When I first began developing an interest in golf, specifically golf courses around the globe, if you had asked me to name a list of where I would most like to play, I’d have volunteered – in no particular order – the Old Course at St Andrews, Pebble Beach and Augusta National.
My opinion today has changed. I’ve either walked or played markedly better courses than those three: Royal County Down, Cypress Point, Shinnecock Hills, Muirfield, Royal Dornoch and our own Royal Melbourne, to name but a few. But with respect to my original trio – and how frequently we see each one during televised tournament play – I consider it a great privilege to have played two and walked the third during Masters Tournaments.
Pebble Beach, site of this week’s US Open, is relatively easy to get on. But it’s pricey. In order to book in advance, you must meet the minimum-stay requirement at the adjoining Pebble Beach Resort or else take your chances booking just the day or so prior to your chosen date. During a trip to the Monterey Peninsula in 2011, I’d set aside a two-day window in which to attempt to play Pebble without staying at the resort. I made it my first port of call and managed to luck into a tee-time almost instantly thanks to a rare last-minute cancellation.
While I’d budgeted for the time, I hadn’t counted on the $US495 green fee (plus $US75 more for a half-share of a mandatory caddie, then more once I tipped him) despite knowing of its reputation. Given the exchange rate at the time, I was staring at an $800 round of golf. But I didn’t hesitate in handing over my credit card, content to feel the full financial force of what lay ahead.
I’m here, nearly eight years later, to tell you it’s worth it. How did nearly $US600 represent value for a round of golf? Because the memories of the round will far out-live any credit card bill shock. Once that is paid, everything else is yours. I still remember the exhilaration of hitting the second shot across the dangerous chasm towards the eighth green, which Jack Nicklaus has long referred to as the best shot in world golf. I can also still see my iron shot into the heart of the green at the par-3 17th and the lipped-out birdie chip a hole later.
There are some amazing holes along the coast at Pebble Beach but some average ones away from the Pacific Ocean. However, you’re not there entirely for the golf course, as what you’re really paying for is a slice of American golf history. As you tour the links, there are indelible memories everywhere: Nicklaus’ pin-seeking 1-iron at 17 in 1972 and Tom Watson’s heroic chip-in there a decade later, plus Tom Kite’s ridiculous hole-out at the iconic seventh yet another 10 years on. And that’s before mentioning Tiger Woods’ extraordinary, almost non-human demolition of the field at the 2000 US Open, still the greatest 72 holes of golf anyone has ever authored.
Five US Opens, unforgettable ones at that, will do that for a place. To play Pebble Beach is to date golf’s equivalent of Marilyn Monroe for five (maybe six) hours. You might struggle to secure a tee-time at Oakmont, Olympic, Shinnecock, Merion or most longtime US Open venues, but Pebble is right there on offer – even if for a sizeable pound of flesh.
The good news is, inflation in those eight years hasn’t been too unkind to the green fee, which is now $US550 and, according to the Pebble Beach website, will remain at that rate until at least the end of March 2021. Throw in a caddie, tips and the almost mandatory souvenir and you’re up for something resembling $1,000 in our currency.
Justify it however you need to (I don’t smoke or drink coffee so have saved oodles during the years as a result – that was my justification). But should you find yourself on the Monterey Peninsula, plan for the time and the pecuniary punch to make Pebble happen.
Oh, and one final piece of advice: there are plenty of other excellent courses in the region that won’t hit your hip pocket quite so hard.