PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Some PGA Tour types will tell you Pebble Beach Golf Links isn’t even the best layout in the National Pro-Am’s three-course rotation, forget about naming the Monterey gem the circuit’s best 18 holes.
But in an impromptu debate that was born from the morning fog on Wednesday at Pebble Beach the esoteric debate took on a more definitive tone.
“By far, the best,” said Joe Ogilvie, one of the circuit’s most astute armchair golf course architects.
No, Ogilvie wasn’t declaring Pebble Beach the best on Tour; that conversation is often too emotionally charged depending on personal preferences and past performances, although the course ranked fourth on Tour among players in a poll taken last year by Golf Digest.
Ogilvie was simply naming the layout that winds its way around Stillwater Cove the best on the Monterey Peninsula, and that’s a lineup that includes venerable Cypress Point.
Pebble Beach’s detractors claim the course is given too much credit because of the three simple rules of good real estate – location, location, location. Dig up a west Texas muni and piece it along the picturesque coastline and it would earn instant classic status, the argument goes.
But that assessment misses a few simple realities.
The U.S. Golf Association has played five U.S. Opens on the northern California coast and is set to add a sixth to that legacy in 2019. The PGA Championship was played at Pebble Beach in 1977 and the old Crosby Clambake has been contested on the windblown layout since 1947.
Mediocre doesn’t have that kind of staying power and it takes more than postcard-perfect vistas of the Pacific Ocean to secure that kind of major championship calling card.
In many ways Pebble Beach is the perfect combination of form and function.
“Beyond the scenery, the architecture, having to hit different shots, it is arguably one of the best (on Tour). Whether it’s the best I don’t know,” allowed Joe Durant, firmly, yet fairly, planted on the fence.
Although Pebble Beach is not consistently ranked among the circuit’s hardest - it ranked 29th out of 43 courses last year on Tour - players warn that when the wind comes up, as it is predicted to do on Thursday, and the “Crosby weather” arrives it is as challenging as anything one will find on the east coast of Scotland.
In a converse way, Pebble Beach may lack some critical acclaim because of the picturesque visuals that draw observers out to sea and away from the challenging shot values and subtle slopes.
“Pebble is the most underrated second-shot golf course on Tour. You’ve got to have precision into the greens,” Durant said. “If you put it on the wrong side of the hole you can be out there all day. The greens are fast, they have a lot of undulation and television doesn’t do it justice.”
Beyond the layout’s championship resume, the list of greats who have played their way to victory at Pebble Beach is as telling a litmus test as there is in golf. Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Phil Mickelson all won at Pebble Beach and the ultimate calling card for any course is its ability to identify the best players.
Throughout its storied history Pebble Beach has also delivered some the game’s most memorable moments, from Tom Watson’s historic shootout with Nicklaus at the 1982 U.S. Open to Woods’ historic 15-stroke romp at the 2000 national championship.
That Pebble Beach delivers that kind of substance as well as a considerable amount of style is why the course is among the Tour’s best.
“This is probably my favorite place in the world, let alone favorite places to play golf,” said defending champion Brandt Snedeker.
Whether it’s the circuit’s best is a debate that will have to be decided on another practice tee because as the fog cleared players quickly headed out for practice rounds. They would rather be on the course than talking about it.