For golfers outside of the UK, the answer is usually pretty straightforward: St Andrews, right?
However, for those of us fortunate enough to live either in or on the doorstep of the game’s birthplace, the world is our oyster and the choice is considerable. Even so, there’s typically one place right at the top of most people’s lists – Pebble Beach.
Situated on the Monterey Peninsula in California, Pebble Beach is golfing paradise – it’s as simple as that. Bordered by Carmel to the south, Pacific Grove to the north, Monterey to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, it is home to not only a huge collection of courses but some of the world’s best, too.
There’s the eponymous Pebble Beach Golf Links itself – a five-time host of the US Open – as well as the likes of The Links at Spanish Bay, Cypress Point, Spyglass Hill and Poppy Hills. And that’s just for starters.
Any visit to Pebble Beach typically starts on 17-Mile Drive, a picturesque road that largely hugs the Pacific coastline and passes most of the top courses and attractions, including the Lone Cypress tree, Bird Rick and the Del Monte Forest. It’s a stunning introduction to the area and perfectly sets the tone for the treats that lie in wait.
Naturally, Pebble Beach Golf Links is the main attraction. It’s a public course, so anybody can play. It’s not particularly cheap – a round there will cost you around £340 in British money – but it is absolutely worth every penny.
Also, if you’re booking more than two days in advance, the best way to guarantee your tee time is to stay in one of the three Pebble Beach properties: The Lodge at Pebble Beach, The Inn at Spanish Bay and Casa Palmero. Guests enjoy special booking privileges for golf reservations when arranging accommodations.
Iconic holes at Pebble Beach Golf Links roll off the tongue: the short seventh (above) that plays down a hill towards a tiny green sitting in front of the lapping waves of the ocean; the mesmerising sixth and eighth holes; the devilishly tricky par-3 17th with its sliver of a green; and, of course, the dramatic closing hole (below), which hugs the rocky shoreline and is protected by one of the longest bunkers in golf.
It is the St Andrews of America and, as such, a ‘must play’ for any golfer visiting California.
But don’t just take our word for it. Consider what some of the world’s greatest golfers have had to say about the course. Jack Nicklaus once called it ‘possibly the best in the world’, adding: “If I had only one more round to play, I would choose to play it at Pebble Beach. I’ve loved this course from the first time I saw it.”
Tom Watson added: “Ask any golfer around the world to name a golf course in the US and Pebble Beach will be the first thing they say”, whilst two-time US Open champion Ernie Els once said: “I don’t think you can get a better venue any place in the world.”
The aforementioned Tom Watson collaborated with Sandy Tatum and Robert Trent Jones Jnr on the creation of Spanish Bay (below), which is a Californian homage to the best of Scottish links golf.
It even goes to the extreme of having a lone piper play by the side of the golf course every evening. It, too, is a simply wonderful experience.
Spyglass Hill is another of the four Pebble Beach properties that is truly unmissable. Originally called Pebble Beach Pines Golf Club, it was renamed by Samuel Morse after a place in Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel Treasure Island.
Indeed, ‘Treasure Island’ is the name of the opening hole, with the following 17 all taking their names from characters and places in the book. Just wait until you get to the par-4 fourth hole. Course designer Robert Trent Jones Jnr says it’s his favourite – and it’s not hard to see why.
Del Monte, meanwhile, is the oldest course in continuous operation west of the Mississippi. Opened in 1897, it is characterised by wide fairways, lined with oak, pine and cypress trees, and its 13th hole, appropriately enough for those who believe in superstitions, is incredibly tough. A 512-yard par-5, it is best described as ‘treacherous’. If you can get past it without dropping a shot, you’ll be doing very well indeed.
These are the four courses operated by Pebble Beach Resorts. There are, naturally, others which you might be interested in playing, such as Cypress Point. It’s a private golf course and, therefore, a little harder to get on but it can be done.
Its 16th is arguably the toughest par-3 in golf, playing around 200 yards directly over water and into the prevailing wind. Never mind making par, simply hitting the green is considered a boast-worthy achievement.
Poppy Hills, meanwhile, is the newest golf course in Pebble Beach (it opened in 1986) and has undergone an extensive renovation in recent years. Unlike its neighbouring courses, it plays completely within a forest and has no rough. It’s a gem.
As mentioned earlier, staying on-site in one of the three Pebble Beach properties is the best and easiest way to guarantee your tee times. With great restaurants and bars included as standard, there’s plenty for you to enjoy when the sun has gone down without the need to leave the resort. We recommend the Calamari and a glass of the Arnold Palmer red wine.
If you are keen on a little exploring and sightseeing, there is plenty to do, ranging from whale-watching, to cycling, to boutique shopping. That’s another part of the appeal of Pebble Beach: you don’t need to be a golfer to enjoy it.
Pay it a visit – it never disappoints.