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|The waves come crashing into the famous par-3 seventh green at Pebble Beach Golf Links. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)|
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - Brooks Yeilding plans to use his retirement as an airline pilot to chase down the dream of playing the top 100 public golf courses in the country.
But the New Mexico resident has already reached the pinnacle of his journey. Sitting in his golf cart next to the 17th tee box at Pebble Beach Golf Links, Yeilding stared into the horizon. That view of Stillwater Cove and beyond inspired him.
"Other than what I've seen out of a cockpit the last 30 years, this is the most beautiful thing," Yeilding said. "It's unique, one of a kind."
His comment apply just as well to Pebble Beach Resorts, ranked as the nation's top golf resort by Golf Digest, or the Monterey Peninsula as a whole. The only PGA Tour stop more beautiful than Pebble Beach, announcer Kelly Tighlman said on a recent Golf Channel broadcast, is Maui.
The Monterey Peninsula, a two-hour drive south of San Francisco, isn't just a golf destination. It's nature's Shangri-La, a magical place where crooked cypress trees mingle with the rocky coastline. Lush, green fairways cut through wind-ravaged sand dunes. Deer graze in the forest, oblivious to human intruders.
Off the coast, it's common to witness otters playfully swimming in the bay and sea lions lounging on rocky outposts. The whole landscape plays out as a photographer's dream. It's a scene you have to see to believe.
Even PGA Tour pros, who play some of the world's most fantastic venues, can't help but be smitten by Pebble Beach and its surroundings.
"I like this place," pro Dustin Johnson said during an interview at the 2010 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. "I mean, I like everything about this place. I like the town. It's a fun little place to come. I like the golf courses, especially (because) the golf courses are some of the best in the world."
Pebble Beach Golf Links, ranked as the No. 1 public course in the United States by Golf Digest, has never been bigger, bolder or more beautiful than it is today. Renovation work by Arnold Palmer, a managing partner of the resort, over the past two years left this national treasure sparkling in advance of the 2010 U.S. Open in June.
New championship tees on several holes lengthen the golf course. Bunker clusters on the par-5 sixth and the par-4 15th pinch once-forgiving landing zones.
The stretch along the twisting coast – Nos. 5 through 10 – is the best in golf. The short, 109-yard, par-3 seventh can play as long as a 5-iron for the pros. Jack Nicklaus has always described the second shot over the cliff on the eighth hole his as favorite approach in the game. The ninth and 10th fairways follow the beach.
After a climb upward and inland, the layout returns to the sea for the historic, par-3 17th hole, where Nicklaus won a U.S. Open by hitting a 1-iron to within inches in 1972. Nicklaus lost one there, too, on Tom Watson's miracle chip in 1982.
The toughest drive of the round comes at the dramatic, par-5 18th hole, with a cove on the left, bunkers right and two trees in the middle of the fairway.
The tee time alone costs $495, but Yeilding said it's worth every cent.
"This course is historically spectacular," he said. "The other courses at the resort are great, but this is it. You need to do this once. If you love golf, play Pebble Beach before you die. In spite of the cost, we'll come back and play this again."
Pebble Beach casts a shadow so large that the resort's other two top-ranked courses, The Links at Spanish Bay and Spyglass Hill, don't get the credit they deserve. A fourth course, Del Monte, and an executive course, the Peter Hay, are also options.
Prominent sportswriter Jim Murray called Spyglass Hill, ranked No. 11 on Golf Digest's list of top 100 public courses, a 300-acre "unplayable lie." It ranks as the most difficult of the three resort golf courses on the AT&T rotation. The Robert Trent Jones, Sr., design climaxes early, with five holes among the sand dunes.
The par-4 fourth boomerangs left over a fiendish natural hazard, the rubbery ice plant, to a green so skinny it borders on anorexic. The final 13 holes play inland through forest. Elevated greens and the usual suspects – bunkers and ponds – cause havoc on scorecards.
If punishing championship golf isn't your thing, opt for the scenery of The Links at Spanish Bay. Robert Trent Jones, Jr., with the help of Sandy Tatum and Tom Watson, created a coastal golf experience quite different from Pebble Beach. Protruding dunes, trees and carefully placed pot bunkers can pounce at any turn. This pseudo-links golf course plays more like a target test. Odd-shaped greens with wild tiers can be difficult to read.
At $260, Spanish Bay offers the best bang for your buck. Spyglass, by the way, runs $360.
"The others are nice, but Pebble Beach is tops," said Lou Fox, who stayed at the resort last year. "There are so many holes around the water. You think of Bing Crosby, Ben Hogan. Anybody who is anybody in golf has been here."
A guaranteed tee time at Pebble Beach requires a stay at The Lodge at Pebble Beach, or The Inn at Spanish Bay. Luxury items at other resorts - fireplaces in all the lodge rooms or valet parking at the inn - come standard at Pebble Beach.
You can't go wrong at either place, although the lodge sits within stumbling distance of the must-visit Tap Room - a prime steakhouse set up like an upscale sports bar, featuring golf memorabilia. Club XIX and the Stillwater Grille offer fine dining at the lodge, with those soul-stirring views of the 18th hole and Carmel Bay. Guests receive access to the newly remodeled Beach and Tennis Club on the ocean.
The Spa at Pebble Beach hides in the Del Monte forest, out of view from the rest of the resort. Inside the 22,000-square-foot retreat, a palace of healing awaits, with exotic treatments such as papaya-pineapple enzyme scrubs and even acupuncture.
The service from the staff most impressed Fox.
"It's extremely well managed," she said. "The people and the services are unbelievable. They know what they are doing."
People ask all the time: Is Pebble Beach worth the money? I always say yes, then mumble how no round of golf should cost that much. But in a capitalist society, the demand sets the price. And while there, I saw a packed tee sheet on a weekday during the offseason in the worst economy in 75 years. The experience is so over-the-top good that it sells itself.
I'll echo Yeilding's advice. Play Pebble Beach before you die.
February 17, 2010
Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 600 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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