PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Ah, the words Pebble Beach just flow off any golfer's tongue, soothing to the soul.
We all dream of being able to afford an annual pilgrimage to the gorgeous Monterey Peninsula to play Pebble Beach Golf Links, like the PGA Tour pros do each spring. But alas, there's too many excuses why we can't -- work, the kids, the cash, and on and on.
What makes Pebble great?
Its history, the annual PGA Tour stop, the strategic design,including the 97-yard, par-3 seventh that befuddles even the pros and the harrowing approach shot over the coastal gorge on No. 8, are just a few of the factors, but nothing stands out more than the stunning views, where ocean blue meets golfing green. It's a scene not even TV cameras or pictures can express. It has to be experienced to be believed.
It's for that reason alone that courses around the world hope, no beg, to be compared with Pebble Beach. Some have been lucky enough to earn that distinction.
Only a select few courses in the United States over the years have earned reputations as the "Pebble Beach of (insert location here)." Maybe it's the fault of golf journalists, who are always looking to jazz up their stories with colorful comparisons. Maybe it's the marketers trying to hype their product. But for whatever reason, these pseudo Pebble Beaches have popped up in almost every corner of the country.
In New England, there's the 18-hole wonder at the Samoset Resort on the Ocean in Rockport, Maine. It's long been nicknamed the "Pebble Beach of the East" for its jaw-dropping views of Penobscott Bay.
Recently, another course has popped up on the East Coast, the Ocean Hammock Golf Club in Palm Coast,Fla., that has taken the same nickname and gone more mainstream with it. In Petoskey, Mich., the Bay Harbor Golf Club, a 27-hole Arthur Hills gem, has been crowned the "Pebble Beach of the Midwest."
So you want to play Pebble without the $400-plus price tag? Here's why these might be your next -- best bet:
Set on the bluffs of Little Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan, Bay Harbor is the only course not on the ocean compared to Pebble Beach. The reason? Lake Michigan is so vast and massive as a body of water, for all intensive purposes, it is an ocean to golfers who strain their eyes to catch a glimpse of Wisconsin's shoreline.
Bay Harbor opened in 1996, and immediately gained credibility by hosting Phil Mickelson and Tom Lehman for a televised exhibition with Shell's Wonderful World of Golf. The stunning 3,348-yard Quarry nine, cut out of a former rock quarry, is the best nine-hole layout in the state. No. 17 plummets 172 yards downhill to a green set on a peninsula in Lake Michigan.
The 3,432-yard Links nine also boasts three of country's best coastline challenges. The 380-yard third hole features a risk-reward tee shot for those brave enough to carry a gully on the left. The par-3 fourth falls 178 yards from the tee, with breathtaking vistas of the Inn at Bay Harbor and the Bay Harbor Yacht Club in the distance.
The 500-yard seventh is already called one of the best par-5s inthe world, with a cliff just left of the green, perched 150 feet above the water. The 3,378-yard Preserve is a solid layout as well but with only one water scene, the par-3 ninth.
This Samoset Resort golf course has the history (102 years) and the views to compare with Pebble, but not the tournament history. The property recently underwent a $10 million renovation to restore the course and 178 guest rooms, all of which have ocean and golf course views.
Designed by Robert Elder in 1902, the club celebrated its centennial year in 2002 and a redesign by Brad Booth, dramatically altering the 6,548-yard layout. The course always has been one of the most scenic in the country,thanks to the Rockland Breakwater light, a lighthouse at the end of a granite, rock-wall pier that juts out into the bay.
Ocean vistas are the norm, present on 14 holes, but the design was always too short and quirky to impress golf purists and good players. That's changing. A seawall was added to the most dramatic ocean hole, the par-5 fourth that doglegs left to hug the coast. The fifth, once a weak and short par-4, has been transformed into a thrilling 185-yard par-3, featuring a demanding uphill shot from a tee box right on the water. The 420-yard 18th hole is now one of the toughest finishing holes around, with nine fairway bunkers and a pond and four more traps near the green.
The 230-acre resort, about 80 miles from Portland, also attracts the East Coast elite with three restaurants, an indoor and outdoor pool and massage services.
The first Florida golf course built on the Atlantic Ocean in more than 70 years, Jack Nicklaus' Ocean Course at Hammock Beach is an outstanding resort track at 7,201 yards, but its ocean views are not as prevalent as Pebble. Still,it's truly surreal hearing the waves crash into the shore in your back swing and realizing that you're knocking on the door of the Atlantic Ocean just north of Daytona Beach.
Most ocean views are blocked by the natural sand dunes, but there are glimpses of some gorgeous Kodak moments at the elevated greens of No. 8, 9, 15, 17 and 18. The two finishing holes, No. 9 and No.18, play out majestically 465 yards right along the coast. Set next to the new 20-room, $20 million Lodge, which was completed in the summer of 2003, the five-course Palm Coast Resort finally has a flagship layout and ritzy accommodations to hold its own with Florida's best resorts.
Because of its out-of-the-way locale, even the green fees are modest in summer time.
Several other U.S. courses could easily be bestowed the "Pebble Beach of" moniker for their coastal presence. The fourth hole at Amelia Island Golf Links near Jacksonville, Fla., is as close to the sandy beach of the Atlantic as Pebble is to the Pacific. The Pelican Hill Ocean North and South courses in Newport Coast, Calif., could easily be marketed as "The Pebble Beach of southern California" or the "Pebble Beach of L.A." for their waterfront layouts. Sitting opposite Bay Harbor on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan, calling the Whistling Straights Course at the American Club in Kohler "Wisconsin's Pebble Beach" wouldn't be a stretch.
In reality, though, there's only one true Pebble Beach, which has been making history since opening Feb. 22, 1919. Yes, the 6,737-yard, Jack Neville design has its detractors. They point to the price tag as outrageous, the six-hour round as a tragedy and the non-ocean holes as average. Still, there's too much to love about the whole Pebble Beach experience to let those criticisms ruin your round.
The lodging at Bay Harbor, Ocean Hammock and Samoset Resort are all first class, but they can't compare to the luxurious Lodge at Pebble Beach or the ritzy Inn at Spanish Bay. The next best option is staying at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, which offers golf packages to Poppy Hills and other area courses. This lavish hotel features ocean views and sits within walking distance to the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium and other Cannery Row landmarks.
But golfers don't travel to the Monterey Peninsula just to stay at a nice hotel. They come to tackle Pebble Beach. When you consider all the great moments in golf there over the years -- Tom Watson's magical chip-in on No.17 or Tiger Woods' resounding victory in 2001 -- Pebble has an allure no other golf course can match.
Considering the game's greatest player, Jack Nicklaus, calls Pebble Beach the game's greatest course, you know there's nothing like the real thing anywhere in the world.
February 6, 2004