As New England golfers brace for the deluge of snow this weekend, we can conjure up visions of the distant spring golf season by watching coverage of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. The tournament concludes Sunday on one of the most hallowed venues in golf: the Pebble Beach Golf Links, which skirts the cliffs above beautiful Carmel Bay.
As I watched the pros yesterday, I recalled my own encounter with Pebble Beach a few years ago. While my round (except for perhaps one shot) did not resemble the AT&T National Pro-Am, my memories of my trek over the historic and breathtaking course will last a lifetime (as will the dent in my bank account.)
My day at Pebble Beach could have provided material for a MasterCard commercial:
Greens fees: $500
Caddie fee: $ 75
Caddie tip: $ 80
Beers/burger in the Tap Room: $ 45
Fulfilling Dream of Playing Pebble Beach: Priceless
That was one shocking credit card bill. On the bright side, it made my greens fees on even the priciest courses in central Massachusetts seem like a bargain the rest of the year.
Playing Pebble Beach had long been on my “bucket list. “ On a whim, about a week before a late-April trip to the Bay Area to visit friends, I placed a call to the resort. A pleasant gentleman informed me that I could in fact play the course (for a mere $500), but that in order to make an advance tee time I would have to stay at the resort. The cheapest accommodations were in Spanish Bay at $600 per night.
I had anticipated the absurd greens fee, but was able to rationalize it – I recently had spent more than $500 to replace an alternator on my ’97 Volvo. However, the lodging requirement was a potential deal-breaker. (I had no golf writing credentials at that time to employ.) I decided to take a humble tack, and admit that I was a mere pauper on the scale of Pebble Beach Resort guests: “I have to tell you, I can barely afford the greens fees much less spend $600 a night for a room.” This brought a chuckle from the agent, and the resort ultimately allowed me to book a tee time.
The day preceding my tee time was gorgeous. I took a leisurely cruise down Route 1 to Monterey, stopping often to take pictures of the mountains plunging into the ocean, and checked into a charming bed-and-breakfast in Pacific Grove. I paid a mere $120 for a spacious ocean view suite that no doubt would have cost $800 at Spanish Bay.
Late in the afternoon, I wandered across town to the Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Course, which borders the ocean and is known as the “poor man’s Pebble Beach.” I was feeling surprisingly in sync on the range, given the little golf I had played in New England. My goal for the next day was simply to keep the ball in play and have fun. When I discovered a Pebble Beach logo ball among the range balls, I considered it a good omen.
I arrived at Pebble Beach Golf Links in Carmel about two hours before my tee time so I would have plenty of time to warm up and max out my credit card in the pro shop. I was fortunate to have hit a nearly perfect day: sunny, temperatures in the mid-60s (it can be cold at Monterey in April), and relatively calm.
I had never played with a caddie, but had read that it is the best way to experience Pebble Beach. When I met Tom at the 1st tee, his first order of business was lightening my bag. “You don’t need all these balls,” he said. I balked at his recommendation that I take only three sleeves of balls; we settled on six. (As it turned out, I lost only three balls – all on the 18th hole.) A windbreaker, umbrella, a couple of water bottles, and even my USGA rules book were also jettisoned. Since I did not exceed the 14-club limit, Tom let me keep all my clubs.
My stomach was fluttering as I strode to the 1st tee and carefully teed up my ball. I was relieved when I made a smooth swing and struck the ball cleanly down the right side of the fairway of the short par 4-hole, leaving me with a 140-yard uphill shot to the green. Tom told me to go with my 7-iron. Remarkably, I struck the ball cleanly to within a few feet of the green, but things quickly disintegrated with a poor shot from the fringe and a three-putt. After a good chance to par the first hole at Pebble Beach, I ended up with a double bogey. Painful.
I didn’t get discouraged, and for the remainder of the round continued to strike the ball pretty well, keep it in play, and (except for my melt-down on the famous par-5 18th hole where I hooked three shots into the Pacific) kept the damage to a minimum. Tom quickly sized up my game (or lack thereof), and was helpful in club selection, targeting shots, and reading greens. Despite his advice, I had numerous three-putts and lost a lot of strokes in bunkers, which are plentiful at Pebble Beach.
I somehow managed to par three holes on the front nine. My most memorable shot was on the spectacular 7th hole, a short par 3 (95 yards from the white tees that day) that requires a downhill shot to a small green perched on a peninsula surrounded by water and bunkers. I hit a gap wedge 10 feet to the right of the pin, but my birdie putt slid just by the cup. This boosted my stature with Tom, until I tipped him after the round and he gave me a contemptuous look. Maybe an $80 tip is the equivalent of stiffing at Pebble Beach. He probably didn’t know I was on the off-site economy plan.
Although I ended up with an ugly 115 (I typically shoot in the low 90s), I was pleased with my performance. I certainly didn’t embarrass myself. Sure, if I had had my best short game and avoided the meltdown on the 18th hole I might have threatened to break 100, but scoring was not the objective. My day at Pebble Beach was not about the golf. It was about walking the fairways that the legends of the game have walked, playing the holes that have proved decisive in historic U.S. Open championships (such as the par 3 17th where Watson pitched in to beat Nicklaus in 1982), and soaking up the spectacular views. It was about calling friends from the Tap Room after the round while sipping my $8.75 draft beer and saying, “You’ll never guess where I am.” Priceless.