The middle-aged man in the sleeveless sweater lives three miles from the Pebble Beach Golf Links. He often brings his putter and a few balls to the practice green that sits hard by Pebble's golf shop. "Never actually played Pebble," he says. "Too rich for my blood." He strokes a putt and looks up. "Lots of other places to play around here."
Yes, come to the Monterey Peninsula and, whether or not you shell out $350 to experience one of the world's most stunning courses, you will have a wonderful golf experience. During a recent three-day, 90-hole dissipation, I played five courses on the peninsula. I didn't get to six of the area's public courses, including Spanish Bay (where bagpipes play at dusk each evening) and Poppy Hills (one of three courses used for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am), but I did come away with lots of memories—on top of the drive I faded over the ocean and safely onto the fairway on Pebble's celebrated 18th. Sorry, that just slipped out.
The area's most prominent name belongs, of course, to homeboy John Steinbeck. Golfers hold another name in just as high regard: Robert B. McClure, a southpaw slicer and army general known as "Bourbon Bob." In the 1950s, when McClure was the ranking officer at Fort Ord, he built a golf course on the base. McClure named it Bayonet and designed it to accommodate his game, which explains the layout of "Combat Corner," five holes on the back nine, including a foursome of par-4s (11, 12 and 15) that dogleg left.
A decade or so later, on the same tract, the army built Black Horse. Bayonet has the rep but the Horse has the view, with gorgeous vistas of Monterey Bay on many holes. The best plan is to play 'em both (greens fees $95 on weekends, $70 during the week) and raise a glass to Bourbon Bob at the 19th hole.
Be sure to tee it up at Pacific Grove Golf Links, known locally as PG Muni, which begins with a nondescript front nine before it turns toward the Pacific, transporting you to Brigadoon, or at least a genuine links course that would bring a smile to anyone in kilts. As would the greens fees—$38 on weekends, $32 during the week—which partially account for PG Muni's 90,000 rounds a year. PG Muni and the Fort Ord courses are so beloved that you often hear, "They're better than Pebble or Spyglass." Well, let's not get carried away.
If a $260 greens fee fits your budget, make a detour off 17 Mile Drive to play the Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed Spyglass, which plunges through the tranquil isolation of Del Monte Forest for the final 13 holes.
If you have the scratch to play Pebble, by all means do it. (Would you visit the Napa Valley without eating at the French Laundry?) Tee times are very difficult to come by if you aren't staying at the lodge, but play has been down recently, and you may be able to get on by calling the day before you'd like to play. Stand on the 18th tee, take a deep breath, and pull out the big dog. At that price, there's no reason to play it safe.
Photography courtesy of Bayonet Black Horse Golf Course
This article was first published in July 2002. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Bayonet and Black Horse, Seaside, (831) 899-7271;
Pacific Grove Links, Pacific Grove, (831) 648-5777;
Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, (800) 654-9300;
Spyglass Hill Golf Course, Pebble Beach, (800) 654-9300;
Del Monte Golf Course, Monterey, (831) 373-2700;
Laguna Seca Golf Club, Monterey, (831) 373-3701;
Links at Spanish Bay, Pebble Beach, (800) 654-9300;
Monterey Pines Golf Course, Monterey, (831) 656-2167;
Poppy Hills Golf Course, Pebble Beach, (831) 625-2035;
Rancho Cañada Golf Club, Carmel, (831) 624-0111.