PEBBLE BEACH - 18 points
Trying to play golf at some of the best courses in America can be a frustrating experience. Yes, we all know that you can't get a round on Augusta but it seems there are more courses that you can't get a game on than you can. Pebble Beach therefore is a great exception - it's the top rated 'public'course in the USA and while it may be eye-watering expensive at least gives the chance to walk in the steps of legends that so many of us used to playing in Europe take for granted.
The practice putting green was running fast and true so expectations were high on the first tee. The caddy tried to point me to the gold tees and my friend to the blues due to our differing handicaps but call us old-fashioned, we decided to both play the same tees. The first hole was a massive disappointment. The fairway was sanded - and the green was a temporary! Bear in mind this was the most expensive round of golf I had ever payed for. No-one had told us about the condition of the course when booking or before - ludicrous. I would suggest anyone considering playing asks beforehand what condition the course is in........
The first few holes are nondescript and really do feel like any American country club course. Cart paths, roads and houses making up the most notable features. Now, I should say I played this course some years ago and probably hadn't read up on the course a huge amount. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more with a little preparation but it was a little bit of an underwhelming start.
From there though as you go out to the water the holes are clearly special. The par 5 6th is intimidating on the tee but actually quite playable. By the time we got to the signature par 3 7th the wind was up and yardages were not really much use. A punchy knock down was the order of the day which my partner managed. I put a gap wedge in the air and paid the price as the wind brought it back into the sand. 8 is a fantastic hole - the approach shot over a canyon truly spectacular and the par I got there will stay with me for a long time. 9 and 10 both are wonderful holes, mainly because of the setting, before going back inland.
This stretch is probably better than the first few inland holes but you are back in a (very nice) housing estate. The green on the par 5 14th is a bit ridiculous - after coming 572 yards is is pretty small and very angled. 17 and 18 are simply a great finishing 2 holes and are well documented elsewhere! The wind was up and 17 was playing a rescue for me. 18 is just a great walk up, spoilt for me by a 4 putt to shoot 92. Still, I was an 18 handicapper when I played there so 2 over handicap from the back tees at Pebble was satisfactory!
As an experience Pebble was pretty good. Everyone was friendly and the caddy just fine. The day was slightly spolit by the sanded fairways and very inconsistent greens. Some were slow, some were fast and it was a question of having a guess when you got there.
But I couldn't help feeling that there wasn't as much 'special' at Pebble Beach as I had hoped for and seen in the true great courses. The holes on the ocean make the course, but the rest are at times nondescript. The round we had was a long one - almost 6 hours - and it felt like we were in a bit of a money-making machine.
Overall though I'm glad we played it. We enjoyed the views and there were some memories there to savour but I imagine there are courses with lesser reputations which will beat this when it comes to my all-time favourite courses. Still, at least you can get a round here without having to been one of the US elite so that's something.
BOOKING THE COURSE
Ah, welcome to the money making machine which is Pebble Beach. Since I played there inflation has hit hard and the green fee for 18 holes at Pebble Beach is a staggering $525 plus cart fee and/or caddy fee. However, booking a tee time is far from straightforward for this much famed ‘public’ course. Because you see, only guests of the hotel can book a tee time more than 24 hours out. Therefore if you want to guarantee a time on the course you need to stay there. Oh and there’s more, a minimum of a 2 night stay is required to book a round on Pebble – this rises to 3 nights at peak times. Now there are other courses there but given the cheapest room is normally around $800 a night this is a fabulously expensive trip.
What I should say however, is that the rules seem to be broken. We called up about a week in advance and they gave us a tee time. Maybe that was because the course was pretty roughed up at the time and it would be harder in the peak months but it’s worth a go. You can get a sense of what availability looks like here.
If you do make it to Pebble I would really encourage you to watch a few highlight reels from US Opens gone by to really appreciate the history as you go around. I visited in 1992 as a student when Tom Kite won in the winds and rain and it is just one of the many highlights from over the years worth having a look at.
We stayed in Carmel for a week and there is plenty to do around the area – great drives, the Monterey aquarium, amazing beaches. It’s only a couple of hours south of San Francisco but it was a few years ago now and much will have changed so instead of giving any real local tips, here’s some thoughts of other courses to play in the area..
The Links at Spanish Bay – Part of the Pebble Beach estate. We played it early one morning and it was a 14 at best. Lots of random red stakes everywhere and tight as anything. Avoid!!
Pacific Grove – A local course which I would play every time ahead of Spanish Bay. Can't complain at all for $35! The first 9 were nothing special but the condition was pretty good and pace of play not too bad. The holes were pretty short and very playable. The back 9 opened up on the ocean fantastically - really lovely holes that with the 40 mph wind were playing really tricky. I had a 360 yard drive on one par 4 to the green followed by 200 yards into the wind at the next.
Spyglass Hill – Comes very highly recommended by a good friend of mine who thought it was better than Pebble. Pricey but more accessible. Will definitely play there next time
Cypress Point – What can you say. Now is pretty clearly the number 1 course in the world. One day…. Reading The Match definitely whetted the appetite.
Pasatiempo – This Alister MacKenzie course the way down from San Francisco and comes tremendously well rated. Here’s a teaser from The Walking Golfer
1700 17 Mile Dr,
Phone: +1 831 622-8723