In the world of golf three courses stand apart because of their familiarity with golf fans. The Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland leads the way because the layout represents land where golf originated and where the game’s oldest major so often returns.
Joining the likes of The Old Course is the annual site for each year’s Masters — Augusta National Golf Club. The Georgia-based club encapsulates the vision of founder and golf champion Bobby Jones in tandem with the inspirational design provided by architect Alister MacKenzie.
Rounding out the trio is the Pebble Beach Golf Links — although the insertion of the word “links” is not exactly an accurate association by the strictest of meanings. This week the famed layout that hugs Carmel Bay will host its 6th US Open — since 1972 no American layout has hosted the national championship of American golf that many times. But the return this years marks an even greater milestone — the 100th anniversary of the resort’s opening in 1919.
The America of that era was just concluding participation in World War I. The bulk of the country’s most celebrated courses were located in the eastern half of the nation. Although Pebble Beach hosted the 1929 US Amateur, for the first half of its existence, the course was known only to the cognoscenti in the sport.
That changed in the grandest of ways in 1972 when the resort became the first publicly accessible facility to host the US Open. The fanfare achieved by the course was bolstered considerably with the winner being the game’s premier player — Jack Nicklaus. Eleven years prior in 1961 – the Golden Bear claimed his second US Amateur title also at Pebble Beach.
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The 2019 Open marks the 13th time a national championship conducted by the USGA will take place at Pebble Beach. But, the USGA has not been the only significant golf connection over the years. The PGA Championship was played here in 1977. On a yearly basis, the PGA Tour returns via the AT&T National Pro-Am event. Originally, the AT&T event was the brainchild of renowned entertainer Bing Crosby. Commencing in 1937 in the San Diego area, the “clambake” moved to the Monterey Peninsula starting in 1947 and was the place where amateurs from Hollywood and sports fame mingled via a shared bond through golf. Nicklaus would claim the Crosby event three times in 1967, 1972 and 1973. Although the Crosby name ended direct mention after the 1985 tournament – the Pro-Am still resonates with his legacy burnished into the event’s history.
Since its inception Pebble Beach has been rightly hailed — where land and sea intersect in the grandest of ways. The brainchild for the development came from Samuel Finley Brown Morse. Known as the Duke of Del Monte, Morse wisely ensured a number of golf holes at Pebble Beach were situated along the coastline. Many questioned that wisdom early on given the vast sums of money that could be realized in selling various lots along the coast.
Morse’s long term vision preserved the character and ambiance of the Monterey Peninsula. The design of the course came about from two highly skilled California amateurs – Jack Neville and Douglas Grant. But it was the involvement of other contributors who played leading roles in transforming the courser into a spectacular layout. Englishman Herbert Fowler, hired by Morse, changed the 18th following the 1921 California State Amateur from a lack luster 378-yard par-4 into the revered par-5 closer one sees today.
Others such as H. Chandler Egan, Robert Hunter and Alister MacKenzie each made various key improvements to the course over the years. The most significant overhaul to the course came in 1988 when Nicklaus designed a replacement hole for the par-3 5th. Land not available early on was now purchased and the new hole bolstered what many had considered to be among the layout’s weakest holes.
A new ownership group, among them Arnold Palmer, took the reins of the property in 1999 and added a number of needed touch-ups. Keeping the course relevant given the modern skill levels of world class players and the improvements gained through club and ball technology was uppermost in mind. Enhancing turf quality was also a key consideration and the golf course benefited immensely from the detailing provided now. When visitors are paying top dollar to play it’s incumbent the turf be equal to the task.
Credit the new ownership in also providing for the expansion of the green to the stellar par-3 17th. In recent US Opens the shrinking size of the putting surface had made playability and fairness a major concern. The “new” 17th looks to once again play a major role in deciding who will win this year’s US Open. In addition, greens at the 13th and 14th holes respectively were also improved — adding elasticity through expanded pin location positions.
The most spectacular dimension of Pebble Beach comes with the holes abutting the coastline. When you march out to the coast on the classic par-5 6th the atmosphere is simply riveting. The dropshot par-3 7th that follows is located at Arrowhead Point — where land and sea collide. The 7th is simply devilish as shifting winds can change club selection dramatically. The three par-4’s that come succession at the 8th, 9th and 10th holes respectively forms a trio of arresting beauty and top tier challenges.
The 8th has been hailed by Nicklaus as the finest approach shot he’s ever played on a par-4 hole. The shot must fly over an inlet of Carmel Bay to a tiny green that’s truly fussy on what shots are rewarded and those that are summarily rejected. The 9th and 10th run parallel to the coast but each offers varying puzzles to decipher. At the 9th a punishing bunker on the left side of the green must be avoided at all costs. At the 10th the need to pay close attention as wayward tee shots can easily cross over the cliff that runs the entire right side of the hole.
Once the 10th is completed you move inland for the next six holes before working your way back to the coast.
The ending two holes — the par-3 17th with its hourglass green and the risk and reward par-5 18th are indelibly etched into the minds of golfers globally. And when the round is completed there are a myriad of amenities at the resort to indulge oneself. A visit to The Tap Room is advised. The food and service are both superior and the recounting of one’s round can be clearly assisted with a tantalizing array of noteworthy beers and wines. The Lodge itself has been upgraded and provides accommodations of the highest order. No doubt the costs for such regal touches is not for the feint hearted.
The sensational memories from past Opens come quickly to mind — the epic 1-iron tee shot at the 17th by Nicklaus in the final round in 1972 where the Golden Bear nearly holed out; the heroic chip-in at the same hole by Tom Watson in 1983 denying Nicklaus a record 5th US Open; and the tour de force effort from Tiger Woods in winning the 2000 event by a record 15 strokes. Each of these moments are seared into golf’s history.
Nicklaus and Watson have both said many times over the years that if they only had one round of golf to play they would both choose Pebble Beach as their final 18 holes. Now, the 6th US Open is about to begin with new memories set to take place.
Happy birthday Pebble Beach — 100 years and counting. The vision Morse put into motion — lives on spectacularly today.
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