My biggest two weeks of golf during my quest to play the Top 100 Golf Courses in the U.S. had been the week I played three courses in the New York/New Jersey area and three in Columbus, Ohio and the week I played the four courses at Bandon plus one in Seattle. Those weeks included such well-known courses as Bethpage Black, Muirfield Village, and Bandon Dunes. The week ahead on the Monterey Peninsula was slated to eclipse both of those memorable weeks.
I awoke at 5 am on a Monday morning during the third week of October for a cross country flight from Atlanta to San Francisco. I arrived in San Francisco, gathered my luggage and golf clubs, picked up my Jeep Grand Cherokee from National Car Rental and made the two hour drive to Monterey.
So, after five hours of sleep, 2300 miles in the air, a two hour drive, and very little to eat, I arrived at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club(MPCC). Few would consider this to be ideal conditions for the start of a week where I would play golf at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, Spyglass Hill, Pebble Beach, and The Preserve. Especially for a retired old guy.
When you are trying to play 100 different golf courses in one year’s time, things like sleep, long days with travel, and food are of little importance. What was more important on this Monday afternoon on the left coast was the warm reception that I received from Dave Vivolo and his staff at MPCC. As I have traveled to the countries top golf courses and country clubs I have been heartened by the reception that I’ve received as a guest. There has not been a single club where I’ve felt unwelcomed or like an interloper. This was especially the case at MPCC.
My round at MPCC had been arranged by Will Bartram, one of the Pros from my home club, Cherokee Town & Country Club in Atlanta. One of our former Pros, Kevin Roman was the head of golf instruction at MPCC. It was nice to see a familiar face.
During my discussion with Dave, he informed me that the Shore Course had recently been aerated and the practice range was closed on Mondays. After chatting with Dave, Kevin and the other assistant pros, I headed outside where I met Bill who had been assigned as my caddie. Bill told me that he would drive a cart with my clubs during the round and that I had the option to walk or ride on the cart. I told him that walking the course gave me a better feel for the flow of the course, so I’d start off my walking, but might ride later, if the short night, travel, and hungry started to take its toll.
Bill and I went to the practice green for a few putts and then headed to the first tee. The view was simply awesome as I looked out over the first hole.
I chose to play from the Black Tees which measure almost 6500 yards with a course rating of 72.2 and a slope of 130. The first hole is a 500 yard par five. The tee box sits well above a fairway that starts out aligned with it then curves to the right around bunkers and native vegetation off to the left before turning back to realign with the tee box as it heads to the green. There are trees along the right side of the fairway along with bunkers near its initial turn and as it approaches the green.
With a lot of fairway to my right, I set up aligned along the left side of the fairway to allow as much room as possible for a fade. I pulled the ball way left. Bill who was probably wondering what he had gotten himself into, told me to hit another ball since I’d just gotten off a long flight and wasn’t able to warm up. He said we would probably find my first ball, but it would be better to start out in the fairway. My second ball didn’t fade, but it wasn’t a pull. It carried the first set of bunkers on off the left side of the fairway and landed in the rough. Not exactly the start I was looking for to kick off such a monumental week of golf.
We did find my first ball but played the second ball because it had a better lie and line back to the fairway. I tried to lay up to the middle of the fairway on my second shot but pulled my five iron to the left just like I had done on my first drive. The ball hit the cart path and kicked left. The good news was that I hit it a long way.
After two bad shots to start my round, I still had an opportunity to reach the green in regulation. All that stood between me and the green was a tree and a bunker. I thought I could easily pitch over them with my lob wedge. My ball caught the tree and landed short of the green. I pitched on and two putted for a bogey compliments of a mulligan off the first tee.
The second hole is a 380 yard par four. The fairway was sandwiched between houses on both sides with a few trees acting as a buffer. While the fairway curves a little and has some undulation, it is mostly straight and flat. There is a bunker at the beginning of the fairway and one on each side at about 220 to 230 yards out. My swing was still like that of someone who wasn’t fully loose yet. My tee shot went straight left and traveled only about 100 yards. I laid up to 105 yards out on my second shot.
I hit my third straight over the flag and over the back of the green.
I chipped back onto the green and two putted for a double bogey. At this point things were not looking very good. It looked those conditions I talked about were taking their toll on me and it was going to be a long afternoon along the left coast.
The third hole is a 150 yard par three with no shortage of sand. I counted seven bunkers along the sides of the deep and narrow green. The pin was set almost in the center but slightly favoring the back of the green. I made a good swing and hit my tee shot right over the flag. The ball landed on the green and rolled to 15 feet past the hole.
I had a slight down hill right to left breaking putt. With the green punched with holes from being aerated, I didn’t hit my ball hard enough to hole its line. I missed my first birdie attempt of the round and tapped in for a par.
The fourth hole is a 355 yard par four. The narrow fairway has sand along most of the left and right sides. There were homes off to the left of the fairway, but I could tell that we were emerging from the tight neighborhood. I again to pull my drive to the left. The ball landed under the trees between the left side of the fairway and the houses.
I had about 120 yards to the middle of the green. There were trees between my ball and the flag which was favoring the left side of the green. I studied the line for a moment and decided to hit a low shot under the branches of the tree. The only question was which club to use. I didn’t have a lot of practice with this shot. I did the math on a three-quarters sand wedge. I knew that three-quarters sand wedge for me went about 80% of its full distance. I then back calculated that I would need an eight iron hit at three quarters to cover 120 yards. I was concerned that an eight iron might have too much loft, so I decided to risk going long with a seven iron rather than risk hitting a tree branch with an eight iron.
I put the ball back in my stance and closed the face of the club slightly. I took slightly less than a three-quarter swing. The ball stayed low, hit short of the green and rolled to 30 feet past flag. All my calculating and figuring worked.
I hit my downhill putt to five feet past the cup. I made the come back putt for my second par in a row.
The course opened up as I walked from the fourth green to the fifth tee box. The ocean was right in front of us. The fifth hole is a short par four. The fairway is offset to the left and starts out very narrow, then widens slightly before narrowing again as it approaches the green. There is sand along the right side of the fairway and rough along the left side. There are a couple of bunkers on the left side of the fairway at about 220 yards from the tee box. The hole sets up perfectly for a fade.
I had not been able to hit a fade with my driver, so I thought I would give it a try with my three wood. I aligned toward the left side of the fairway and tried to swing outside in. The ball went dead straight. It went through the fairway and hit the front of the fairway bunker on the left. The ball stayed on the upslope at the front of the bunker, leaving a 75 yard shot to a very long and narrow green. The pin was positioned in the middle of the green. There is a bunker along the left side of the green that I would have to cross if I went for the flag.
I decided to forget about the flag and aim for the front of the green. There wasn’t much margin for error. There were 15 yards at the front of the green between the bunker on the left and the one on the right that continue from along the fairway. I hit a lob wedge out of the sand on a perfectly straight line to just short of the middle of the front edge of the green. The ball took one hop and rolled onto the green. Bill handed me my putter and I made the short but satisfying walk to the green.
With the ball on the front of the green, I had a very long putt. I was starting to get a good feel for the speed of the greens although the punched holes were wreaking havoc on my lines. I missed the long birdie putt but got the ball to the hole and tapped in for my third par in a row. I wasn’t sure what had changed, but my golf had improved.
The sixth hole is the second of the five par fives on the course. The hole plays 510 yards. The ocean is off to the left of the fairway and there are homes far off to the right. The fairway makes a dogleg to the right about midway between the tee box and the green. There is a long fairway bunker off the left of the fairway at about 210 yards out and several small ones on the right inside the dogleg. I finally hit a drive to the fairway, the right side of the fairway at that.
By hitting my ball 240 yards to the right fairway, I cut about 20 to 30 yards off the length of the hole. With 245 yards to the middle of the green, I decided to lay up to 100 yards. The wind had a little more of an effect than I expected. The ball landed in the middle of the fairway, 110 yards from the pin.
The green was at an almost 90 degree angle to the fairway. There was a large bunker along the right side of the green. The flag was on the lower tier of the green and tucked behind the widest portion of the bunker. With three straight pars under my belt I was filling confident in my swing. After accounting for the wind, I decided to hit my 120 yard club over the bunker straight at the flag. The ball stopped 10 feet to the right of the hole.
As I approached the green, Kevin Roman was standing on a set of steps on an elevated cluster of rocks adjacent to the green. He watched as I hit my birdie putt a little too firm and right through the break. I tapped in for my fourth par in a row.
The seventh hole is the second of the three par threes on the front nine. The black tees were set way back at 215 yards from the flag. With a strong wind blowing directly at me, the hole was playing more like 240 yards. The green is inside a horseshoe of sand. There is 35 yards of rough between the bottom of that horseshoe and the front of the green. The right side of the green has a significant amount of sand. I sliced my tee shot way right, into that very sand.
I left my second shot short of the green. I chipped on with my third shot and two putted for my second double bogey of the round.
The eighth hole is a 425 yard par four. The fairway is shaped somewhat like a mustache that curls at each end with the tee box off the left end and the green off the right end. There are bunkers inside the curls at each end at the top of the mustache or right side of the fairway. The lip below the mustache is deep rough. I hit my drive way left to the first cut on the right side of the fairway on the 9th hole. Remember that I was playing the 8th hole. The ninth hole is between the left side of the eighth fairway and the ocean. It plays in the opposite direction of the eighth hole.
There was nothing but trouble between my ball and the eighth green. There was lots of thick gorse and just plain rough. I asked Bill for the yardage to clear the trouble. He said about 170 yards. My ball was 195 yards from the middle of the eighth green. I decided that I was going to go for it. I hit my three wood into the wind directly at the flag. I struck the ball flush. The ball sailed over the ninth fairway, over the rough, over the gorse, over the ninth tee box, over more gorse and rough and finally over the green. The ball landed 10 yards off the back of the green and about 25 yards from the pin.
The green sloped back to front. The pin was close to the front of the green. I pitched onto the back of the green and let the ball roll down to the hole. The ball rolled to eight feet below the hole. My par putt hit an aeration hole right before the cup and missed the hole. I tapped in for a bogey. It would have been nice to make the putt for par, but I was happy to walk away from the hole with a bogey after the drive I hit, and that high risk shot over all that trouble.
The ninth hole is a 190 yard par three that plays along the Pacific Ocean and starts the march back toward the clubhouse. Fortunately for me it has a fairway with a first cut. I used it on the previous hole. Like most of the other holes on the front nine, there is a lot of sand around the green. There are large sandy areas to the left and to the right. There is a true bunker off the front right portion of the green. I hit my tee shot into that bunker, barely missing some unraked footprints from a previous golfer.
I hit my sand shot to the slope to the left of the flag. The ball rolled to within four feet of the cup. After a terrible start, I had hit some great shots to offset some of the not so great shots that I was still occasionally hitting.
I made the four foot putt for par to finish the par 35 front nine with five pars, two bogeys, and two double bogeys for a six over par 41.
The 500 yards, 10th hole is almost a mirror image of the 8th hole with a much wider and longer fairway. It’s plays along the ocean and is the third of the five par fives on the course. The hole looks wide open from the tee box. You can also see the famous cypress tree across the water and the mist off the ocean between MPCC and Cypress Point. The setting is beautiful and breathtaking. Watching the waves wash against the rocks as they came into the beach was soothing and relaxing. Any tension that was still in my body evaporated. I hit my drive to the left fairway.
My ball was on the left side of a fairway that made a dogleg to the left. On a straight line, the hole was about 240 yards away. The safe play was to hit a 150 yard layup out to the right. This would leave about 110 yards straight into the green. But if I hit a shot just 30 yards farther, on a straight line, I’d be left with a short pitch to the green. To do that, I would have to hit over trees, gorse, native grasses, a bunker and some normal rough.
I was feeling relaxed and good about my swing. I had just hit a 250 yard drive on a straight line. On the eighth hole, I’d hit a three wood flush and on a straight line. I had hit a sand shot to four feet on the previous hole. I was certain that I could hit my five hybrid over all the trouble and leave myself with a pitch to the green to set up a birdie putt. Yes, I thought about all of this and Bill and I discussed it all. I decided to take the most direct route. I didn’t catch the ball perfectly, but I hit it well enough to clear everything except the last few yards of rough.
I now had 75 yards to an uphill green with a back right pin position. Bill and I again discussed several ways to play the shot. We settled on 60 yard pitch with my sand wedge toward a rock that was behind the green. Bill thought landing it 60 yards on that line would allow the ball to roll down to the flag. I followed his advice and was able to pull off that exact shot. The ball rolled to 15 feet past the flag.
Bill and I then had our third discussion on how to play a shot on the hole. He studied the line of the putt. He gave me a line and then changed his mind at the last minute. It was a good call. I hit the putt along the corrected line. Would all those discussions on the right shot to play pay of? For every aeration hole that sent the ball off line in one direction there was another one that sent it in the opposite direction. The ball dropped to the bottom of the cup for my first birdie of the round. I had several opportunities for birdies on the front nine. I was happy to capitalize on my first opportunity on the back nine.
There are simply no words to describe the view from the gold tees on this 190 yard par three eleventh hole. The view was so spectacular that Bill advised that I play the hole from the longer gold tees. Now I know why Kevin Roman was standing here when I was on the sixth green missing that five foot birdie putt. It is a beautiful view.
The hole is the signature hole on the course. I think it should be called Beauty and the Beast. While the view is spectacular, the hole also looks pretty menacing from atop this perch. As for the beauty, you can see both Spyglass and Cypress Point in the distance. As for the beast, there are rocks, sand and cypress trees everywhere. And the green is shaped like E.T.’s head. The pin was slightly to the left of center, tucked behind a small bunker that was to the left of a much larger bunker on the front of the green.
The hole plays downhill. That combined with a helping wind made the hole play more like 160 yards rather than the 190 yards that it measured. The ball carried the small bunker on the front of the green and landed slightly to the right of the pin. The ball then rolled farther right to 25 feet from the hole.
Bill had been standing just off the green when the ball landed. He provided me with an excellent read on the putt. I made the putt for my second birdie in a row.
The 12th hole is the fourth and longest of the five par fives on the course. It measures 585 yards and is rated as the second hardest hole. The fairway looks like two cucumbers placed end to end with a creek running between them. There is a bunker across the beginning of the first part of the fairway. There are three bunkers off the right side and two off the left side right before the creek.
The second part of the fairway begins just beyond the creek and bends from left to right to a very small green. As you would expect, there is sand along both side of most of this portion of the fairway. The green is open on the front but has sand around the rest of it. I started my drive too far to the right. It faded slightly to move farther right. It landed in the rough off the right side of the first part of the fairway, 260 yards from the tee box.
I hit my 3 hybrid as well as I’d ever hit it. The ball flew 220 yards. It started on the left and curved around all the sand before landing in the fairway, 100 yards from a front middle flag.
I assumed that you have already figured out that with a 260 yard drive and a 220 yard shot with a three hybrid, I had a nice helping wind. I decided to take advantage of the nice wind one more time. I hit my approach shot from 100 yards out, with my 60 degree wedge. The ball landed just past the flag, nine feet to the right.
If you are thinking that there was no way I could make three birdies in a row, you’d be right. This time I got the hurt from the aeration holes but not the help. I hit my putt on line, but it got diverted by an aeration hole and missed the cup just off the right edge. I think this way my fourth of fifth miss of a makeable birdie.
The thirteenth hole plays along the ocean. It is a 375 yard par four. There is a 140 yard carry over gorse and native vegetation between the tee box and the beginning of the fairway. The tee box is offset to the right of the fairway. The fairway starts out very wide but narrows significantly as it approaches the green. There is sand all along the right side and along most of the left side.
Bill pointed out a leaning tree along the left side as the line that I should hit my drive on. There is nothing good to the right of the fairway. I hit my drive 270 yards directly on the line that Bill had given me.
I was left with 95 yards to a flag that was position in the middle of the green. With the wind still at my back, I hit a very high shot with my 60 degree wedge. The ball landed 30 feet below and to the left of the flag.
I got another great read from Bill and hit another good putt. Right as the ball approached the hole, it diverted just enough to miss the hole and rest on the edge. I had yet another tap in par. Golf is such a game of inches! I was now two under par on the back nine and could have easily been four under par.
As Bill and I made our way to the fourteenth hole, we turned back into the wind. I had made pars and birdies on all the holes with a helping wind. The challenge now was to see if I could continue that string as I played into the wind.
The fourteenth hole is the final par three on the course. It plays 170 yards to a green that is slightly uphill from the tee box. It is probably the most level of all the par threes. I think the other four had a greater change in elevation. Most of the sand on the hole is closer to the tee box than the green but there are bunkers along the right side of the green and off the left front. I played one less club on the holes with the helping wind. A hurting wind affects distance almost twice as much as a helping wind, so played two clubs more on this hole. I hit my 5 hybrid to just over 15 feet right of the flag.
I hit my birdie putt on line but left it one foot short of the center of the cup. I couldn’t blame this birdie miss on the punched holes. It was all me. After five holes on the back nine, I had two birdies and three near birdies or pars as they are commonly referred to. I think golf needs a half stroke rule. If you hit your putt on line and it is within a foot of the hole or it rims out, the next stroke should count as just a half stroke rather than a full stroke. Is it fair that a one foot putt counts just as much as a 170 yard tee shot?
The fifteenth hole is a 395 yard par four with a sweeping fairway starts off to the left and then sweeps to the right before making a bend back to the left and a final sweep to the right as it approaches the green. There is sand from along the right side of the tee box to almost 200 yards out. There is also sand along the left side of the fairway and to the right of the green.
There was a deer lying in the sand along the right side of the fairway. Bill told me to hit my drive right over that deer. Bill and I had come a long way from those tee shots on the first and second holes. He was providing specific lines for my drives and I was driving the ball along those lines. On this hole, I hit my drive 230 yards right over the deer and into the fairway. This left 155 yards and a nice angle into the green with a pin on the left side of the green away from the bunker.
Bill told me that it was very important to leave the ball below the flag on this hole. With the wind blowing slightly right to left into me, I decided to play a draw. I aimed along the left edge of the bunker on the right side of the green. I hit my 170 club, a six iron, expecting it to land five 15 feet below the hole. Yes, on this day, I was feeling that good about my game. The ball started right on line and drew toward the flag. It landed fifteen feet below the hole and rolled back to 20 feet.
Golf can be such a cruel game. How is that you can hit such bad shots on some days and such good shots on others. On this day, at this moment, that shot came off just as I had imagined it. It was a very satisfying feeling. Bill handed my putter to me and I took a long walk in the short grass toward a green that looked like it dropped right into the ocean.
Bill gave me another great read and I hit a good putt. The ball got by all the threads of punched holes in the green, but just won’t drop in the cup. Mark up another near birdie.
The sixteenth hole is the final par five on the course and takes us back into the neighborhood. The hole measures just over 480 yards. There is 130 yards of native vegetation and a bunker between the fairway and the tee box which is offset to the left. The bunker continues along the left side of the fairway to about 250 yards from the tee box. There are a couple of bunkers off the right side of the fairway across from the end of the sand on the left. There are additional bunkers farther up on both sides and around the green.
It was now about 7:30 back in Atlanta. I had been awake for almost 14 hours. I was running on adrenaline. Despite my good play, my body was starting to feel the long day. You could see it on my approach shot on the 15th hole. While I hit the exact shot I wanted, I was standing almost straight up on my follow through. Bill gave me another good line. I hit my drive right along that line but got away with hitting the ball just below the midway point. The ball came off the driver face on a low trajectory. It easily cleared the native vegetation, but just barely cleared the lip of the bunker. The ball hit the fairway and rolled to about 230 yards from the center of the green.
I wanted to go for the green in two. I thought about hitting either my three wood or driver off the deck. Bill recommended against it. He suggested that I lay up to the right side of the fairway about 90 yards out. This would leave a sand wedge into the green. I took his advice but hit my lay up too far to the right. We couldn’t tell from our position in the fairway, but it looked like the ball may have landed in a bush. Bill recommended that I hit a provisional. I hit my provisional along the same line, but not as far. Bill was sure we’d be able to find that one.
We found both balls in the rough off to the right side of the fairway. Even though I was in the rough, I had a great angle to the flag.
As tired as I was, I made great contact with the ball which was sitting down in the rough. The ball landed past the flag and rolled to 40 feet away.
My birdie putt hit a lot of bumps along the way but managed to bebop its way to the hole and drop in the cup. I had missed several birdie putts that were much closer, but some how this one was not going to be denied. After seven holes on the back nine, I was three under par and just three over par for all sixteen holes.
The seventeenth hole put us back fully in the neighborhood. There were trees along both sides of the fairway serving as a buffer to the homes on the left and another hole on the right. There was sand along almost the entire right side of the fairway and on the approach to the green on the left side. The sun was behind us and starting to descend. You can’t really tell it by the pictures because the lens compensates for the lack of light. The hole measures 430 yards. I popped my ball up on my drive. It landed in the rough just off the left edge of the fairway, 240 yards from the pin.
Bill again advised that I play conservatively and lay up to inside 100 yards. I tried to lay up to 80 yards but pulled the ball into the rough 90 yards from a front pin on a very narrow green. There was also a lot of sand between my ball and the green.
I hit my sand wedge to 12 feet left of the pin.
My par putt hit lots of bumps as it made its way to the cup, but it dropped in for a very welcomed par. I didn’t touch the fairway on the entire hole. I hit just one good shot and made one good putt. It didn’t matter, I was still three under on the back nine and three over for the round.
All I could see as I approached the final hole, were bunkers. My goal was to finish the back nine without a blemish on my score card. I’d had two bogeys and two double bogeys on the front nine. On the back nine it was all pars and birdies. At 370 yards, the eighteen hole is short but treacherous. There are lots of bunkers and the trees are close to the fairway’s edge on both the left and the right.
I was really feeling tired now. I’d been awake for 15 hours and had very little to eat. Could I suck it up for one more hole and eke out a birdie or a par to finish my round on the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club. My drive barely missed the trees off the left of the tee box and along the left side of the fairway. The ball curved to the right and into the left half of the fairway. I’d hit my last drive of the day into the fairway and was set up for a clean approach shot.
As the sun set behind me, with the wind in my face, fatigue over taking my body, and 155 yards between me and the best round of my quest, I addressed the ball for what I hoped would be my last full swing of the day. My approach shot hit pin high on the right edge of the green and kicked into the bunker. I had my work cut out for me now if I was going to save par. My bunker shot landed in the rough between the bunker and the green.
I was determined to make par. With barely enough daylight left to see the hole, Bill and I studied the line.
I told him that I needed to chip the ball into the cup. I hit my chip on line. It rolled toward the cup and slide just outside the edge. I tapped for my only bogey on the back nine to finish back nine, with a two under 35 and a four over 76 for the full course.
It took forty five courses, but I finally met another one of the goals for my quest. I had finally broken 80! It was time to grab a bite and a pillow.