Pacific Grove Golf Links gets into the groove -- at a mellow California pace
PACIFIC GROVE, Calif. -- In the land of $300 green fees, there's something refreshing about turning off Ocean View Boulevard, coasting the length of a short par 4 and turning into a parking lot totally lacking in pretension.
In fact, so low-key is the approach to Pacific Grove Golf Links that if you are gazing at the players strolling up the 18th fairway, you might miss the clubhouse altogether.
Eventually, you'll find it. And you'll be pleasantly underwhelmed, which is basically the point: On the Monterey Peninsula, golf is such a big deal (and as perception has it, so expensive) that the mere existence of a place like Pacific Grove Golf Links is surprising.
It's the type of place where a set of Callaway rentals will cost you more than the green fee. The course is unforgettable, but it sure doesn't start out that way.
Once you've handed over your green fee, you'll take about six steps to the first tee. How's this for a starter hole: a 125-yard, straight-away par 3 with an Astroturf tee box? It brings to mind "Ponkaquoge," the fictional muni in Rick Reilly's classic "Missing Links."
Things don't improve quickly. The second hole, another par 3, stretches to about 200 yards with a graveyard -- literally -- waiting out of bounds to catch those wayward slices (though, of course, that didn't happen to this reporter).
Somewhat amusing are the ever-present deer, which cluster about the chipping areas, on a permanent quest for tasty grass. They tend to leave ample evidence of their visits.
Helen Ratto, a regular at Pacific Grove, offered some friendly advice. "Don't waste your photos on the front side," Ratto said. "We're just passing time until we make the turn."
And that about sums up Pacific Grove's front nine. To be fair, the greens are excellent -- receptive, fast, and true. And once the course shakes off its obsession with par 3s, the holes become more interesting.
The neighborhood lining the golf course is pretty and there seems to be a steady stream of walkers and bicycle riders all too willing to return shots that veer out of bounds from the 420-yard par-4 eighth (though, of course, that didn't happen to this reporter).
The front nine ends, oddly enough, with a demanding 220-yard par 3 that plays into the wind. Use a driver -- maybe you'll hit the clubhouse out of frustration.
Pacific Grove Golf Links' back nine
Grab a Diet Coke or a bottle of water from the vending machine and make the turn -- this is what you came for. And yet, you still must wait because next is a 110-yard par 3. About the only thing interesting that could happen here would be an ace, which didn't occur on this reporter's recent visit.
Then, from out of nowhere, the beauty reveals herself. The 11th hole is a short par 4 playing directly toward the ocean, with a fairway so wide it beggars the mind to contemplate the possibility it's ever been missed. Just hit it. And hard. If you don't reach it, you'll have a mellow wedge to a green with a generous backboard.
And now you're just getting started. The 12th hole is majestic: the back nine's only par 5, an absolute beauty that runs directly along the coast. Misty green fairway, interrupted only by a series of sand dunes runs more or less up the right-hand side. Swing away here - and make sure your buddy captures it on film.
The fun continues and you start to get into a groove. A string of par 4s go back and forth, your ocean view is never interrupted and the fairways remain wide.
There's the odd chance you'll wind up in a sand dune -- you might even lose a ball -- but you'll be having too much fun by this point to care. More than likely, you'll score okay here, but even if you don't, your photos won't reflect that.
One last par 3 at 17, a 150-yard carry over water, before a letdown short par-4 finishing hole (you are, after all, nearing the clubhouse). But you've just played the back nine at Pacific Grove for 38 bucks ($78 if you rented the Callaways). You got a good deal.
Pacific Grove Golf Links: The verdict
Pacific Grove carries the nickname "Poor Man's Pebble Beach." And let's face it: Most of those who fly in to stay at The Lodge, play the premier courses and spend more than $1,000 a day aren't going to slot this one into their itinerary.
One look at the first tee and they'd be speed-dialing FlexJet, demanding shrimp cocktails, martinis and an urgent round at Cypress Point.
But there's a place for Pacific Grove Golf Links. It's a very wonderful golf course (well, at least, half of it is). And it's an undeniable statement that in a setting as posh as the Monterey Peninsula, public, affordable, seaside links golf is there for those who don't carry Platinum cards.
August 29, 2005