Del Monte serves up ample style and charm for Monterey golfers
MONTEREY, Calif. - In every large and prominent family, there's a son, daughter, sister or brother who gets overlooked. Perhaps they don't draw as much attention to themselves; maybe they don't have as much personality. Or just maybe, the other members of the family are such incredible overachievers that it becomes impossible to stand out.
That analogy is useful in understanding Del Monte Golf Course. The oft-forgotten member of the ultra-popular portfolio of Pebble Beach courses (Spyglass, Links at Spanish Bay, Poppy Hills, and the flagship Pebble Beach) Del Monte flies pretty far below the radar. It shares the Pebble Beach trademark of superb conditioning and highly attentive service, but it carries a price (and frankly, a playing experience) notably below its star-studded siblings.
Which is not to say you can't have a wonderful time at Del Monte. The oldest course west of the Mississippi River (built in 1897) Del Monte is rich with history. For years it"s hosted the California State Amateur and the Callaway Golf Pebble Beach Invitational.
Neil Allen, head professional, takes pride in displaying historical photos of the course and the greats that have passed through, including Walter Hagen, Johnny Miller and countless others. The golf shop is a mini museum to the beginnings of golf on the West Coast.
"We're often overlooked by people who come out to play Pebble and Spyglass, but those who take the time to see us are very pleased," Allen said.
While fairly short (6,357 yards from the tips) Del Monte offers some significant challenges. The par 3s are quite long (No. 14 measures 218 yards with a devilish false front), the greens are small, and there's a severe back-to-front tilt on most of them. Nervous putters are likely to quiver and shake when lining up a side hill, downhill putt of, say, anything more than about two inches.
"It's quite important to keep the ball below the hole," Allen said.
If one's game is in sound shape, a low score at Del Monte is a very likely scenario. Kevin Wechter, a mid-handicapper who was playing the course for the first time, proceeded to birdie Nos. 10, 11, 12, and 17.
"You can really get into a groove out here," Wechter said.
But if your short game lets you down, the course will quickly begin to expose the flaws. Wechter triple-bogeyed 16, a 421-yard par 4, and was substantially less pleased.
As one would expect from such an old course, the layout is very traditional. Trees line most of the fairways, but are not so thick as to provide guaranteed punishment for every wayward tee shot.
That said, the driver must be left in the bag on a number of holes, particularly Nos. 2 and 15, both short par 4s with doglegs to the left. Long irons or 5-woods will leave wedges to the greens here.
Del Monte has a great deal of charm and character overall, but the holes themselves don't tremendously distinguish themselves from one another. The back nine tends to be more interesting, with two very nice finishing holes: a 500-yard knock-the-stuffing-out-of-it par 5 and a heavily tree lined, 392-yard par 4 that calls for a bit more restraint.
Other standout holes include 7, a 379-yard par 4 that plays much longer, up a hill to a small green tilted so steeply one is tempted to look for a set of stairs. No. 9 is a nice par 5 with a gentle dogleg right.
No. 10, at just 293 yards (par 4) invites birdie, as does the 163-yard par 3 12th hole. On the 218-yard 14th hole, take par and celebrate - bogey is a more realistic scenario for most mortals. No. 16 is a big, wide par 4 that will test how much gas is left in your tank.
Del Monte is mostly flat and laid out wonderfully for walking, though golfers who wish to ride in a cart may drive on the fairways, according to the 90 degree rule.
Del Monte is an old classic - large, beautiful trees, relatively few homes and a traditional layout. The course pays homage to the past, but as a Pebble Beach property is managed and maintained firmly in the present with superb conditions and sophisticated service. Gratuity is included when purchasing from the roving food and beverage cart, a refreshing change.
It doesn't stack up with its more famous siblings, but how could it? Del Monte won't wow you the way Pebble Beach does, but it also won't make you wilt in fear as you stand on the first tee box. It seems content to serve that niche of local golfers and visitors who have the time and desire to look beyond the name courses.
The people devoted to Del Monte are proud of its history and understand its role among the big league golf courses of Monterey. Del Monte doesn't have a practice range, so warm up elsewhere or just stretch for awhile on the first tee. The starter will understand if you wish to enjoy a breakfast ball with your coffee.
Green fees are $100, but about half that if you purchase the Duke's Card, which offers discounts at other Pebble Beach properties.
Places to stay
The Hyatt Regency Monterey (hyattregencymonterey.com, 1-800-233-1234) is on the course grounds, and offers discounted stay-and-play packages.
The Monterey Bay Lodge (montereybaylodge.com, 1-800-558-1900) is a short walk from downtown Monterey and is good for families.
The Portola Plaza Hotel (portolaplazahotel.com, (831) 649-4511) is a top-notch, modern hotel just steps from Fisherman's Wharf and downtown Monterey's numerous other attractions.
Less expensive motels are abundant in the area.
Places to eat
For more on the rich history of Del Monte, try Knuckles Historical Sports Bar and Peninsula Restaurant in the Hyatt Regency Monterey.
August 2, 2005