Can a single get on at Pebble Beach? Yes, if you have the time
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - This is where every golfer wants to be. I'm sitting on the stone wall outside the golf shop at Pebble Beach Golf Links and just about 15 yards from the first tee of what many call the world's greatest, most revered golf course.
I have tees in my pocket, my clubs nearby and my soft spikes laced up tight. The only problem? I don't have a tee time. And that really is a problem.
Tee times at Pebble are impossible to get. To have any real shot at a tee time, you must have a booked room reservation at The Lodge, or one of the other Pebble Beach resort properties on the Monterey Peninsula.
And those are expensive rooms at $500-$700 a night. Green fees at Pebble? Try $425. This means, in theory, to hold a valid tee time it'll cost you somewhere in the range of $1,000; plus any airfare it might take to get you here.
I don't exactly have $1,000 to throw around. And staying at the comfortably tattered Days Inn in Monterey, instead of the elegant Lodge at Pebble Beach, doesn't get me a tee time.
So why am I sitting here prepped to play? Because I've heard if you show up as a single, even without the room reservation and are willing to wait it out, there can be a reasonable chance you'll get to knock it around on this historic ground.
This isn't something the Pebble Beach Resort advertises; employees don't hide it or deny it, but it's not something they're shouting about. But, it's real and I’ve got plenty of time to give it a shot.
I arrive at 7:30 a.m. on a Tuesday and ask the starter about putting me on the single's wait list.
"What's the name, sir?" he asks with a willingness to help, but with no hint he can guarantee a thing.
"I got you down and we'll see what we can do," he adds as he writes my name on his tee sheet; giving me no eye contact and moving on to get the next foursome gathered and ready.
Now, the real waiting begins.
I sit in the sunshine at one of the iron patio tables set-up near the first tee and watch the golfers try their best to knock one straight down the first fairway. Few do. There are some serious nerves when you're teeing it up for the first time at Pebble Beach.
Some take deep breaths to steady themselves, some pose for pictures not wanting to miss the moment and hoping to take some pressure off actually having hit a ball. And others greet their playing partners with hearty handshakes and high-fives in the exuberant celebration of just being where they are.
An hour goes by. I still have no tee time.
"How's that work now?" I ask the affable assistant golf professional behind the counter in the shop. "I'm on the single's list. Will they call me? Can I walk down to the putting green?"
"I would stay close," he says. Riley is his name, at least that's what it says on his gold colored chest name tag. "Be sure to let Andrew (the starter) know where you’re going."
I decide to stick around. I don’t want to miss getting on Pebble Beach because I took a walk or went to the bathroom.
So, what do you do when you're waiting at Pebble? Strike up a conversation with a couple of caddies also waiting to get on the course, albeit for a different reason.
Mike Lahotta had been working for Paramount Studios in Los Angeles in the wardrobe department. It felt like the rat race to him; working in the intense atmosphere of L.A. He and his wife decided there was more to life and they found themselves on the Monterey Peninsula ready for a new, simpler beginning.
"I've been here for 11 years and I've done just about everything at the golf course," Lahotta says. "I was the starter for awhile, the caddy master, but I like caddying and there is no better place than Pebble to do it."
Dressed in his white caddy overalls, he seems relaxed and content as he talks about the job he loves.
"This is fun 99 percent of the time," Lahotta says. "I never feel like I don't want to come to work."
And it's even fun, he says, when he caddies for the worst golfer in the world.
"I had a guy once who shot 203 and counted every stroke," Lahotta says."And at the end of the round I told him before you start crying about all those double-bogeys out there, think about me. I'm the one who had to caddy for a guy who shot 203."
Ron Berry came to his caddy job at Pebble in a different way. He was once a minor league baseball catcher, a youth director at a church and an artist. But things changed when he was hired at Pebble.
"Walking around this place did it," Berry said. "First time I took the corner and walked past No. 4 and got my first good look out to the ocean, it was like a magical place. I can understand why people spend their lives trying to get out here."
And what do these two guys think about a single getting out on the course today?
"Wait it out, man. It could happen," Berry says.
So, I do just that. Wait.
Three hours have passed now and it's time to shift seats. I take a spot on a bench near the first tee and an older woman, not dressed for golf and holding a book in her hand, steps up next to me and asks if she can sit down.
"Sure, not many better seats," I say.
"I'm not here to play. My husband and I stayed in the Lodge last night so he could get a tee time," she says, opening her book and crossing her legs. Across from us her husband swings his driver in a warm-up motion along the walkway to the first tee.
"Aren't you playing?" I ask the woman.
"Oh no; I'm not good enough for this place," she says.
Has she seen the lousy tee shots off the first tee here? She might think differently if she had. But then again, you can get intimidated at Pebble. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event for so many and players are just trying not to screw it up.
There are many people, visitors mainly with cameras in hand, who come by the first tee just to see it, but would never consider playing Pebble. One man ushers his two sons up onto the first tee to take a photograph. He says his sons aren’t golfers, he is. But playing Pebble, he says, just isn't something he would consider.
"I can't imagine playing here," he says. "I would be a bumbling fool. A bag of nerves."
I'm sure my nerve endings will be exposed when I'm called to the tee, but not play? You've got to be kidding. I have to play. There's no other option.
However, I have to admit, I've now been waiting for some four hours and those positive vibes I had earlier in the day are fading. I'm a little worried. No, I'm a lot worried.
It seems people booked to play Pebble show up. They all show up. Someone would have to die for me to get a tee time.
Then, nearly five hours since my arrival, I hear a wonderful sound.
"Yes, right here," I answer as I hop up from the bench eager and hopeful. Is this is? Am I getting on Pebble?
"Where are your clubs, sir?" says the starter.
"Down on the end," I say with anticipation.
"You'll be playing with this group," he says, pointing to three players on the tee. There's an older couple from Zurich, Switzerland and a young man with his young wife from Florida. She's carrying a camera and coming along for the cart ride.
"Welcome to Pebble Beach Golf Links," the greeter on the tee box says. "Have you all played here before?"
"No. It's our first time," we say, nearly in unison.
"Great," he says. "You're going to have a wonderful time."
July 1, 2005