PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Long before the term Golf Destination became popular, California’s Monterey Peninsula was the mecca for worshipers of golf. Though some may not consider jagged coastline and occasionally dense fog to be favorable design characteristics, when balanced with rich inland soil and a dry climate, the result is one of the most dramatic and natural settings for golf anywhere in the world.
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What began as a visionary residential project quickly grew into one of the most desirable golf destinations in the country, eventually ascending to a status no other public course has achieved. No price seems too high for some to play Pebble Beach.
It has hosted four U.S. Opens and four U.S. Amateurs and is the host of the PGA Tour AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Year after year, despite consistent rate increases, Pebble remains one of the busiest courses in the country, averaging more than 60,000 rounds per year while your typical golf course gets about 27,000.
Among Pebble’s oceanside neighbors are three other public courses: Spyglass Hill Golf Course, Poppy Hills Golf Course and The Links at Spanish Bay.
Spyglass Hill is widely regarded as second-best on the Peninsula, and many Tour players actually prefer its layout to that of Pebble. The inland Poppy Hills is the home of the California State Golf Association, while Spanish Bay is one of the most unique courses – bagpipers give it a distinctly Scottish feel. Rates are $330, $200 and $260 respectively.
The new kid on the block
For one of the most impressive redesigns you’ll ever see, head north to Bayonet/Black Horse. This 36-hole facility in Seaside is situated on the property of Fort Ord, a former U.S. Army post. The vision for the golf course came together in 1954 while the base was still open, under the direction of General Robert B. McClure, who enlisted the design help of one of his soldiers stationed at Fort Ord, eventual World Golf Hall of Famer Ken Venturi.
In December 2008, both the Bayonet and Black Horse courses reopened after a $13 million redesign by golf course architect Gene Bates that included overhauls of the routing and bunkering. Trees were removed or trimmed to allow sweeping views of the nearby Monterey Bay to shine through.
“The project’s goal was to make the quality of the golf courses commensurate with the best and most storied layouts of the Monterey Peninsula,” Bates said. “We made a concerted effort to open up views of the bay – now 10-12 holes have unobstructed views. There are only a handful of these great sites left in the world.”
Rates are $160 during the weekends, $115 during the week. Afternoon, replay and junior rates are priced even lower. Not bad for a high-end course on the Monterey Peninsula.
Blue collar golf
For a more blue-collar experience, check out Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Links. Often referred to as Poor-Man’s Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove offers two distinct nines. The inland front nine is your everyday municipal course, while the back nine let's you feel the sensation of golf on the Pacific. At $45 its easily your least expensive option for ocean golf on the peninsula.
“Players like it because it’s a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the Pebble Beach courses,” said Joe Riekena, head golf professional at Pacific Grove.
At $45 it’s a shoo-in on any Top Courses Under $50 list. For an even better deal, show up before 8 a.m. when they allow play on the back nine for $20. “A lot of people will show up and play the back nine early in the morning before they go out and play another course in the area,” Riekena said.
Less than a mile inland is Del Monte Golf Course in Monterey. It's the original course in the Pebble Beach family, and is the oldest continuously operating golf course west of the Mississippi River. It is a parkland-style design, rich in history and heritage, as evidenced by the photography that adorns the clubhouse. Small greens make this relatively short course deceptively tricky.
For another innocent looking course with plenty of bite, head south on Highway 101 to Carmel Valley Ranch Resort. This semi-private course etched in the Santa Lucia Mountains features two distinct nines and is known to have some of the truest putting surfaces on the peninsula. Rates are $225 with twilight rates of $125.
Another close option is Rancho Cañada Golf Club, a 36-hole facility just down the road from Carmel Valley Ranch. It offers two 18-hole courses and greens fees are a modest $70.
If you spend any considerable time inland, don’t forget that vineyards abound. Monterey County ranks third in terms of value of wine grapes in North America with more than 40,000 acres of vineyards planted.
Also check out Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. It’s one of the most famous racetracks in America. Placed in a dramatic mountainous setting, it's the most scenic inland course on the peninsula.
Where to stay
The question of where to stay is answered simply by knowing how much you want to spend. A night at the Lodge at Pebble Beach will cost you $700 or more. Spanish Bay isn’t far behind at $600-plus. If to you the experience of staying at the Lodge is worth it – and who can blame you – then go for it.
For more modest alternatives, Monterey is centrally located to restaurants, and isn’t far from the ocean. Hilton and Marriott both have hotels here.
How to get there
120 miles south of San Francisco. 75 miles south of San Jose. Non-stop flights into Monterey Municipal Airport from Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.
If you elect to fly into Monterey, it is advised to rent a car. With so much natural beauty surrounding you, taking a taxi or a hotel shuttle to get around would be a shame. And with that in mind, don't forget the GPS unit.