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Golf on California's Monterey Peninsula: Play well without breaking the bank

By Ted Johnson, Contributor

MONTEREY, Calif. -- Many consider a golf trip to the Monterey Peninsula to be a life-long goal. And a worthy one. Its natural beauty and climate make it one of the most visually compelling settings on Earth.

Pacific Grove Golf Links - hole 2
Pacific Grove Golf Links, one of the premiere plays in the Monterey area, is a veritable bargain.
Pacific Grove Golf Links - hole 2Asilomar Lodge - beachLaguna Seca Golf Ranch - 18th

However, many associate the area with luxury, no doubt due to the prominence of the Links at Pebble Beach and its lodge.

Here's a way to enjoy the benefits of the region without having to spend a great deal of money in the three communities -- Monterey, Carmel and Pacific Grove -- and come away with a good golf vacation.

Pacific Grove Golf Links

It starts with a stop at the Pacific Grove Golf Links, an 18-hole layout very close to the north entrance to the Del Monte Forest. The course dates back to 1931, and its original layout by former U.S. Amateur champion H. Chandler Egan has been altered so that it now starts with successive par 3s and then works inland through Monterey pine and cypress.

As pleasurable as it is, the back nine of this course is its treasure. It came about starting in 1960 when Jack Neville -- another strong amateur champion who also had helped lay out Pebble Beach -- and Donald Grant proposed turning the course into an 18-hole layout.

Holes No. 11-No. 17 give you a lasting, quenching taste of links golf. The bunkering is minimal and hardly punitive, the greens round but rather deceptively sloped. In the middle of this part of the course it is easy to feel you've been transported to a small Scottish town whose local layout would have a similar feel and condition.

This sort of experience for non-residents can be had, depending on time and day, as little as $25, but count on something closer to $40.

Rancho Canada Golf Club

About six miles to the southeast very near the west end of Carmel Valley Road sits Rancho Canada Golf Club. This 36-hole facility is broken into West and East Courses; both are relatively flat and not overbearingly long.

For those who prefer more of a remote experience back among the trees, Rancho Canada's East Course is the choice. The large sycamores can be an imposing site as some holes feel like you're playing down an alley between skyscrapers.

A round at Rancho Canada can range from $40 to $70, making either course the right choice either for skill or budget reasons. Better yet, it can be a surprising alternative to a round nearer the ocean. Pacific Grove can be cool and gray -- heck, it can be downright cold. At the same time Rancho Canada can have clear skies and 10 more notches up the thermometer.

Laguna Seca Golf Ranch

Both Pacific Grove and Rancho Canada would be considered friendly courses. But a visit to Laguna Seca Golf Ranch east of Monterey along Highway 68 can provide a much sterner test for better golfers.

That doesn't mean the recreational or higher handicappers won't enjoy it. The elevation changes and bunkering increase the need for precision a great deal. Robert Trent Jones Jones Sr. designed this course that opened in 1970, and he took advantage of the acreage.

It winds its way through oak-laden hillsides and, though not long, its elevation changes and deep greenside bunkers -- it's a Jones family trait -- can frustrate the lesser skilled. Uphill and downhill tee shots and approaches to greens require a little more forethought. And Jones did well to alter each green complex to fit the terrain, and thus one might be a promontory and another a sliver on a peninsula.

The top fee for this course is $70, quite reasonable considering the quality of golf.

Affordable dining and lodging in the Monterey/Carmel area

As you might expect, an area so geared to tourism would have a one-stop shop place for lodging, www.seemonterey.com. And aside from the great golf, it has to be said that the Monterey-Carmel-Pacific Grove axis contains a great deal of restaurants ranging from high-end gourmet to moderately priced family fare.

One place, however, that offers an imitable experience is Asilomar Lodge (www.visitasilomar.com). Famed architect Julia Morgan designed this large stone and timber building that sits on a 107-acre parcel located on the southern end of the city of Pacific Grove, very close to the Pacific Grove Golf Links.

The beach is but a short walk through the dunes and the Lodge -- erected between 1913-1928 -- is an architectural marvel with hardwood floors and large stone fireplaces. It's one of California's best-known state park facilities.

Of course, when the site itself promotes itself as "charming and rustic," you should know that rooms don't have televisions or telephones. All rooms have private baths, but they are connected to a common living area, which is why Asilomar is quite popular as a retreat for business, social and educational groups.

A night's stay starts at $110 per -- considerably less than most accommodations nearby -- and includes breakfast in the lodge. It's a fetching price to go along with a fetching experience in one of the country's remarkable settings.

Ted JohnsonTed Johnson, Contributor

Ted Johnson has been writing about golf for more than 25 years. Having traveled the world with his clubs, he counts himself lucky to have played Cypress Point, but Turnberry’s Ailsa, Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath in Australia and Ireland’s Royal County Down tend to rotate as favorites. And then there was the trip to Vietnam, where he found himself in Vung Tao and his luggage in Ho Chi Minh City. That’s why to this day he carries a toothbrush in his golf bag.

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