right it would have rolled down to the flag.
I was now left with an extremely fast downhill putt from the fringe. I barely touched the ball. It rolled 10 feet past the hole. I made the comeback putt for par.
The final par five on the course has another sinusoidal fairway. The seventeenth hole measures 535 yards. The wavy fairway is elevated above the tee box. Not only does it curve its way through the trees between the tee boxes and the green, it rises and falls and twists one way and then the other. There are no bunkers on the hole. John told me to favor the right side of the fairway. I tried but hit my drive right down the middle.
I was about to hit my second shot and still hadn’t seen the green. I wanted to hit a three wood, but John said it was too much club. He said that I should hit my five wood just like I did on the 15th hole. I again followed his advice. We picked out a tree down the fairway on the left. I hit toward the tree. The ball faded to the middle of the fairway.
I was 120 yards out. I could now see the top half of the flag, but still couldn’t see the green. John told me hit to the right of the flag. The ball landed 25 feet right of the hole.
My putt stayed on a line above the hole until it was three feet away. It then broke left and rolled into the cup for my second birdie of the day and sixth birdie over the four rounds I’d played during the week in California.
I didn’t want the round to end. The course was very scenic, it was a beautiful day, I was playing well, and I was enjoying the time with Bob and John. But alas, all things must end. We approached the 18th tee box high above the fairway, we looked over the fairway and discussed the line for our drives. The hole was a little intimidating. It’s a par four that measures 435 yards with a 200 yard forced carry over trees and a deep canyon. There is a bunker along the left side of the beginning of the fairway. I hit my drive over the bunker and into the middle of the fairway.
There are a few clusters of trees on both sides of the fairway between where my ball was and a green with two bunkers off the left front. I hit my approach to the right and it moved farther right. I was concerned that it had gone far enough to the right to be lost in the fescue to the right of the green. John assured me that the ball was going to be just off the right side of the green.
John was right. I chipped onto the green and made the putt to close the back nine with a par. I’d played the last five holes at one under par and the back nine at two over par which was basically the double bogey I made after hitting my approach shot on the eleventh hole. The 38 on the back nine gave me a total score of 81 for my final round of the week in California.
I’d like to thank Bob for joining me for the round Krisann for sharing her husband with me on their 38th wedding anniversary. I'd also like to thank the team at Cherokee Town & Country Club and Brian Sleeman for working together to make the round possible.
I had a great week in California. Over five days I played the Shore Course at MPCC (76), Spyglass Hill (84), Pebble Beach Golf Links (91), and The Preserve Golf Club (81). I hit a lot more good shots than bad shots on some of the most beautiful holes in golf. Yes, life was good.