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|Arguably the best short par 3 on the planet, the seventh hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links also ranks as one of the most scenic. (Mike Bailey/TravelGolf)|
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- There's nothing like a U.S. Open to bring out the best in a golf course. And in the case of Pebble Beach Golf Links, which hosts its fifth U.S. Open June 17-20, 2010, that best ranks far and away better than 99.9 percent of the golf courses in the world.
The 1919 Jack Neville-Douglas Grant design has been lengthened. It's been tweaked, and the conditioning is absolutely flawless. Combine that with perhaps the best views in all of golf, and you have perfection.
And since this is a U.S. Open year, golf fans who can afford to stay at Pebble Beach and pay the $495 green fee will experience the same setup -- minus the high rough -- as the best players. It's a grind for them and survival for the rest of us, but just getting to take the test provides the thrill of a lifetime.
Since Tiger Woods lapped the field at the 100th U.S. Open in 2000, Pebble Beach board member Arnold Palmer led an effort to strengthen the golf course. The changes in no way represent a reaction to Woods' performance a decade ago because, after all, he was the only player under par, so the course played plenty tough.
But after 2000, a few trees succumbed to Mother Nature. Pebble Beach changed a few bunkers and added a little length to improve the golf course.
The golf course can now play at 7,040 yards from the back tees, but don't let that fool you. Under the U.S. Open par-71 setup, it has a course rating/slope of 76.3/149. Of course, as always, the greens remain the smallest, by far, in major-championship golf. And if the wind is up, the golf course presents some of the toughest tee shots and approaches in golf, especially in the summer, when Pebble Beach plays firm and fast.
"When you get a course that's this good, you really don't have too much to do to it," said Mike Davis, senior director of rules and competition for the USGA. "In fact, you continually ask yourself, 'This change we're thinking about, should we really be doing it, because this is such a magical place?'"
Indeed, the changes at Pebble Beach aren't extremely noticeable. Some bunkers were moved and renovated. Tee boxes were added or improved. Trees were added. And a few fairways shifted against the ocean cliffs, leaving no rough in place to save wayward shots from their watery graves.
Some fairways were actually widened, like the top of the par-5 sixth hole and the par-4 ninth and 10th holes. Pebble Beach reshaped its fairways a bit on No. 11 and No. 14, and the fairway shifted on the eighth hole, running out a little quicker than previously.
Some say if Pebble Beach wasn't perched on the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean, it would rank as an ordinary golf course. Well, guess what? It is perched above the ocean, so forget that argument. There's nothing in the world like this golf course.
Sure, the first two holes don't wow you like the ocean holes, but they're not boring -- and certainly not easy. By the time you get to the fourth hole, the ocean appears and stays in view for a couple hours. The stretch from the par-3 fifth, which offers a pretty good view from the side of the par-5 sixth, to the 11th, is pretty spectacular.
Of the inland holes, the par-5 14th presents a diabolical challenge, especially when it includes the recent setup, with the high-sloping green guarded by a large bunker and oak tree. Remember Paul Goydos' 9 in the 2010 AT&T? If you can believe it, the USGA actually toned it down, growing the rough halfway up the green's slope to offer easier options in the short game.
It's hard to ignore the history of the 17th and 18th. Tom Watson chipped in to win in 1982 on the long, par-3 17th, also where Jack Nicklaus' legendary 1-iron helped him win in 1972. The 18th simply makes for the best risk-reward par 5 in the United States, if not the world, with the ocean along the left side.
Still, playing in a mixture of rain and sunshine a month before the 110th U.S. Open, the par-4 eighth ranked as my favorite. It follows one of the most picturesque par 3s in the world. The blind tee shot at No. 8 requires a long iron or hybrid for most players, followed by a mid-iron over the cliffs to a green below some 180 or 190 yards away. Par on No. 8 is a great score.
Sure, a stay at the Lodge at Pebble Beach for two or three nights -- or the slightly more economical Inn at Spanish Bay -- is required to get a tee time in advance. But don't let it be a deal-breaker.
Yes, you could spend a couple thousand dollars before it's all said and done, but why not get the whole experience if you can pull it off?
Wake up in luxurious accommodations that overlook the famous 18th hole and the Pacific Ocean. Eat breakfast at the Stillwater Cove Restaurant, which offers an unsurpassed view. And splurge for dinner at the world-famous Tap Room, which grills up one of the best steaks or pork loins you've ever tasted. Heck, the memorabilia, with pictures of all the famous fellows, nearly makes it worth the money.
Then do yourself a favor: Schedule a round at Links at Spanish Bay, Del Monte or complement your visit with a trip to the golf course I consider a close second to Pebble, Spyglass Hill. For most golfers, it's an experience of lifetime.
May 21, 2010
Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 15 years in the golf industry. Before joining the WorldGolf.com team in 2008, he held positions at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Read Mike's golf blog here and follow him on Twitter here.
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