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Bucket List Golf Courses: Pebble Beach

In Golf Courses, Historic Golf Coursesby Shaun LumLeave a Comment

As you drive south along the Pacific coast from San Francisco, California and reach the Monterey Cypress trees of the Del Monte Forest, you’ll approach 17 Mile Drive, a road that will leave every hair on your arms and neck raised. The scenic views, along with the waves crashing against the rocks, leave one to wonder just how someone managed to turn “the greatest meeting of land and sea” into the historic golf course known simply as Pebble Beach. 

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Established in 1919, this links course was designed by a pair of amateur golfers named Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, with no real design experience whatsoever. By using a simple philosophy dubbed the “figure-eight layout”, they managed to get as many holes as possible along the Monterey Coastline and used its natural beauty to create this world-famous golf course. 

Jack Neville believed that to test the best golfers in the world, they had to make them hit their long irons into some tiny greens. Using this ideology, Pebble Beach’s greens average a mere 3,500 square feet, by far the smallest greens of any major championship course in the world. By comparison, the greens on the Old Course at St. Andrews have an average square footage of 13,600. That means that nearly four Pebble Beach greens can fit into one at St. Andrews. When prepped for a major championship, this golf course favours only the player that is playing their absolute best. With such small targets to aim at, not to mention the long and thick rough, you really must strike the ball to the best of your abilities. Pebble Beach has hosted the US Open 6 times (1972, 1982, 1992, 2000, 2010 and 2019), The PGA Championship (1977) and the annual AT&T Pro-Am Tournament (1947-present).

Through all of this, surely every hole can lay claim to some sort of iconic moment. With so many perfect holes, ask five people for their signature hole at Pebble Beach and you may very well get five different responses. One hole sticks out as the most picturesque and that is the 7th , an elevated tee box par-3. Weather-dependent, one of the most fun golf shots in the world awaits you at the tee here, although that could quickly turn into most-hated. Only 100 yards and sharply downhill, with a green surrounded by craggy rock and ocean, this hole is no laughing matter. On any given day, the swirling winds mean your club selection can change from a sand wedge all the way to a 4-iron. One of the most memorable moments at this hole (and potentially ever at Pebble Beach) took place during the final round of the 1992 US Open. The winds were so treacherous that day that only 2 of the final 20 golfers managed to hit the green. Trailing at the time by one stroke, Colin Montgomerie was back at the clubhouse having finished his round. Still hours away from the tournament concluding, he was already receiving early congratulations from Jack Nicklaus, working at the time as an ABC announcer, as the conditions were so brutal. In the final group, Tom Kite stepped to the tee and hit his 6-iron into the long grass left of the green. Just as it looked like his tournament chances were slipping away, he managed to rescue his round by pitching the ball up into the wind and it rolled into the cup. With that shot, he took a one-stroke lead and managed to hold on to win his first-ever major championship at age 42. Montgomerie finished third for the tournament.

Another historic and stunning hole is the 208-yard, par-3 17th hole. Featuring a long, narrow green enclosed by the Pacific Ocean, this hole could have you hitting as much as a driver to reach the green in regulation. Against your will, four or five strokes to complete this hole is easily “attainable”. In the 1972 US Open, Jack Nicklaus hit an iconic 1-iron fade that he claimed had to flush just to make it to the green. It ended up hitting the flagstick while landing a foot from the cup, ultimately sealing his title. 10 years later, Nicklaus was watching from the clubhouse in good position to win his record 5th U.S Open title. On this same hole, Tom Watson hit his tee shot into the deep rough in between the bunkers on the hill. Watson’s caddie Bruce Edwards told him to “get it close” but Watson infamously replied, “I’m not going to get it close, I’m going to make it.” He ended up doing just that, as he hit a perfect chip shot that hit the cup and dropped as he proceeded to sprint down the hill in pure joy. Watson would later refer to this as the “best shot of my life.”

Often mentioned as the greatest finishing hole in all of golf (and my personal favourite), the 536-yard, par-5 18th is a monster. As you make your way around Pebble Beach, you are advised to not miss to the right as the Pacific Ocean hugs the right side of the course. However, on this hole with the waves crashing against the rocks at high tide and spraying you, the advice here quickly changes to “don’t go left!” When I played Pebble Beach, I had the luxury of staying at their resort with my room right on this infamous hole. From our window, the two large Cypress trees sitting right in the middle of the fairway were clearly visible. A year before our visit, Tiger Woods was standing directly behind those same trees and hit one of the most iconic cut shots I have ever seen as he had no choice but to aim right into the middle of the Pacific Ocean. In typical Tiger fashion, with the fans completely silent, he executed the shot to perfection, yelling “c’mon, cut!” as he sliced the ball around the trees and ended up leaving himself a 15-foot putt for Eagle. Although he didn’t manage to win that tournament, this shot has always been one of my favourites of his, and another one of the most iconic shots at Pebble Beach. 

Since 2001, this course has consistently ranked as the top public golf course in the United States, even with green fees starting at $550 per person. If you have the chance, my advice is to do it properly and get the full Pebble experience by getting a caddie (an extra $95 plus tip) and walking this course the way it was intended. All of the caddies are very knowledgeable, and many have been playing this course their entire lives. Pebble Beach provides a breathtaking round of golf that is worth every penny. From the historic moments, pure sounds and awe-inspiring views, this course should be on every golfer’s bucket list.

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