I played Cypress Point on a Wednesday and then played Pebble Beach (the best public course in the country and the twelfth best in the world) on the Friday two days later. Can you ask for a better three days? My family and I planned a trip to California to play Cypress. However, we did not want to stay at the Pebble Beach resort, thus preventing us from booking a tee time at Pebble Beach well in advance. Non-resort guests can only book tee times one day in advance on Pebble Beach, but can book tee times on Spyglass 30 days in advance. So, 30 days before our trip, I booked a tee time on Spyglass. On the day before we were set to play, I called the pro shop and asked if there was any availability the following day on Pebble Beach. To my astonishment (given the absolutely perfect weather in the forecast), there was an early morning tee time available, and the resort allowed us to transfer our tee time from Spyglass to Pebble (and we were more than happy to pay the extra $100 in green fees). To be sure, the green fees at Pebble are expensive, but if you find a way to save $1.50 a day for a year, then you have hit the number. The real expensive part of playing Pebble Beach is staying at the resort, which often has a two night minimum stay at $700 a night. So, if you have some flexibility in timing and otherwise find yourself in Northern California, it can't hurt to call a day beforehand to see if there is any last minute availability.
The night before playing Cypress for the first time, there was palpable excitement because you know it may be a once in a lifetime experience. The night before playing Pebble I was jittery with excitement, but of a different kind. Assuming you are willing to pay the green fee, Pebble is something you could do every year if you wanted, so it did not have the once in a lifetime feel to it. Instead, it was a feeling that I was about to play a course that is idolized by every golfer (e.g. Jack Nicklaus saying if he had one course left to play in his life, it would be Pebble Beach), and a course that has been central to so many historic golf moments (Jack's one-iron in 1972, Watson's chip-in on 17 in 1982 (see my post on Ballybunion for more on Watson's chip-in), Tiger whipping the field in 2000, or Tiger's miraculous comeback at the AT&T in 2000). I wasn't even alive for the first two shots, but they are nonetheless ingrained in my brain.
Some general thoughts. Pebble has arguably the best stretch of holes I have every played. Holes six through ten are all routed along the bay and unbelievably scenic, fun (especially the seventh), and strategic. These factors are often my primary considerations in thinking about how much I like a hole/stretch of holes. Similarly, 17 and 18 (also on the ocean) are great holes. The 18th is the best closing hole I have played thus far. How far over the ocean do you go to cut the distance? Then, assuming you navigate the tee shot safely, your approach still has ocean all up the left and spectators directly behind the green who will watch your approach and putts. The 17th is not a terribly interesting hole--a fairly straightforward par three where the ocean (though serving as a backdrop) does not come into play (other than providing the wind that can drastically change the nature of the hole). But, this is where Jack hit the stick and Watson chipped in, so that makes up for any deficiencies (you would be crazy to play 17 without hitting the chip that won Watson the Open). Having acknowledged that the course has some of the best holes I have ever played, it also has many average holes (1, 2, 3, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15). Those are a lot of average holes for the 15th best course in the world, which only reinforces how great the other holes are. Also noteworthy, one thing that you cannot easily appreciate from TV coverage (and makes the average holes a bit less average) is that the ocean is visible from nearly every hole, thus keeping the beauty of Monterey Bay on near perpetual display.
Now, onto some individual holes.
As I said above, the first few holes are fairly average. As opposed to Cypress where the ocean is on full display on the first hole, the first hole at Pebble feels like you are playing a golf course in a residential development. Below is an embarrassing action shot of me making a par putt on the first hole.
***On all of my reviews, you can now click on the first image to see a slideshow of all images on the page.
In my opinion, the course really begins at five-a fun par three where the ocean starts to assume its central role. Not terribly difficult at 142 yards, but the ocean can come into play and the green is well guarded by bunkers.
My brother putting for birding on the fifth green. As you can tell from the stillness of the bay, this was a very calm morning. Our tee time was 7:40, so we probably hit the fifth green around 9:00 a.m.
The sixth is a great golf hole (and the second hardest on the course). A 487 yard par 5 with cliffs leading down to the ocean lurking all the way up the right side, but don't think about bailing out to the left because you will find one of the many bunkers. Other than the hazards, the steep uphill approach to the green (causing the shot to be nearly blind) adds to the difficulty of the hole.
View from sixth tee.
Looking back down the sixth fairway.
The seventh hole is, according to the scorecard, the easiest on the course--about 100 yards downhill to a small green with the ocean staring you in the face. It is one of the most scenic (and most photographed) holes in golf. Like 15 at Cypress, it is one of those holes where you just really want to hit a good shot. If there was ever a birdie hole, this is it and you desperately want to get a birdie on one of golf's most famous holes. Unbelievably, our group's score on the hole was one under par (my father and I parred the hole and my brother birdied after hitting his tee shot to six feet). Below is a video of my brother and father hitting their tee shots.
Us on seventh tee.
Dad walking from tee down to seventh green.
The eighth is an iconic hole. A 400 yard par four that requires a second shot over the ocean to a green perched over the water. The tee shot is straightforward with a generous fairway and no bunkers. It is the second shot to a well bunkered green where disaster can strike.
Eighth green from the fairway.
Eighth fairway. The beach that you see running below the cliffs is Carmel Beach. It is a public beach beach that you can access
from the town of Carmel. From the beach, you can clearly see the golfers playing this stretch of holes on Pebble. One of the great things
about golfing in Monterey is the surrounding area. Carmel is a beautiful town with great shopping and restaurants. The area is also just
north of Big Sur, which can be a day-long scenic drive. Monterey has one of the best aquariums in the world with the cutest sea otters. Also, one of the things I love about Monterey is that the ocean, mountains, and forest all exist right next to each other. So, for those who like getting outdoors other than to play golf, there are great hikes in the area.
The ninth is another long par four running along the bay where the slope of the fairway will pull your second shot to the right (directly towards the ocean). One of the great parts of Pebble is that the ocean is not only there for scenery, but it is also a hazard that comes into play on multiple holes. The approach to the green is protected by the ocean on the right and gully with a bunker in it on the left that will catch any shots that come up short when erring left to avoid the ocean.
Ninth fairway with the green slightly out of view on the left.
The tenth is the last hole along the bay until you come to 17 and 18. It is a long par four, again with the ocean running up the entirety of the right side. Similar to nine, the ocean protects the green on the right and bunkers left and behind the green catch any approach that is not perfect.
The next stretch of holes is where you encounter another average part of the course. No longer along the ocean and once again routed through houses, the course looses some of its luster (especially since you just finished such an amazing stretch of holes, the contrast is particularly apparent).
A highlight of this stretch was my brother holing out for birdie from fifty yards away on the par three twelfth after having duffed his tee shot.
Brother retrieving his ball from the hole on twelve.
Action shot of brother lipping out for birdie on fourteen.
Sixteen if my favorite hole in this stretch. It is a short par four that requires an accurate tee shot to avoid the fairway bunker on the right. Then, the approach has to carry a whole heap of trouble--a huge bunker, bushes, trees. A poorly hit second shot can turn this fairly easy hole into one that ruins the scorecard.
Finally, at seventeen you return to the ocean to play one of the most famous holes in golf. Like I said above, the hole is not particularly challenging and it is not among the most beautiful on the course (to be sure, it is lovely, but it has nothing on the views you see at seven, for example), but it is one that you nevertheless will never forget. The last few holes had some fun moments for us. My father parred the last three holes (16, 17, and 18) and I hit my tee shot at 17 to the rough just off the green and nearly chipped in. Though it was not in the same spot as Watson's ball and the pin was in a different location, I pretended it was the same and did the Watson jog as the ball was tracking towards the hole (probably jinxed myself because the ball hit the hole and lipped out, but I'll happily take a par on 17).
Dad celebrating tee shot on 17.
Before hitting my chip at 17.
The eighteenth is a strong finishing hole- a 532 yard par five. Where you aim your tee shot depends on your length and how much you want to challenge the ocean. Not only does the tee shot have to avoid the ocean, but there are also two trees placed in the fairway that require you to think carefully about your aim off the tee. The ocean continues to run up the remainder of the hole on the left, but you can bail out to the right on your second without much danger. Your final shot into the green presents the greatest hazard yet on the course--a gallery. The hotel and restaurant are located next to the 18th green and there is an area directly behind the green where people can stand and watch the action on 18. So, though the green is surrounded by bunkers, it are the people watching that are more likely to give you the yips on the delicate pitch you might have over the bunker. Perhaps adding to the appeal of 18 is the fact that people are watching and you know that many of them are wishing they could be out there playing, so it reinforces how special it is that you just completed 18 holes at Pebble Beach.
Walking up the fairway at 18. This view gives you a good idea of the decision you face on the tee shot
and how confrontational you choose to be with the ocean.
This photograph of my dad hitting his approach to 18 shows just how close the ocean plays to the hole.
Spectators on 18.
Be sure to enjoy lunch on the patio overlooking 18 after one of the best
rounds of golf you will ever play.
Overall, Pebble Beach is an amazing golf course. Six through ten are some of the best golf holes anywhere. Adding to it is the feeling that you are playing on golf's holy ground. To be sure, Cypress is a better course. But, after having played Cypress I was worried that if I never played it again, then I would always feel like I was playing a second rate golf course. I left Pebble Beach comforted knowing that, though marginally worse than Cypress, it was certainly close enough to be in the same conversation. As I have said before, Monterey is among my favorite places to visit, so I think I will make a separate post highlighting other things one can do in Monterey besides golf because it truly is a destination that has a lot to offer, even for non-golfers.