As the venerable Pacific Coast course prepares to turn 100 years old, the time is right for a restoration and re-positioning of the course’s identity.
There are few phrases that sound as sweet to a golfer’s ear than that of “Pebble Beach Golf Links.”The golf course on California’s Monterey Peninsula is a symbol of golf’s grandeur. Playing Pebble Beach is often considered a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Today, the course is in need of a once-in-a-generation overhaul.
In 2019, Pebble Beach will celebrate its centennial. The celebration will be marked by the course hosting its sixth U.S. Open Championship. There has never been a better time for the revered resort course to rediscover its architectural roots and let the glory of golf’s golden age live again at Pebble Beach.
The setting, the course, and the architecture currently come together to form one of the most renowned golf experiences in America. However, there would be a new gold rush in California if Pebble Beach were to join the restoration movement that is being led by so many of the nation’s prominent clubs and courses. The opportunity to reshape the famed destination’s identity creates new possibilities for Pebble Beach’s second century.
I recently had my once-in-a-lifetime experience at Pebble Beach. I walked the fairways, took in the views, and enjoyed the incredible opportunity to play one of the great courses in the world. I soaked in everything about Pebble Beach with joy, but as the round progressed and now as time has passed, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to play the course if it lived up to its fullest potential.
Pebble Beach Golf Links is widely considered America’s golf course. There is no other course in the United States that arouses the level of daydreaming in golfer’s minds than Pebble Beach. The Pacific Coast setting is one that was carved by a chisel held by the hand of God. Only the wild imagination of the creator could shape such a marvelous meeting of land and sea.
It’s remarkable that such a piece of property has been reserved for the recreation of man. It is even more rare that a course of this magnitude is open to public play. Anyone can play Pebble Beach Golf Links if they are willing to pay for it.
Pebble Beach has the ability to inspire players to discover something about themselves while playing a game over one of the most breathtaking landscapes on earth. A day spent at Pebble Beach is unforgettable by every measure.
Pebble Beach Golf Links is part of the Pebble Beach Company’s expansive resort that encompasses the Del Monte Forest between Monterey and Carmel. The Monterey Peninsula is draped with hilly forestland that rolls into sand dunes and seaside meadows before falling into the ocean via a jagged and rugged coast line.
The waves crashing and the seals splashing in the Monterey Bay are the soundtrack to some of the world’s greatest grounds for golf. Golfer’s will seldom find a more seductive scene that appeals to their adventurous desires than Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Pebble Beach Golf Links was established in 1919 as part of developer Samuel F.B. Morse’s visionary plans to turn the Monterey Peninsula into a world class destination. He enlisted two prominent amateurs to design the golf course at Pebble Beach, Jack Neville and Douglas Grant.
Neville and Grant were commissioned by Morse to design the course based on their reputations as premier amateurs of the west coast in their time. Pebble Beach was the duo’s first design. What resulted there is a masterpiece.
Pebble Beach was routed by Neville and Grant with the distinct purpose of having as many holes as possible play along the coast line. Holes 4 through 10 all play over meadows that hug the edge of the cliff overlooking Stillwater Cove and the bay beyond. In that stretch are some of the most iconic holes in America.
The course plays inland for the opening three holes then the routing finds its way to the famous stretch at the water’s edge. After the 10th the course comes inland for holes 11 through 16 before returning back to the sea for two of the great closing holes in golf.
Pebble Beach Golf Links is not actually a links golf course as tradition would define it. The course plays much more like a parkland course than a firm and fast links. Similar to many links in the British isles, the course does not follow a routing of nine hole loops but rather goes out towards the 10th hole and then turns back towards the Lodge.
Pebble Beach has small greens and narrow fairways all guarded by traditional parkland style bunkering. Players venturing out of the fairways will find thick rough readily present. The small greens and thick rough have been the staples of defense used by the USGA when their championships have been hosted at Pebble Beach. Those elements can be useful for constructing a difficult setup for the world’s best players, however for the thousands of players who tour the course each year, those features add to a long and difficult day.
Pebble Beach has evolved dramatically over time, but the course has stayed mostly true to the routing of Neville and Grant. In the nearly 100 years that Pebble Beach Golf Links has existed a number of architects have left their mark on the layout. The course has seen additions and changes made by numerous architects including Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and William Herbert Fowler.
A long history of varied architectural styles, theories, and tastes have left Pebble Beach in a precarious position. The course today lacks a central design theme and the conditioning is inconsistent with the course’s golden age origination and its natural settings.
The most impressive era of Pebble Beach’s architectural history occurred during the years leading up to the 1929 U.S. Amateur Championship. The 1929 Amateur was the first of many USGA championships to be held at Pebble Beach.
In preparation for the Amateur, Samuel Morse turned to a trio of architects over a short span of years to craft a renovation of the popular course. The resulting work was spectacular.
The three architects that were engaged by Morse were Alister MacKenzie, Robert Hunter, and Chandler Egan. MacKenzie is considered one the greatest golf architects who ever lived. Hunter was one of MacKenzie’s most acclaimed associates and had recently authored The Links, the first book on golf architecture written by an American. Egan was one of America’s first great amateur champions and an acclaimed architect in his own right.
Mackenzie was brought in first in 1926 to make changes to the green complexes and bunkering on holes 8 and 13. Then came the revisions led by Egan and assisted by Hunter.
Egan and Hunter were commissioned to rebuild all of the remaining greens and bunkers. They were also asked to make strategic enhancements including new tees and even the moving of some greens.
Golf historians assume the position that MacKenzie collaborated with Egan and Hunter during the renovations as he was building the famed Cypress Point Club just a few miles down the road during this time.
The result of the MacKenzie/Hunter/Egan work was defined by a combination of imitation dunes bunkering that flowed seamlessly into new large and challenging green complexes.
“I had never seen this type of bunkering done before but we had faith in the idea and after a few experiments achieved a result that we hope will continue to be as good as it seems at this writing” — Chandler Egan
The work of these architects led to an extremely well regarded course when the duties of hosting the U.S. Amateur arrived in 1929. Although the dunes-like bunkering was not natural to the site, it gave a much more natural appearance than what exists today. The large greens provided challenge and great interest from players. The marriage of those features with the national golf spotlight shining on the course helped to define Pebble Beach as one of America’s great championship courses.
Unfortunately, over the course of many years and the influence of other architects and company ownership, the 1929 improvements were mostly lost to time and maintenance practices. Today, as golden age restorations are sweeping the nation’s best golf facilities, Pebble Beach has an opportunity to bring the MacKenzie/Hunter/Egan vision for Pebble Beach back to life.
The Price to Play
To enjoy the pleasures of Pebble Beach one must embrace the spending of money. The resort and its trappings are expensive. There are numerous options for accommodations including the famous Lodge overlooking the 18th hole at Pebble. There are other courses as well, Spyglass Hill and the Links of Spanish Bay make for wonderful outings, but they aren’t close in comparison to the majesty of their big brother course. In order to play Pebble, you must stay at the resort for a two night minimum which adds significantly to the cost.
Pebble Beach is open to the public but using the description “accessible” can be a stretch. Players can try to secure a tee time at Pebble without a room reservation, but only within a 24 hour period before the desired day of play. If you make it through that gauntlet, the green fee is still north of $500.
Pebble Beach is a phenomenal golf course set in a location that is unparalleled. There are numerous aspects of the experience that can all support the price point to play there. However, as the golf resort business becomes increasingly competitive, the Pebble Beach Company must be wary of the shifting tides of golfer’s taste. The amenities are mostly world class at Pebble Beach, but the presentation of the golf course that matters most is falling behind.
“The new green has been placed as close to the ocean as possible. It is irregular in shape, one hundred feet long from the front to back and from forty-five to fifty feet wide. It is completely surrounded by sand dune bunkering.”
- Chandler Egan , referring to the work done by he and Robert Hunter on the seventh hole
Golf course design and architecture is in the midst of a renaissance. The abundance of architects practicing today who are students of the principles of golf’s golden age is impressive. Architects like Tom Doak, the team of Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw, David McClay Kidd, and Gil Hanse have all been leaders in this movement. Each of these architects has contributed significant works to the game of golf in the past twenty years. Their work has inspired numerous start up designers and restoration specialists who are making their mark on golf design today.
Many of America’s most prominent clubs and courses have begun to undo much of the misplaced renovations that took place during the latter half of the 20th century. There are numerous examples of courses who went astray during the decades in which golf design lost its way. Today, as those scars are healing, gone are the trees, narrow fairways, small greens and vicious rough. Play-ability and strategy are returning to the game one course at a time.
Golf’s golden age was defined by wide fairways and large green complexes. Players were asked by architects to choose a line and a shot. Options were granted for players of varying skill levels as to not unjustly punish those of lesser ability. Good players and good shots were rewarded and the game was fun. Pebble Beach could become the national model for golden age restoration.
Pebble Beach has the money, the history, the layout, and the public interest needed to embark on a restoration of unparalleled proportions.
In recent years a primary competitor of Pebble Beach, the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, took on such an opportunity. The Coore & Crenshaw team took on an ambitious restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 and the results are spectacular. They returned the great Championship course to its rightful condition and the restoration debuted to host both the men’s and women’s U.S. Open. Pinehurst is an example of how a historic golf destination has increased its relevance and appeal to golfers across various markets.
The success that has occurred at Pinehurst would be inconsequential when measured against the possibilities of a renovation at Pebble Beach.
The crop of architects who would respond to such an opportunity would be impressive and overwhelming. Every major architect would yearn for the chance to shape the future of America’s course.
Pebble Beach should be as timeless as it is beautiful. The course that Pebble Beach deserves to be is hidden in plain site. It just needs a new artist to peel back the layers of time and reveal the rendition that was left to us by the masters of the golden age.
Pebble Beach is a special place. The course occupies a firm position in many a bucket list for golfers around the world. In our time, when golf is again returning to the principles that made it great in America, Pebble Beach is filled with promise.
The Pebble Beach Company doesn’t need to conduct a massive restoration of its crown jewel golf course in order to capture more market share. They don’t particularly need to change anything about their golf course if they don’t wish to. However, if the company were to look at their golf course and search their history, they would find that the Pebble they are selling, is not the best Pebble Beach they can offer.
Pebble Beach Golf Links could be a time machine. Pebble Beach has a rich architectural history that should be allowed to shine. Today that history is largely grassed over and forgotten.
The Pebble Beach Company makes a great deal of money off of the product they sell. It would be a hard argument to convince the owners to pursue a radical change to their prized possession. My appeal is aimed at making America’s course the best experience it can possibly be.
The promise of Pebble Beach lies in its possibilities. Imagine what could occur if the great architects of golf’s second golden age were offered the opportunity to restore the work of the masters from the first. The grandeur of Pebble Beach’s architectural past could once again shine and every golfer who dares to dream of Pebble Beach would seek to stand in her light once more.
My experience at Pebble Beach was unforgettable. I had a great walk through one of the most wonderful golf courses on earth. I would certainly classify my round at Pebble Beach Golf Links as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If the course is ever restored to its fullest potential, I’ll be making it a once a year experience. I believe that with a proper restoration many other once-in-a-lifetime players would do the same.
“The course as completed offers on many holes an optional route and in every case the risky route can appeal only to the long hitter of championship caliber when play is from the back tees. Mr. Average Golfer will do well to avoid the risky route for in any case he is better off on the safety route unless play is from the front tees. Then he, too, can have the same thrill that the long hitter may get from the back tees by taking the risks involved in the effort to “short-cut” the hole and possible save a stroke.” — Chandler Egan