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Destination Pebble Beach

By Rich Skyzinski

The allure of Pebble Beach, like the waves that crash upon its shores, is steady, strong and relentless. For nine decades, golfers have been drawn to the breathtaking vistas of Carmel Bay, what famed author Robert Louis Stevenson once labeled “the most felicitous meeting of land and sea in creation.”

And while the acclaimed creation of Jack Neville and Douglas S. Grant at Pebble Beach remains America’s crown jewel of golf, a higher-priced version of St. Andrews, if you will, there are more than enough additional choices in and around Carmel and Monterey, Calif., to make it a superb destination, even if the choice is made to never step foot on 17-Mile Drive.

The newest gems on the Monterey Peninsula are Bayonet and Black Horse, courses built in 1954 and 1964, respectively, on the grounds of the Fort Ord Military Base. In the late 1990s, as part of the Defense Realignment Closure in which many military facilities were downsized or turned over to private enterprise, the courses were purchased by the town of Seaside, and in 2005 the property was leased to the Seaside Resort Development Corporation. The company poured some $13 million into an extensive renovation that was completed late in 2008. Golf course architect Gene Bates kept much of the routing intact at both courses, but his work in removing trees and clearing out dense undergrowth resulted in the creation of spectacular new views of Monterey Bay.

The old Bayonet Course had the reputation of being the toughest course on the Peninsula, thanks to low-hanging trees along both sides of holes that made pitching back into the fairway often the only play following wayward tee shots, and while Bayonet still offers plenty of narrow driving corridors, Bates removed the foreboding sense of claustrophobia and allowed new ground to be bathed in sunlight. Following the No. 1 handicap hole, the par-5 eighth that customarily plays just short of 600 yards, Bates created what might become known as one of the state’s toughest approach shots.

From the middle tees, the dogleg-right ninth plays to about 445 yards with a second shot to a green sitting some 50 feet above fairway level. It unquestionably is the highlight of the round for any double-digit handicapper who reaches this green in two.

Black Horse allows for more room off the tee, but its green complexes might be more difficult. There are places a player can use a putter from a collection area just off the green, or a wedge — or both when the first decision backfires and the ball comes rolling back to your feet.

What is immediately noticed on the Black Horse is the unique design of the bunkers.They have small peninsulas and inlets, created by hand and maintained the same way. In conjunction with a property that offers so many sweeping vistas, the bunkers are visually stunning as well.

The new management acknowledges the courses that have become famous through their use in the rotation of the area’s PGA Tour event—Pebble Beach, Spyglass and Poppy Hills—form a strong drawing card for visitors from around the world.The aim is to fit in underneath that top tier, and prices have been set accordingly. For what it costs to play Pebble Beach, a player can get three or four rounds on Bayonet or Black Horse.

“There are people who come to the area to play the Pebble Beach Resort courses and that is with good reason,” says Dick Fitzgerald, project director for Seaside Resort Development. “We want Bayonet and Black Horse to serve as that next level of more moderately priced places to play. The wholesale enhancements to Bayonet and Black Horse are staggering and golfers will discover two challenging, strategic and well-conditioned layouts that will rapidly emerge as must-play courses on the Monterey Peninsula.”

Over at Pebble Beach — inside the “forest,” as the locals say — are four well-known courses all open to the public: Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, the Links at Spanish Bay, and Poppy Hills, created by the Northern California Golf Association in 1986 as the country’s first course built by a state or regional golf association. [Note: Because of the popularity of these courses, starting times often are reserved weeks or months in advance. Therefore, visitors are advised to handle starting times in conjunction with their travel arrangements, i.e., well in advance.]

There is no argument that each of these offers a memorable golf experience. The first five holes at Spyglass wind through seaside dunes and are nothing short of magnificent; Spanish Bay was created with firm turf and fescue grasses, designed to replicate a true Scottish links; Poppy Hills is a fine test of golf and the most affordable of the lot; and Pebble Beach speaks for itself.

Not only are the views from Pebble Beach known to golfers around the world, but history has been made there as well.

Two of golf’s greatest shots were struck at its famed par-3 17th in U.S. Opens played there: a 1-iron by Jack Nicklaus that hit the flagstick in the final round of his win in 1972, and Tom Watson’s 71st-hole pitch-in from the deep rough in 1982.

Since much of Carmel and Monterey is high-end, without question the best value a golfer can find on the peninsula is at Pacific Grove Golf Links. This unpretentious municipal course, located on perhaps the area’s premium piece of property, is not to be missed.Firsttime players often don’t believe this is a municipal course, and its heritage belies that, too; one nine was designed by H. Chandler Egan, a two-time U.S. Amateur champion and one of the game’s top amateurs at the turn of the 20th century, and the second nine was created by Neville, a co-designer of Pebble Beach. Bunkers are few and the greens are small, a joyful trip back to the time when golf was a simpler game. Before Spanish Bay and the courses at Bandon Dunes in Oregon, Pacific Grove might have been the closest thing to an actual links in the U.S. Still, with its spectacular water views, this might be the course that makes you return to Monterey.