Situated at the southern end of California’s Monterey Peninsula, Pebble Beach was developed by business entrepreneur Samuel F.B. Morse, who first saw the property while acting as liquidator for a company wanting to offload its failed investment in the region. Morse felt that a golf course along the sea would help residential sales and managed to convince the company to invest in the building of the Pebble Beach Golf Links. When completed he purchased the course as part of a greater 18,000-acre Peninsula property that incorporated the vast Del Monte forest as well as further coastal land later used to build additional courses, including Cypress Point.
Pebble Beach occupies a site of unparalleled scenic beauty, its holes stretching along a rocky coastline and boasting wondrous views across Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove. This was dream land for golf, yet the responsibility to design the layout was given to local amateur players Jack Neville and Douglas Grant who, with little experience, cleverly arranged the holes so that half could follow the continually curving bay.
Despite being well received, in the decade following its 1919 opening the course was constantly refined, most substantially by another amateur H. Chandler Egan, who reshaped almost all the greens and bunkers prior to the 1929 US Amateur. Egan also moved the 1st and 10th tees, pushed the 16th green back into a natural depression and extended the fairway on the 9th out to the ocean, building a brilliant new target right beside the cliffs. Earlier, English architect Herbert Fowler had shifted the 18th tee onto a rocky outcrop and moved the putting surface back and along a seawall, transforming a tame par four into a mighty finishing five renowned the world over. Interestingly, during this period Dr Alister MacKenzie also worked on the 8th and 13th greens, possibly to show Morse he was capable of handling the Cypress Point assignment.
Unlike Cypress Point and the early parts of Spyglass Hill, Pebble Beach is sheltered from the Pacific Ocean and as a result it lacks wild sand dunes and natural fairway undulations. The layout also has a more formal, manicured appearance, although in its earliest guise things were more rugged and the greens were actually surrounded by vast sandy wastes. The targets have also shrunk over the years and are now small, circular and far from a standout feature. The most common criticism of this course, however, is that the inland holes are not as good as those along the sea. Better non-coastal holes such as the 2nd, 3rd, 14th, 15th and 16th are all very good, though each pales by comparison to the stunning offerings closer to the shore.
Pebble’s celebrated seaside holes are outrageously spectacular, the stretch from the 4th to the 10th without equal in this country. With the exception of the short 5th, a Jack Nicklaus hole built in the 1990s, this part of the course remains essentially unaltered from the Egan plan. The first real glamour hole is the par five 6th, an exciting challenge with great outlooks but played over a hill that is really too steep for most golfers to handle with their fairway wood. There are no such issues on the 7th, arguably the game’s greatest drop-kick par three, nor with the approach into the 8th green, which demands an awesome once-in-a-lifetime shot across a corner of the bay. Equally unforgettable are strong par fours at the 9th and 10th, each positioned alongside the sea and sloping more toward the ocean than is first apparent, their fairways and greens perfectly angled to reward those brave enough to crack a drive close to the water. The finale is also magnificent, particularly the mesmerizing par five 18th, which sweeps left along the shoreline and follows a coastal rock barrier all the way to its putting surface.
Although some criticize Pebble Beach for the disparity between its best and worst moments, the course has as many knockout holes as any in America as well as a setting more beautiful than any other on earth. The layout itself is far from perfect and, unless playing at the right time of year, can also be frustratingly soft. These minor concerns, however, fail to take the shine of an extraordinary facility, and will no doubt do little to diminish the broad global appeal of golf’s most famous resort.
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