Major Changes at Pebble

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On the sixth hole of the second round of the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Tiger Woods famously and impossibly hoisted a 7-iron from a nasty lie in the deep right kikuyu rough to an uphill green from 202 yards. The ball stopped less than 15 feet away.
 
Just like that, golf history and Tiger Woods lore had yet another snapshot framed inside the natural beauty of the Monterey Peninsula.
 
Pebble Beach Golf Links
A look at the new-look par-5 sixth hole at Pebble Beach.
This is not a fair fight, said an astonished Roger Maltbie from the booth on NBCs live broadcast.
 
It was a shot that makes all the Top 10 Tiger Woods lists. And it is a shot we will never see again.
 
The good folks who run what is arguably Americas most famous golf course have altered the hole. Significantly.
 
Moreover, they are in the process of changing the entire golf course. Significantly.
 
By next year, when the course will host the U.S. Open, the back championship tees will stretch past 7,000 yards for the first time at a Pebble Beach Open. More importantly, the golf course will bear a much stronger resemblance to architect Jack Nevilles 1919 design. Pebble Beach has always been breathtaking. But Nevilles original was also dangerous and treacherous.
 
Mike Davis the course set-up guy for the U.S. Golf Association, said he intends to move the fairways on hole Nos. 4, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 18 to virtually abut the falloffs into the water. Its something of a contradiction to shave roughs into fairways and produce a tougher test of golf. But thats the gist.
 
Pebble Beach already is braced for blowback from the purists. We are not, course officials say, putting a moustache on the Mona Lisa. Rather, they say, we are restoring a masterpiece. The finishing touches, they say, will be ready for the 2010 U.S. Open.
 
Among those who have signed off on this bold transformation of Americas premier public access golf shrine are Arnold Palmer, part owner of the place and Davis.
 
As we approached our fifth U.S. Open, we felt strongly that Pebble Beach should be strengthened to heighten the challenge of todays players and todays equipment, said RJ Harper, the senior vice-president for golf at Pebble Beach Resorts. To do this weve scoured the archives to get a clear understanding of the overall original design principles.
 
The location of new bunkers, tees and trees all fall within the original concepts of the design. They are, for the most part, simply placed to accommodate todays standard of championship play, from the championship tees.
 
Harper, Palmer and Davis all agreed that Neville had it right when he laid out Pebble Beach with the goal of making the Pacific Ocean, and its adjoining coves and bays, the greatest hazard on the course.
 
The restoration means, among other things, that Woods Friday drive on the severely canted sixth fairway at the 2000 Open probably would have rolled into Stillwater Cove.
 
Golf Channels Mark Rolfing, who was on the ground for NBC with Woods group that day, was stunned when he heard of the changes. And he confirmed Woods tee ball was saved from watery perdition only by thick rough that no longer exists.
 
If theres a downside, Rolfing said, it might come from a pace-of-play standpoint at No. 6 near the hazard lines when it comes to determining drops.
 
It could be a ruling nightmare, he said.
 
Davis clarified that the fairway wont actually grow completely to the edges of the cliffs on the holes in question. But, he said, thats because we have to leave 6 feet of intermediate (1 inch) cut so the mowers dont fall into the ocean.
 
If a ball is just about to run out of steam, it may stop on that short rough, Davis said. If its still rolling at all, its in the water.
 
Purists wont be the only ones grousing. Players almost certainly will join the collective howl. They know how firm and fast Pebble Beach plays in June when the central California coast thirsts for rain. And they know how severely the fairways on Nos. 9 and 10 camber from left to right. The ninth, by the way will have a new tee box that stretches it from 470 to 505 yards. The new tee at No. 10 checks in at 490, up from 440. Both holes remain par-4s. Overall par will stand at 71.
 
The goal on those two holes is to put driver back into the hands of the players, Davis said.
 
Former U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen played in the 54-hole Callaway Invitational at Pebble Beach in November and did a double take when he saw the new tee box at No. 9.
 
I thought it was the ladies tee at No. 14, he said.
 
Clearly, the changes at Pebble will force a learning curve upon the players. And Janzen, for one, is alright with that.
 
With the advances in technology and the players improvement you have to make changes, he said. The fairway growing right up to the hazard will also create a mental hazard for players as they stand on the tee.
 
Former PGA champion Rich Beem, who also played in the Callaway Invitational, especially loves the concept of no rough up the left side on the 18th. It gives you a reason to challenge the left side of that hole off the tee if you need to make something happen, he said.
 
Beem is spot on here because Davis loves risk/reward, particularly on the final hole of a U.S. Open. That was evident again last year at Torrey Pines.
 
They are giving you a chance to get after it on 18, Beem said. But you better be sure of what youre doing. If you take the aggressive left line off that tee and pull it off, you could end up with a middle iron in your hand going for the green in two.
 
When the PGA Tour arrives at the Monterey Peninsula next month for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am all of this chatter is certain to dominate conversations that will reverberate up through the Del Monte Forest and on out to a waiting golf world that always hungers for any details about the iconic Pebble Beach.
 
I think the USGA is doing the right thing, Beem said. Theyre realizing you dont always have to grow more rough to make a golf course harder. This is a fantastic idea by the USGA.
 
To be fair, its an idea shared by Palmer, Pebbles executive staff and, 90 years ago, by Neville.
 
It will certainly look different, said Harper, who called the opportunity to watch Palmer roll up his sleeves and re-design the bunkering on the sixth one of the highlights of my career.
 
Thanks to Palmers vision there are now five separate bunkers down the left side of No. 6 instead of one large mass of sand. Janzen and Beem both said the new-look sixth hole was the first thing they noticed in November.
 
Oh, and remember those four imposing Monterey Pines that helped define the right side of No. 6?
 
They are no more.
 
Storms got the first three and the last one had to be removed in September when, according to Pebble Beach superintendent Chris Dalhamer, it died. Even the ardent central California tree-huggers didnt complain.
 
The loss of those trees cleared the approach to the green providing one more good reason to make No. 6 more challenging.
 
Predicting 72-hole scores is always a tricky business. One long-time Pebble Beach caddie said, The course will probably play six to eight shots harder over 72 holes. Apprised of that estimate, Harper didnt disagree.
 
Woods blew away the U.S. Open field in 2000, finishing at 12 under, 15 shots ahead of runners-up Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez. If he duplicates those numbers again in 2010, there will be a Senate investigation.
 
Other changes include the par-4 third, which is much more difficult off the tee now because of an altered line. The par-4 13th is 35 yards longer and a legitimate brute when it plays into the prevailing wind.
 
Dalhamer said Pebble Beachs overall playability wont be affected as much next month at the AT&T because rains soften the ground this time of year. Tee balls wont roll as close to the hazards as they will later in the dry summer.
 
Meanwhile, it was left to Harper to address the larger issues involved in the question of why all the changes:
 
Our ownership has a philosophy to continually improve all things Pebble Beach, i.e. the hotels, the dining, the service, the total experience, he said. So it started form this principle.
 
That ownership includes Palmer, actor/director Clint Eastwood and former baseball/Olympics mahout Peter Ueberroth. Last week it was announced that another Pebble Beach fixture, Bill Murray, the actor/comedian and lovable goof, will play in the AT&T next month after a one year absence. Tim Herron will be his partner.
 
Memo to Lumpy: Dont get anywhere near Murray late in the day during any of the Pebble Beach rounds if his golf ball stops on a new-mown fairway near the coastline. Its a scenario that will be a natural for funny man always looking for a bit.
 
And it could be hazardous to your health.
 
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