Pebble Beach: An American icon

One of golf’s enduring joys is the opportunity to tee it up on the same playing field as the game’s all-time greats.

To be able to do that in a spot like California’s Monterey Peninsula, which novelist and poet Robert Louis Stevenson once called the most felicitous meeting of land and sea in creation, simply adds to the experience. 

It’s just another reason Pebble Beach has long been regarded the No. 1 public course in America, even with the plethora of golf publications and rankings. Pebble Beach Golf Links is where players like Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson claimed U.S. Open titles. It’s a course that gives us everyman golfers the chance to walk the same hallowed ground as other revered names through the years like Hogan and Hagen, Palmer and Player, and in more recent times, Mickelson and McIlroy. 

Nicklaus himself has said if he had just one more round to play in his life, it would be at Pebble Beach

But Pebble Beach isn’t just the iconic course we’ve come to know well through the years. 

It’s one of golf’s leading resorts, with four 18-hole courses – three of which canvas a spectacular stretch of coastline – elegant accommodations, a state-of-the-art practice venue and, soon, a brand-new par-3 course designed by Woods.

Pebble Beach Golf Links

A true bucket-list trip for golfers, the demand to play Pebble Beach is the driver behind one of the highest green fees in the game: $575 for resort guests, plus another $100 or so for a caddie. 

There are more than 16,000 golf courses in the U.S. and the average price is around $35. But Pebble Beach is positioned at the far side of the curve – like that high-end restaurant, bottle of wine, or special show you treat yourself to. It’s an experience, and one that many golfers spend years planning or saving for.  

Looking out to the Pacific Ocean, Pebble Beach Golf Links features nine holes dramatically perched above Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove. Perhaps the most memorable stretch is holes 6 to 10. The 7th hole is arguably the most photographed par-3 in golf, a short, downhill one-shotter to a green backdropped by water and, often, crashing waves. That’s followed by three consecutive par 4 holes along the cliffs, including the 8th hole with a dramatic approach over an ocean cove. The views get even more impressive on the 9th and 10th holes, with Carmel Beach serving as a stunning background, with rocky coastline giving way to sandy shores and beachgoers of both the two- and four-legged variety. 

Pebble’s 18th is one of golf’s most famous finishing holes, a dramatic par-5 that hugs the waterfront. As players putt out on 18, waves crash just steps away and a gallery looks on from the Terrace Lounge or Stillwater Bar & Grill. It’s one of the most arresting finishes in golf, a fitting conclusion to what, for many, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

Pro Tips: If you want the full experience, get a caddie. Pebble Beach has some of the best and most knowledgeable loopers at any golf destination and they’ll save you a lot of strokes on and around the small, tricky putting surfaces. Show up early and familiarize yourself with the lay of the land around the first tee, where there can be a bustle of activity and there will undoubtedly be onlookers for your opening shot. Check out the plaque with the names of winners of the annual Pebble Beach Pro-Am – formerly the Bing Crosby Clambake – just behind the first tee. Take advantage of the new practice facility, which is a short shuttle ride away from the pro shop and main lodge.

Spyglass Hill Golf Course

Just up 17-Mile Drive from Pebble Beach is what many consider to be the finest design work from Robert Trent Jones Sr. in Spyglass Hill, a layout that’s frequently been cited among the most challenging in the nation. Spyglass starts with a bang, with the first five holes winding through sandy dunes toward the coastline. The routing then climbs up into the Del Monte Forest, coastal views replaced by towering pines. The tough, tree-lined holes include a par-3 (the 12th) that’s reminiscent of the par-3 16th Trent Jones Sr. created at Augusta National. Some have even appealingly described Spyglass Hill as a mix of Augusta National and Pine Valley.

The Links at Spanish Bay

For golfers seeking ocean views, and perhaps a bit less of a test than Spyglass Hill, Spanish Bay more than delivers. The course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., Tom Watson and Sandy Tatum, largely flows through the sweeping dunescape along 17-Mile Drive. It briefly moves up into the trees, but starts and finishes along the windswept coast, offering a true links experience that includes a daily visit from a bagpiper as the sun dips into the sea each night. 

Pro Tip: As the day winds down, grab a seat at one of the firepits and make some new friends on the outside patio at Spanish Bay, which looks out to the ocean and the setting sun. The 18th green is to your right and, with rabbits frolicking along the bushes and gorse, the bagpiper starts his nightly walk next to the patio and follows the path down toward the coastline. Whether with wine, beer or other libation in hand, there may be no better spot to see the sun down on the entire Monterey Peninsula. It’s magical.

Del Monte Golf Course

Overshadowed by the three celebrated layouts at Pebble Beach, Del Monte is a hidden gem removed from the coastline that lays claim to being the oldest course in continuous operation west of the Mississippi River. Maxing out at just over 6,300 yards with small, sloping greens, Del Monte was originally part of the Hotel Del Monte, which dates back to 1880 and was once one of the finest luxury resorts in North America. Today, Del Monte is the lower-priced option among the rich golf offerings at Pebble Beach, costing about 1/5th of the resort’s namesake course. 

Where to stay in Pebble Beach

The Lodge at Pebble Beach and the Inn at Spanish Bay are two of the most idyllic and luxurious retreats in golf. The Lodge itself has been a landmark destination for more than 100 years, an intersection of grandeur and beauty overlooking what’s possibly the most famous finishing hole in golf. And the experience of staying at the Lodge was recently enhanced with the introduction of the Fairway One Cottages that give guests the feeling they’re living on the course. 

A short drive away, the Inn at Spanish Beach is nestled among majestic Monterey pines and all 269 spacious guest rooms and suites feature stylish furnishings along with a cozy fireplace. Almost all rooms also include a private patio or balcony, providing guests with spectacular views of the golf course, the surrounding pine forest, or some of the most breathtaking coastline in the world.  

Recommendation

Microclimates abound on the Monterey Peninsula, meaning the weather is ever-changing. It might be chilly and cloudy in downtown Monterey or along 17-Mile Drive but sunny in the Carmel Valley. For your visit, bring layers and be prepared for the fluctuations in temperature and weather conditions.  

Speaking of 17-Mile Drive, do it at least once. Make stops along the way, at Bird Rock and Seal Rock, the Fanshell Beach Overlook, and of course, at the famed Lone Cypress. Golfers will have their own must-stops, as both Monterey Peninsula Country Club and Cypress Point are in view from certain spots. Both clubs are exclusively private and it’s truly amazing that golfers playing Monterey Peninsula’s Dunes Course will actually cross 17-Mile Drive to play the par-3 14th hole that sits directly on the water’s rocky edge. 

Experience the Spa at Pebble Beach, one of only 60 in the world to receive the coveted Forbes 5-Star Award. 

Explore the shops and restaurants on Cannery Row in Monterey, or make time for a side trip to the impressive Monterey Bay Aquarium. Take a drive into Carmel-By-The-Sea and also Carmel Valley, where the Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant restored by former Carmel Mayor Clint Eastwood makes a wonderful spot for a stay or scenic meal. 

The drive along Ocean View Boulevard in the quaint town of Pacific Grove, between Monterey and 17-Mile Drive, is amazingly scenic. Or make time to walk along the coastline. Better yet, get yourself a tee time at Pacific Grove Golf Links, one of the finest municipal courses you’ll experience. The jaw-dropping back nine, which starts with a par-3 overlooked by a lighthouse, plays along the same amazing stretch of coastline as Pebble Beach itself.