Pebble Beach’s Other Hazard

Photograph by Nicholas Hegel McClelland

The seventh hole at the Pebble Beach Golf Links is relatively simple on paper – a short par three with a slight slope toward a decent-size green. Nothing complicated.

Then you're standing at the blues struggling to read a card that says it's just 106 yards to the pin because the Pacific wind is blowing furiously in your face and the view, seagulls wheeling above granite cliffs and thick seaweed beds full of sea otters, might as well be a giant sign reading: "You're Playing Pebble Beach." Confidence turns into cold sweat and knees go limp as kelp. The bunkers are singing their siren song to the ball and a gust is waiting to pounce. Any shot-making ability you once possessed jumped off the rocks and sunk deep into the abyss of Monterey Bay. Hitting an iron here feels like playing Wiffle ball in Yankee Stadium.

Like a Catholic's journey to Lourdes, the pious golfer's pilgrimage to Pebble Beach is sacrosanct. But no amount of driving range self-flagellation can prepare a mere mortal to compete on a course where Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods both won U.S. Opens. Originally designed by amateur course architects Jack Neville and Douglas Grant in 1919, Pebble has hosted the U.S. Open a total of five times, (a sixth is scheduled for 2019) a PGA Championship in 1977, and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am every year since 1947. The fairways are perfect. The green greens are fast. The bunker sand is fine as sugar.

Most courses offer one signature hole. Pebble Beach has 18 of them, several butting up against the wild coastline. But if we could only play one hole again, it would be the par 5 sixth. There is an amazing visual poetry to the solitary tree beyond the green and the boundless expanse of water, and there is no better feeling in golf than piping a perfect drive to the end of that fairway. Unfortunately, there is probably no worse feeling in golf than watching helplessly as your second shot bounces off the rocks and plummets into the ocean, but that's Pebble for you. Sadism and beauty run hand in hand.

After your round, pop into The Bench for a cocktail-come-down and consider playing Spyglass Hill, a technically more difficult course nearby that some people wrongly believe to be more substantial than Pebble.

At $525, the peak season greens fees at Pebble are even steeper than the cliffs protecting the course from the sea. But any sojourn to Monterey won’t be cheap. Once you plunk down your credit card, forget about the money. This is a round (or two) to be remembered and bragged about till the end of your days. You may be the world's biggest duffer, but you played Pebble, and that is sweet, no matter how many balls you lost.

More information: The Lodge at Pebble Beach runs $815 a night. But staying at one of the properties on the resort yields a free cart rental.

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