Pebble Beach Golf Links: Crosby weather, unmatched scenery define ultimate layout

By David R. Holland, Contributor

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- On any given day at Pebble Beach Golf Links, the tee shot from No. 1 can be as intimidating as any place on earth for a novice, save, perhaps The Old Course at St. Andrews.

There's always a crowd of onlookers, scrutinizing your swing and your results. And on any day you might see someone you know. The guy who just nailed one left-handed might be former New York Yankees star Reggie Jackson, with a huge cigar in his mouth.

But walking down the first fairway, after that unnerving beginning, things settle down and you can enjoy one of the most beautiful walks on the planet. The crescendo of Nos. 16, 17 and 18 make it as special as any golf experience ever.

Golfers and nature lovers have been making this scenic trek since 1919, after Jack Neville and Douglas Grant designed a course trying to utilize as many ocean-front holes as possible. Samuel Morse had started selling lots for homes in 1916 and unfortunately for him the very first lot sold was a 5.5-acre parcel on Stillwater Cove to William Beatty. It didn't take long for Neville and Morse to realize Mr. Beatty wasn't going to sell back his lot for the par-3 No. 5. But some 80 years later this beautiful acreage was purchased back by Pebble Beach and led to the hole Neville and Grant had envisioned.

For those eight decades No. 5 was an uphill par 3 that Tom Fazio once noted seemed out of place. The new No. 5 was a long time coming, but completes a remarkable piece of the puzzle and makes Pebble Beach even stronger thanks to Jack Nicklaus' design of the new 187-yard ocean beauty.

Weather is another calling card of Pebble Beach. Old-timers call it "Crosby" weather -- perfect sunny, windless winter days give way easily to cold, wet and blustery winds of California's rainy season. In the summer warm sun and cold Pacific waters give way to fog. So, for the travel golfer Pebble Beach weather is a crap shoot. In the old days you could pick a nice day, walk up and play. But with its immense popularity, despite $380 green fees (add $30 for a cart), the days are gone where you are in charge of mother nature. You secure your tee time and play whether it is raining, blowing a gale or a perfect day on Carmel Bay.

Just after opening in 1919 many of the Monterey Peninsula golfers shunned Pebble Beach. They preferred Del Monte, the oldest golf course in continuous operation west of the Mississippi, because it was inland and sheltered from the cool, damp winds of the Pacific. It took national competitions for the rest of the world to recognize what a jewel the Monterey Peninsula had. And when the 1972 U.S. Open was telecast all over the country, golfers were intrigued by its beauty and many a promise was made to visit this special meeting of land and water.

During the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am scores are low on sunny, windless days, but higher when the wind kicks up. Some tournaments have lucked into perfect weather and some, like El Niño's 1996 event, was postponed to August. During the 1962 Crosby Clambake, Jimmy Demaret rolled out of bed, looked at the snow on the ground, and wondered aloud if he was in Idaho at a ski resort.

Just try nailing the hourglass green on No. 17 at 178 yards into the teeth of a flag-bending wind. Bob Rosburg, who won the 1961Crosby Clambake, said he hit a 1-iron in to the front bunker on purpose on such a day because he was afraid hitting the firm green would mean an even tougher recovery. The sometimes tough conditions either bring out the competitiveness of the pros or cause them to shun the tournament. After winning twice at Pebble Beach in 2000, Tiger Woods says he won't be back (until another U.S. Open) because of the bumpy greens.

For the novice, Pebble Beach is tough. There are constant distractions from the scenery -- beautiful vistas in every direction, Monterey cypress trees, emerald-green fairways leading to miniscule, tricky poa annua greens surrounded by deep, devilish bunkers with tawny edges of higher grasses and gnarly, twisty shorter rough. When the weather is wet, footprints on the greens can wreck a birdie line in a heartbeat.

And for flat-landers, there are plenty of rugged slopes to think about -- Nos. 9 and 10 have side-hill fairway lies with holes edged against the disaster of the ocean's steep cliffs. And there are holes like No. 11 and 15 that go straight uphill. Mingle those factors with a breeze of 20 mph and you have shots that must be struck perfectly or you find your golf ball nestled deep in a bunker or thick rough.

Through the years officials say few updates have been made. But, in fact, it took only 10 years before extensive changes were implemented for the 1929 National Amateur Championships. Probably the most visible happened at the 107-yard No. 7 where the green was surrounded by man-made sand dunes that gave it a wild links look. Even famed Alister MacKenzie did some bunker work in 1927.

The most significant and recent changes have been implemented at the 543-yard No. 18, one of the world's greatest golf holes. The towering 80-foot Monterey cypress was a victim of pitch canker disease and was replaced by a handsome tree from the second hole tee area. The 2002 AT&T, won by Matt Gogel, was played without a tree in that spot.

Two smaller trees, that for years served as aiming points from the 18th tee, where also removed, but will be replaced in the near future. These trees always deterred the long hitter from aiming too far right, and forces today's player to carry more ocean and shoreline on his drive. That's exactly what they had in mind when the hole was converted from an uninspiring, short par four in 1922, to one of the best golf holes ever designed. Imagine, too, the 18th with a large tree along the left boundary in the old days.

And if some one ever wants to debate the merits of new equipment and golf balls, just consider Jack Nicklaus. The Bear never reached No. 18 in two until he was 60 years old -- during the 2000 U.S. Open.

Other changes for the 2004 AT&T came at No. 2, where the 502-yard par-5 got 18 extra yards. The tee shot is also affected by the addition of a large, deep fairway bunker along the left side and five new trees, two on the left side and three on the right, now come into view on the approach. The green was completely rebuilt, the opening narrowed and the greenside bunkers enlarged. It also has bent-grass instead of poa annua like the rest of the layout.

Wayward shots on the 572-yard par-5 14th, the No. 1 handicap hole, will now
draw the ire of a massive new bunker 290 yards off the tee on the right side
and two others on the left.

Pebble Beach is currently lobbying for the 2010 U.S. Open. The 2000 event was a landslide by Woods, who won by 15 shots over Ernie Els. Pebble Beach has also hosted Opens in 1972, 1982 and 1992. Jack Nicklaus won in '72, Tom Watson in '82 and Tom Kite in '92.

The Verdict

Every golfer in the world dreams of playing Pebble Beach. Sure, it is over-priced -- it is a public course that few can afford. The days are long gone, like my first visit, when I paid $36 and just walked up with no tee-time. And sure, there are days of six-hour rounds (my round clocked in at 4:50). If you don't snap a few photos here and get one of yourself and the guys in your group you are missing out. Part of the real enjoyment is being able to soak up the scenery. Bottom line: play this golf course, whenever and however. A travel golfer does not have a real portfolio without a trip here and a day on the links at Pebble Beach.

Stay and play

Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa
400 Cannery Row, Monterey
(831) 646-1700

The premier hotel on Cannery Row, the Monterey Plaza has ocean views and award-winning luxury. Check out the web site for golf packages, including Bayonet and Black Horse. Dine in the hotel at The Duck Club or Schooners Bistro by the Bay.

Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Marina
189 Seaside Circle, Marina
(831) 884-2500 or (800) 228-7555

Sign up for golf packages to nearby Bayonet and Black Horse and enjoy comfortable rooms with data-port phones, in-room coffee, continental breakfast and welcome fresh-baked cookies. Marina is just minutes north of Monterey on Highway 1 with pristine beaches and towering sand dunes.

Marina Dunes Resort
3295 Dunes Drive, Marina
(831) 883-6478

Marina Dunes was the first oceanfront development approved by the California Coastal Commission in 24 years when it was planned in 1994. Churning surf is within sight and sound of your private building and deck. Pick a suite or a single room. The Resort includes spa services and AJ Spuds Restaurant, specializing in steaks, ribs, seafood and poultry. Marina is 10 minutes north of Monterey on Highway 1.

Dining out

Hog's Breath Inn, Carmel, (831) 625-1044
Fishwife at Asilomar Beach, Pacific Grove, (831) 375-7107
Tinnery at the Beach, Pacific Grove, (831) 646-1040
Old Bath House, Pacific Grove, (831) 375-5195
Stokes Adobe, Monterey, (831) 373-1110
The Tap Room, Lodge at Pebble Beach, (800) 654-9300

Monterey highlights

Stroll down the streets of Cannery Row and revisit the places that inspired John Steinbeck's novel. The area has many restored buildings from the era when Monterey's fishermen landed sardines and the canning process enabled them to be shipped all over the world. Don't miss the Monterey Bay Aquarium, 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, (831) 648-4888,

Fast fact

Want to debate the merits of new equipment and golf balls? Just consider Jack Nicklaus. The Bear never reached No. 18 at Pebble Beach in two until he was 60 years old -- during the 2000 U.S. Open.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Trivia perfection

    Bill Snyder wrote on: May 30, 2010

    Incredible bit of trivia. Thanks. Great story:
    Fast fact
    Want to debate the merits of new equipment and golf balls? Just consider Jack Nicklaus. The Bear never reached No. 18 at Pebble Beach in two until he was 60 years old -- during the 2000 U.S. Open.


  • Yep, that's right

    Joel Smith wrote on: Dec 30, 2005

    Yep, this is the way I remember my round at Pebble Beach. Neat story, captures the feeling I had and takes me back to that day. Keep up the good writing.