Pebble Beach Golf Links Hole No. 9
Photo courtesy Pebble Beach Company.
With five head-turning U.S. Open Championships already under its belt, Pebble Beach Golf Links has celebrated its fair share of golf’s greatest moments. In 2019, the holy grail of golf events returns once again — and during the course’s phenomenal centennial celebration.
By Matt Jaffe
Take the sacred grandeur of the Sistine Chapel and combine it with the refinement of Wimbledon Centre Court. Then plunk everything down on the most gorgeous stretch of coastline in the world, and you might just begin to approximate the glories of Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Celebrating its centennial and hosting the U.S. Open for the sixth time in 2019, Pebble Beach is many things: a design masterpiece and hallowed ground set within what could easily be a national park. Like the Old Course at St. Andrews and Augusta National, it’s a repository of golf tradition. But unlike its venerable counterparts, Pebble Beach boasts a distinctly Californian character.
With nine holes stretching along Carmel Bay, barking sea lions breaking the silence as golfers line up their putts, the Pacific Ocean sets the tone at Pebble Beach. This is golf’s house of sand and fog, where the wind and light change seemingly by the second, forcing golfers to respond to an ever-morphing set of playing conditions.
There’s an old truism in the sports world: The smaller the ball, the better the writing. And nobody wrote about Pebble Beach better, nor loved it more, than Herbert Warren Wind, whose essays about the course appeared in The New Yorker.
Inducted into the Golf Hall of Fame in 2008, Wind considered Pebble Beach “probably the most spectacularly sited golf course in the world.” Indeed, like the Golden Gate Bridge 120 miles to the north, the course manages to complete rather than intrude upon its incomparable setting. Yet beyond the scenery is an exacting and demanding course that Wind believed transformed golf.
“It is not going too far to say that Pebble Beach revolutionized golf-course design,” Wind goes on to write. “It was the first course on which water — both as a treat for the eyes and as a penalizing hazard — was incorporated so insistently and so excitedly into the strategy of the holes … In a word, it is probable that no other course in our time has influenced both seaside and inland golf architecture, here and abroad, as strongly as Pebble Beach, which still remains the criterion for a test of golf that is functionally sound and aesthetically stirring.”
And to think it all could have been subdivided for oceanfront homes.
But Samuel F.B. Morse, whose Del Monte Properties Company owned the land, decided that a premier golf course could help promote the Monterey Peninsula. Morse hired Jack Neville, who was both a real estate salesman for the company and an accomplished golfer. At the time, Neville had already won the California State Amateur Championship twice, and he would go on to win that prestigious tournament a total of five times. Even so, he had never designed a golf course. If there’s a golf course architect’s equivalent to the doctor’s oath of “First, do no harm,”
Neville apparently adhered to it. He brought in another fine amateur golfer, Englishman Douglas Grant, and the pair spent weeks studying the course’s proposed location atop the headlands of Carmel Bay.
More than 50 years after Pebble Beach opened in 1919 and on the eve of the course’s first U.S. Open in 1972, Neville modestly concluded, “It was all there in plain sight. Very little clearing was necessary. The big thing, naturally, was to get as many holes as possible along the bay. It took a little imagination, but not much. Years before it was built, I could see this place as a golf links. Nature had intended it to be nothing else. All we did was cut away a few trees, install a few sprinklers, and sow a little seed.”
Pebble Beach quickly won acclaim. It hosted the 1929 National Amateur Championship, and in 1947 began garnering wider exposure as the site of the Bing Crosby Pro-Am, now officially known as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (although some people still refer to it by its historic nicknames: The Crosby or The Clambake). During the tournament, pros are paired with Hollywood stars and athletes in an event that blends competition and an occasional party atmosphere. The pro-am is the only PGA event relaxed enough for actor Bill Murray (who won the team title in 2011 with D.A. Points) to sport a Chicago Cubs hat and pair of overalls straight outta Caddyshack.
If it’s surprising that the United States Golf Association took so long to award the open to Pebble Beach, once the tournament finally arrived on the Monterey Peninsula, the course proved to be a grand stage for some of golf’s most epic moments.
With 14-time PGA tour winner Bruce Crampton and future Hall of Famers Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino in pursuit, Jack Nicklaus sealed the 1972 championship with a one-in-a-million one-iron into an ocean gale. The ball struck the flagstick and stopped 2 inches from the hole. Ten years later, the aging Golden Bear, seeking his fifth U.S. Open title, was victimized by another miracle shot on the 17th as Tom Watson sank a sand wedge from the deep Kikuyu rough to break the tie for the tournament lead. And in 2000, there were no late-round theatrics, but it was still hard to beat the drama of Tiger Woods’ dominating victory by 15 strokes, a U.S. Open record.
While no one can guarantee that the 2019 U.S. Open will produce moments to rival these now-legendary episodes, great golf courses invariably inspire great golfers. And even for the best, nothing compares to Pebble Beach. Just take it from Nicklaus, who famously declared, “If I only had one more round to play, I would choose to play it at Pebble Beach.”
Pebble Beach Golf Links Hole No. 7.
Photo courtesy Pebble Beach Company.
Pebble Beach: The Hole Story
A Chinese abalone fisherman settles in the area around this time. Pebble Beach go-to spot, Point Joe, is named after him.
Pebble Beach opens after narrowly escaping being carved up into dozens of small, 50-by-100-foot residential lots and becoming a housing development.
Pro Bob Jones introduces the world to Pebble Beach by heading to the U.S. National Amateur as the two-time defending champion.
The Great Depression sets in, but Pebble Beach Golf Links hosts the California State Open after a long hiatus.
The U.S. Women’s Amateur unfolds on the beloved grounds and is won by defending champ Betty Jameson.
Pebble Beach captures wide attention as host of the Bing Crosby Pro-Am. It has since morphed into the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
TV covers the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am for the first time.
For a brief time, its name becomes The Pebble Beach Golf Club, open only to hotel guests, members of select nearby clubs, and certain local residents.
The course hosts it first U.S. Open, and Jack Nicklaus seals the championship.
Pebble Beach Company constructs the new fifth hole of Pebble Beach Golf Links, designed by golf champ Jack Nicklaus.
Tiger Woods wins by 15 strokes at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Golf Digest ranks Pebble Beach the No. 1 course in America.
The U.S. Open returns to Pebble Beach for the sixth time, and Pebble Beach celebrates 100 years.