Pebble Beach Golf Links
Pebble Beach, California, USA
6828 YARDS (PAR 72)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 74.7/143
COURSE ARCHITECT: Jack Neville & Douglas Grant (1919)
COURSE WEBSITE: http://pebblebeach.com/golf/pebble-beach-golf-links/
ROUNDS PLAYED: 1
LAST PLAYED: May 30, 2013.
LOW SCORE: 85 (+13)
– Golf Club Atlas 147 Custodians of the Game: #30
– Golf Magazine Top 100 Golf Courses in the World 2020-21: #11
– Golf Magazine Top 100 Golf Courses in the U.S. 2017: #5
– Golf Magazine Top 100 Courses You Can Play 2016-17: #1
– Golf Digest America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses 2019-20: #7
– Golf Digest America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses 2019: #1
– Golfweek Best Classic Courses USA 2019: #8
– Top100GolfCourses.com Top 100 Golf Courses of the World 2020: #17
– Top100GolfCourses.com Top 100 Golf Courses of the USA 2020: #9
“It was all there in plain sight. Very little clearing was necessary. The big thing, naturally, was to get as many holes as possible along the bay. It took a little imagination, but not much. Years before it was built, I could see this place as a golf links. Nature had intended it to be nothing else. All we did was cut away a few trees, install a few sprinklers, and sow a little seed.”
Jack Neville, Course Architect, Pebble Beach Golf Links (San Francisco Chronicle 1972)
A Yale graduate who ventured west after his father’s death, Morse, as manager of the Pacific Improvement Company, was tasked with turning the Pebble Beach area into an attractive real estate opportunity.
He decided a golf course could help accentuate the incredible landscape at his disposal and he initially had the desire to bring in one of the preeminent architects at the time, C.B. Macdonald, to design the layout. However, Macdonald had no interest in travelling that far to the west so Morse went in a completely different direction, hiring noted amateur golfers Jack Neville and Douglas Grant as his architects. Despite the fact that neither of these two men had designed a course in the past, it would prove to be an inspired choice, as Morse was able to save significantly on costs due to the fact Neville and Grant couldn’t accept a design fee because of USGA regulations at the time. In the end, it would cost Morse approximately $100,000 to build what would soon become the most famous seaside golf course in the United States.
Morse then had the foresight to team up with businessman Herbert Fleishhacker and buy Pebble Beach and close to 18,000 acres of surrounding land through his newly founded company, Del Monte Properties, for approximately $1.3 million from his former employer. Morse would continue to develop and preserve this land until his death in 1969 and he is responsible for helping build seven other golf courses in the Monterey area, including Spyglass Hill, Monterey Peninsula Country Club and Cypress Point.
While Neville and Grant’s initial routing is essentially intact from 1919, the course, like all others, has evolved significantly over the years and many different architects have their fingerprints on the current design. Harold Sampson and Arthur Vincent were tasked with rebuilding some greens and improving turf quality shortly after opening in order to gain consideration for future USGA or California Golf Association events.
In 1921, Morse brought in noted architect Herbert Fowler to redesign the 18th hole, which at the time was a 379 yard par four. Fowler was the man who turned that benign hole into perhaps the most famous closing hole in the world of golf and it now is a three-shot par five measuring close to 550 yards.
In order to prepare for the playing of the 1929 U.S. Amateur, Robert Hunter, who was building Cypress Point at the time and H. Chandler Egan, a two-time US Amateur champion, were hired to do extensive work on the course. All greens were reshaped and rebunkered and many other holes saw changes. Alister MacKenzie, the famous designer who was working with Hunter at Cypress Point, is thought to have contributed to the design changes during this time as well.
In 1998, the club was finally able to secure a key piece of land that would allow them to rebuild the inland par three 5th hole on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. Jack Nicklaus was hired to do this work and more recently, Arnold Palmer, one of the principles at the Pebble Beach Company, has worked on modernizing the course, mostly through the shifting and reshaping of bunkers. This “modernization”, as opposed to a restoration, has been criticized by many purists but there is no question that Pebble Beach continues to be one of the most iconic monuments in the game and perhaps the most thrilling and dramatic course ever built.
I could go on and on about the resort itself, including the dining, the shops and the staff and I will touch on those topics briefly at the end but this is meant to be a course profile, not a resort review.
The first hole gives you absolutely no idea of what you’re eventually in for, as it’s a benign, inland 377 yard dogleg right par four. Being the first tee at such a famous facility and with many lurkers in the midst, I wanted that big face to avoid an embarrassing situation so I hit a nice bunt driver right down the pipe. That said, it can be an awkward tee shot for many due to the bunker placement so I imagine most will leave driver in the bag and just go with a fairway metal or a hybrid. Bunkers line both sides of the green and you quickly realize that the course’s primary defense are the small putting surfaces.
The second is a straightaway, reachable par five measuring 511 yards from the tips but has played as a ultra-long par four during the US Open. You start to get a sense of the grand scale at Pebble Beach from the tee, as there is plenty of width off the tee here but unfortunately, most of it is rough. A long tee shot will allow the player to challenge the barranca that lies about 75 yards in front of the green while others will simply lay up to their favourite yardage before attacking the incredibly small green.
The third is a hard dogleg left around the barranca and measures 390 yards from the back tees. Like the first hole, longer hitters will likely choose to use a fairway metal or a hybrid in order to stay short of the bunkers through the fairway. To gain the best angle at the green, you will want to challenge the barranca and land the ball as close to the left side as possible, as shots that go well right will have to contend with two cleverly located greenside bunkers that make the approach extremely difficult. As you approach the green, you get your first real good look at the Pacific Ocean, with the iconic 17th hole also directly in view.
The fourth hole is the shortest par four on the course at 326 yards from the back tee but plays well uphill. Once again, a driver is best left in the bag here, as the fairway tightens considerably as you get closer to the green. A long iron or fairway metal needs to avoid the deep centerline bunker and from there, you will have around 100 yards straight uphill to an almost impossibly small green that is very well defended by bunkers on the sides and at the back. The green is pitched severely from back to front and I ended up with an eight foot birdie putt from behind the hole that I essentially just breathed on to get rolling. This is a great spot on the property, with the ocean all around you and the stunning panorama that allows you to take in the splendor of the 5th and 6th holes from a distance before you even reach them.
The excitement just continues to build…a testament to the superb routing.
As mentioned earlier, the 192 yard par three 5th was completely rerouted in 1998 by Jack Nicklaus to take advantage of a dramatic piece of property on a bluff that was finally acquired from a homeowner after years of trying by the Pebble Beach Company. A mid to long iron shot will need to avoid the ocean right and bunkers short right and long left.
Your senses start to explode as you reach the incredible par five 6th hole, which only measures 506 yards from the back tees but seems much longer. You are finally encouraged to blast away here with the driver but the ocean is very much in play for anyone who loses shots to the right. Arnold Palmer recently repositioned a number of fairway bunkers on the left to swallow up drives that bail out in that direction. In order to reach the green in two shots, you’ll need to be in the fairway and still, you’ll have to navigate a very steep slope, as the green sits hidden way uphill on the highest part of the property. The distinctive lone cypress tree sits in behind the green and there are bunkers both left and right that will gobble up wayward approaches. One of the great par fives I’ve seen and the start of perhaps the finest stretch of holes in the world.
Likely the most photographed golf hole in the world, the stunningly gorgeous par three 7th hole at Pebble Beach plays well downhill and measures a mere 106 yards. Still, due to the extremely windy site, you could be looking at anything from a flip wedge to a mid iron here! Absolutely astonishing. There is really nowhere to miss, as the green is surrounded by bunkers and the ocean to the right and long. The hardest 100 yards in golf? I’d say so after making a smooth double bogey!
I’ve been pretty fortunate to visit some incredible places over the years but I’d be hard pressed to come up with a more beautiful spot on earth than the 7th tee at Pebble Beach.
The euphoria of playing the 7th comes to a crashing halt on the 8th tee, a 427 yard par four. For a first time player, this is a “what the heck?” moment, as you are faced with a completely blind, uphill tee shot with only an aiming rock offering guidance. There’s no question that this is perhaps the most awkward shot on the golf course but there is a significant payoff when you finally reach the top of that hill.
You feel like you’re on top of the earth, as you are hit with sensory overload once again. You feel like you’re a mile up in the air, standing perilously close to the cliff with the white sand beach down below, gorgeous Carmel in the distance and ocean all around! You need to hit your second shot over a huge chasm, essentially going from one cliffside to another and you’re likely looking at anywhere from a mid-iron to a fairway metal to the smallest green you’ve ever seen in your life.
I hit an absolute perfect drive, right to the end of the fairway as seen in a photo below. I’d pull a five-iron out for my second shot from 185 yards and hit a laser beam right at the pin…I stared that sucker down for what seemed like an eternity, holding my finish like a touring pro and waiting for the inevitable cheers that would come from my playing partners when my ball hit the green. You can imagine my dismay when the ball got sucked up by a gust of wind, hit the rocky face on the other side of the gorge and popped way up in the air before cruelly descending all the way down to the beach below.
Failure! Exhilarating failure!!
The incredible stretch of golf continues on the 9th and 10th holes, which run back-to-back toward the town of Carmel, high atop the bluffs with the ocean hard to the right.
The 9th is a beast: a par four measuring 481 yards but thankfully, the tee shot tumbles downhill somewhat to a fairway pitched quite sharply from left to right. The green is likely the smallest at Pebble Beach and it was being renovated when I played in 2013, meaning we had to play to a temporary green that day. Another superb hole, the toughest historically at Pebble Beach during the Tour events.
The 10th hole is kind of like the ninth’s little sister – it plays in the same direction and has many of the same features as the 9th, just in a slightly smaller and wider package. The hole measures 446 yards from the back tees, plays slightly downhill and has a fairway that slopes hard to the right toward the ocean. The green is tucked in at the far end of the property and there are bunkers left and long. As a touring professional, if you can get through #8, #9 and #10 at even par, you’re beating the field by at least one stroke.
The five hole stretch between #6 and #10 is arguably the greatest and undeniably the most scenic in the world of golf.
The routing takes you away from the ocean on the 11th, a 379 yard uphill par four. While the fairway is wide, placement down the left side is crucial to open up a view at the tiny green, which is pitched severely from back to front.
The 201 yard par three 12th is next and this is yet another intimidating tee shot, as the green is wide but extremely shallow and fronted by a very deep bunker. From the tee, it looks as if there is no room to miss but upon finishing the hole, there is room short and even more room long left to give players a chance at getting up and down.
The 13th is an uphill par four and plays much longer than its 403 yards. You need a pretty hefty poke to clear the bunker that creeps in from the left side of the hole and your approach will likely be from a hanging lie, as the fairway is sloped pretty hard from right to left. The green is likely the second most undulating on the course, adding to its difficulty.
The 14th is an absolute beast, a legitimate three shotter for all but the longest players in the game. It measures 572 yards from the back tees and bends sharply from left to right on the drive, making a big, high fade the preferred tee shot. From there, it’s a long climb uphill the whole way to one of the most difficult greens you can possibly imagine. Seriously, there may be a baby elephant buried under that turf! Arnold Palmer’s design group supposedly was softening the contours a tad, especially at the back left, as it’s almost unpinnable on that side. A true brute and likely the most memorable “inland” hole at Pebble.
The 15th is quite lovely, a mid-length par four that plays well downhill off the tee. Long hitters will likely use an iron or a hybrid here while others will look to avoid two well-placed cross bunkers.
The 16th is another underrated hole at Pebble, a 401 yard par four that bends to the right off the tee. There is a mammoth island bunker directly in the middle of the fairway and long hitters will again be fine using an iron or a fairway metal. The approach is a dangerous one with trouble lurking everywhere and the green is pitched sharply from right to left. A very strong hole.
The ocean makes its grand reappearance at yet another famous hole, the treacherous par three 17th. So many championships have been won or lost here, with one of the most notable wins coming from Jack Nicklaus in the 1972 US Open, after his 1-iron tee shot (!!) hit the flagstick and dropped down a foot away. Ten years later, the Open returned to Pebble Beach and Tom Watson famously chipped in from the deep hay in back of the green to snatch the championship away from Nicklaus, who was watching from the clubhouse, thinking the title was his. Two of the greatest moments in US Open history right there and both came on the 17th hole.
From the regular back tees, it’s a 177 yard shot to the most narrow target imaginable – in fact, it’s almost unhittable unless you possess a towering ball flight. If the pin is on the right side of this relatively wide green, you have a chance since it’s open over there but if the pin is tucked behind the huge front bunker, like it was during my round, good luck!! I hit a pretty safe shot to the open right side and was just on the fringe. I thought that was a pretty smart shot but realized that I was DEAD when I got to the green. You can see my predicament in one of the pictures below – I had no chance whatsoever of going at the hole on my birdie putt and essentially had to play for the three-putt! Simply incredible stuff. Another iconic hole on a course filled with great moments.
The iconic par five 18th hole needs no introduction. Unquestionably the most famous finishing hole in the world, with the ocean running all down the left side and the surf crashing into the rocks and the retaining wall the whole way down the fairway. Famously, there are two trees sitting directly in the middle of the fairway that many players aim for when playing their tee shots. The hole plays 543 yards and it’s usually a three shot hole but can be reached in two if the player dares to challenge the ocean and play down the left hand side. Even if you lay up, you’ll have to play a nervy short iron approach that avoids a large cypress tree short right of the green.
The 18th serves as a most wonderful and appropriate climax to one of the most thrilling courses in the world of golf.
Where do I even begin when trying to summarize my day at Pebble Beach?
I’ll start by briefly discussing the “off-course” experience, which was superb in its own right. I showed up the day before my round to move my tee time up a bit in order to finish before dark and the staff were more than accommodating, giving me that extra half hour I would end up needing. I was there with my family and the lady behind the desk at the pro shop pointed to my son and asked if he was playing yet. I told her that he had started hitting balls recently and she indicated that Pebble had a nine hole par three course onsite, something I wasn’t aware of at the time. That little interchange prompted me to set up what would be one of the great thrills of my life, the first round of golf ever with my four year old son Evan at the Peter Hay Golf Course at Pebble Beach!
After leaving the pro shop, one of the cart attendants asked if I had just played and I told him no, I was just getting my tee time set for the next day. He then asked if I had ever played before and of course, the answer was no. He quickly looked around, handed me a key and told me to hop on one of the carts and take my wife and son for a little drive around the course.
“Just bring the cart back here in ten minutes or so”, he said.
Simply INCREDIBLE customer service – we drove out to the back of the 4th green and I was able to take in that beautiful site, overlooking the ocean, with my wife and son. My wife, who doesn’t play golf, would say something along these lines:
“All these years, I’ve known how much you love golf but now, I finally realize why”.
We shared that moment and drove back to the clubhouse, where I was able to find that very thoughtful cart attendant in order to give him what I hope he considered a generous tip. It was the least I could do for allowing my family to have such a special moment together.
As for the golf course, well, I’m guessing you can easily imagine my overall thoughts.
This is one of the most brilliant and celebrated routings in golf, a figure-eight style that starts inland, loops to the ocean for six thrilling holes, turns inland for a stretch then triumphantly loops back to the ocean for the final two holes.
The course has a high playability factor, with plenty of width off the tee but there is considerable challenge on almost every approach, with easily the smallest collective set of greens I’ve ever seen on a golf course.
Conditioning was much better than I expected. We had a “chamber of commerce” type of day, with glorious sunshine, temperatures in the mid-60s and a nice two club wind. The turf quality was great, the course played much firmer than I would have ever imagined and the greens rolled quick and true.
The one main criticism people have at Pebble Beach is the pace of play. Please, please don’t let anyone talk you out of playing Pebble Beach because of how long it takes. Yes, my round took slightly over five hours to play and that would definitely be a problem at most courses but DAMN! You’re playing Pebble Beach for goodness sake! The round could have taken SEVEN HOURS and it still would have ended too soon in my humble opinion. And while I’m at it, why would anyone ride a cart here?! This is one of the greatest and most thrilling walks in golf – get out of that cart and take it all in!
My only quibble, and it’s a small one, is that the recent “modernization” by Palmer’s group is a bit forced and doesn’t look natural in this environment. It’s a bit too pretty for my liking and I think the course would have been better served by roughing up the bunkers a bit, rather than making them look clean. That blinding white sand also looks a bit out of place.
But again, a very minor quibble.
The most amazing views, the unique history that you can FEEL walking each of these incredibly famous golf holes, one of the most enviable routings ever devised. This place is a landmark of the highest order.
If I was to use a metaphor to describe the experience, I would say that playing Pebble Beach is like watching a great play or an opera…maybe even listening to a gorgeous song. There’s a slow build for a few holes before you finally get a glimpse of the ocean on the 3rd…you steadily see more and more of the ocean until you hit a crescendo on the 6th, riding that incredible high for five holes before hitting the 11th. The heartbeat slows a bit for a few holes then starts building back up again, reaching yet another peak once you hit the closing two holes along the ocean, the most thrilling finish imaginable.
Anyone that loves golf owes it to themselves to visit Pebble Beach once in their life. Yes, it’s extremely expensive to play but I guarantee you will cherish that memory for the rest of your life.
How can you put a price on that?
I haven’t visited the Old Course at St. Andrews as of this writing but I have to imagine my first visit there will be very similar to my first go-around at Pebble Beach. For those that love this great game, it’s the ultimate thrill-ride, an experience of the highest order and one that I certainly will never forget for the rest of my days.