MyGolfSpy Experiences follows the one fundamental truth of the golf cosmos: The best bucket-list golf trip is the next one.
And of all the bucket list destinations in North America, the bucket-list-iest of them all is Pebble Beach. From first-class accommodations to world-class golf in an unforgettable setting, Pebble ranks with St Andrews as the place any golfer must visit before they die.
A fair warning: Pebble ain’t cheap. And you’re unlikely to find any deals. The resort is close to sold out for 2023. However, if you’re in the general area and have a flexible schedule, you can get on any of the four courses that make up the resort, including the iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Just bring your wallet.
MyGolfSpy Experiences: Pebble Beach
Every golfer knows Pebble. The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (formerly the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am or the “Crosby Clambake”) is a PGA TOUR fixture every February. Pebble has hosted six U.S. Opens since 1972 and next year will host its first-ever Women’s U.S. Open.
“Iconic,” in the case of Pebble, may be an understatement.
The resort we know as Pebble Beach dates to the late 1870s. A consortium of California business leaders and railroad barons formed the Pacific Improvement Company, PIC, to develop the Monterey Peninsula as a retreat for the well-to-do. In the mid-1910s, PIC hired Samuel Finley Brown Morse to manage the company. Morse, whose distant cousin invented Morse code, was tasked with rebuilding the lodge at Pebble Beach, which burned down in 1916. At the same time, he convinced ownership to build a golf course.
After all, the land was just sitting there.
Morse hired two prominent California amateur golfers, Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, to design the course despite the fact that neither had any design experience. Years later, Neville was quoted as saying, “I could see this place as a golf links. Nature intended it to be nothing else.”
The Duke of Del Monte
Pebble Beach Golf Links and the newly rebuilt lodge opened in February 1919. Within months, the ever-ambitious Morse bought the course, lodge and a large chunk of land from PIC. He formed Del Monte Properties and ran the show at Pebble until his death in 1969, earning the nickname “The Duke of Del Monte.”
The Pebble Beach resort has changed hands several times since 1977. Owners have included 20th Century Fox, oil magnate Marvin Davis and Japanese businessman Minoru Isutani who at the time also owned the Ben Hogan Company. In 1999, a group featuring Clint Eastwood, Arnold Palmer and Peter Ueberroth formed the Pebble Beach Company. The company now owns Pebble, Spyglass Hill, The Inn and the Links at Spanish Bay, the Del Monte Golf Course and the Hay, a gem of a nine-hole par-3 course.
There is a regional airport in Monterey served by Alaska, United, American and Allegiant. Otherwise, it’s a two-hour drive from San Francisco International or a 90-minute drive from San Jose.
(Pro Tip: The Pebble Beach Resort offers regular shuttle service between the lodges and golf courses but there is plenty of free parking if you choose to rent a car. The sightseeing potential alone is worth it.)
The property features three hotels. The Inn at Spanish Bay, at over $900 per night minimum, is the least expensive. The Lodge at Pebble Beach, with its view of Stillwater Bay and the famous 18th hole, starts at just over $1,000 per night ($1,500 if you want an ocean view). And if you’re a high roller, there’s Casa Palmero—an intimate 24-suite hideaway with a spa and personal concierge service starting at $1,200 per night.
Like I said, bring your wallet.
The Links at Spanish Bay
If at all possible, play your first round at the Links at Spanish Bay. Opened in 1987, Spanish Bay is a true links-style, oceanfront course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., Tom Watson and Sandy Tatum. Spanish Bay is visually stunning and would be right at home on the Firth of Forth.
The opening par-5 is a nice, welcome-to-the-golf-course kind of hole. You’ll be tempted to go for the green in two but, as we would learn, there’s zero room for error. You either hit and hold the green or you’re in serious trouble.
Spanish Bay features plenty of blind tee shots. But if you hit the fairway, the course is extremely playable. I spent the front nine in the fairway and made the turn at one over. But the back nine insists you stay in the fairway and don’t miss greens. I did neither and racked up an impressive array of double bogeys.
The par-3 13th and par-5 14th are particularly devilish. Thirteen is deceptively short (we lasered it at 110 yards to the pin) with a deep ravine between the tee box and green. Short is bad but we soon found that long is even worse. The green slopes sharply front to back and what looked to be a solid flop shot rolled off the right front of the green and into the ravine we so desperately tried to avoid.
The 14th is a long, straight par-5 heading back toward the ocean. You don’t have much room to miss left off the tee, which I learned the hard way. The approach gives you zero room to miss right—which I also learned the hard way.
Spyglass Hill: A True Classic
From the tee box, every hole at Spyglass Hill looks pretty straightforward. No blind tee shots, tricks or optical illusions—just one creative, fun and challenging hole after another. Spyglass isn’t punitive but you can hit the ball beautifully and still walk away wondering how the hell you shot 91.
The Robert Trent Jones, Sr. design opened in 1966 and all of the holes are named after people or places in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The adventure starts on the opening hole, a winding, downhill par-5 that runs toward the ocean to a nasty, tiered green. We dealt with a Monterey fog throughout the round so we learned to trust our forecaddie.
(Pro Tip: Don’t forget your camera at Spyglass. The holes are gorgeous and you’ll see more wildlife there than at any other course at the resort.)
Spyglass starts interesting and soon gets fascinating. The short second hole, a par-4 called Billy Bones, calls for a long iron off the tee and then a semi-blind approach up a hill to a skinny, diagonal, elevated green. The par-3 third, Black Spot, features the most beautiful vista in Monterey. It’s all downhill to a wide green surrounded by sand.
Spyglass gives you no breathers. The par-4 fourth features the weirdest, narrowest green ever. It’s maybe six to 10 feet wide at the front but it’s 55 yards deep. You’ll be hitting anything from a pitching wedge to a 6-iron into the green, depending on where the pin is. And don’t miss left or right. You’re either in a nasty bunker or on top of a tricky hill. I didn’t hit a bad shot on that hole and still wound up with a double.
“Fifteen Men on the Dead Man’s Chest…”
Spyglass Hill meanders through dunes and woods the rest of the way. The back nine starts with a spectacular par-4 featuring a downhill approach shot to yet another green you don’t want to miss. By this time, you’re starting to think bogey is a pretty good score.
The risk-reward par-5 11th is the coolest hole on the course. It invites you to bite off as much of the dogleg as you dare. And Jones rewards your boldness with a mid-iron to an elevated, bunker-protected green. Nailed my only birdie of the round there and it felt like a hole-in-one.
Depending on how your first 15 holes went, the final three at Spyglass Hill are either festive fun or a test of your will to survive. On all three holes, well-struck shots wound up in precarious lies either in a bunker or right on the lip. Somewhere, young Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver were smiling, Or giggling.
Our group agreed Spyglass Hill was the toughest course at Pebble. It demands precision and doesn’t tolerate close or almost. It doesn’t beat you up or make you hate yourself like a Pete Dye design might. But you can’t get away with anything. You can see what you have to do. You just have to do it.
And you won’t be able to wait to get back and try it again.
MyGolfSpy Experiences: Sleeps and Eats
The Inn at Spanish Bay may be the low end of Pebble accommodations but you won’t be slumming it. Each room features a gas fireplace and a balcony or patio. The mini-bar is well stocked with complimentary drinks and snacks as well as booze you’ll get charged for. The large bathroom features a walk-in shower and a deep tub, perfect for a post-round soak. Spanish Bay also features a workout facility with showers, a steam room, a dry sauna and an outdoor pool and hot tub.
(Pro Tip: There’s only one practice facility at the Pebble resort. Located right next to Pebble, it’s a good 20-minute drive from Spanish Bay. It’s not convenient but the ride along 17-Mile Drive is stunning. It’s also another reason why a rental car is a good idea.)
Dining at Spanish Bay is eclectic. Peppoli features Northern Italian cuisine with $30 pasta dishes all the way up to an $85 rib-eye. Roy’s serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The breakfast fare is what you’d expect. Lunch and dinner feature Hawaiian-inspired noodle bowls, seafood and sushi, along with steaks, ribs and chops.
Traps is a cozy lounge for drinks, apps or a burger. And Sticks is an excellent pub located in the Links clubhouse.
The Tap Room at the Pebble Beach Lodge is not to be missed. It features a marvelous memorabilia display, along with all the red meat you could possibly want. The Tap Room Prime Rib is roasted for 12 hours and the double-bone pork chop was a huge hit as were the filet mignon and the Kansas City strip.
(Pro Tip: Skip the wild mushroom pasta at The Tap Room. Do NOT skip the prime rib chili.)
If you have the option, save Pebble for last. You’ll want to savor it.
When set up for regular play, Pebble isn’t overwhelmingly hard. Its primary defenses are teeny-weeny greens surrounded by a crap-ton of bunkers. You’ll also find yourself distracted by the most beautiful views you’ll see on any golf course.
But, then again, that’s why you came here.
Compared to the first hole at the Old Course, Pebble’s opener appears almost ordinary. It’s a short dogleg-right with what looks like a fairly wide fairway. But looks are deceiving. The tee shot becomes more intimidating as your tee time gets closer. There’s the hotel on the right, out of bounds on the left, a fairway bunker at the dogleg and maybe 75 to 100 people watching you.
(Pro Tip: An 18- or 22-degree utility iron is your friend at Pebble, especially off the tee.)
The key to playing well at Pebble is staying out of the sand. Given the fact the greens are teeny-weeny, it’s easier said than done. My first round was mostly sand-free. During the second round, however, I was the mayor of Sand Town. The short fourth is a prime example. On successive days I had nearly identical 8-iron approach shots to the teeniest-weeniest green on the course. My first approach wound up eight feet from the cup for a birdie. A day later, I hit the same shot from nearly the same place but it landed maybe two feet further right. The ball wound up 10 feet from the cup, missing the teeny-weeny green and landing in a mean, nasty bunker.
Amen Corner, California Style
Holes 6 through 8 are Pebble’s Amen Corner. The Pacific surrounds you starting on the magnificent par-5 sixth. TV simply doesn’t do that hole justice. Standing in the middle of the fairway, the four-story-high hill in front of you makes you feel like you’re hitting up a mountain.
The par-3 seventh is a 130-yard mini-mind game. On calm days, it’s a nice little wedge downhill—just don’t miss the green. You’ll pay if you do. The eighth could be a driver or a long iron off the tee, depending on which tees you play. Just don’t end up on the edge of the cliff like Jordan Spieth. Either way, it’s a long way home to another well-protected green. Bogey is a very satisfying score.
The back isn’t front-nine-level memorable but there are some extremely good holes. I considered it a major accomplishment to post a pair of fives on the par-5 14th. It’s another teeny-weeny green that punishes you badly if you miss.
The 18th may be the best finishing hole on the planet. You can play it in so many ways. The best line is to the left of the tree in the middle of the fairway but the ocean will intimidate the hell out of you. Going right of the tree is safer. Just don’t go too far right or you’ll easily roll out of bounds or into a fairway bunker.
And once you’re on the green, prepare to putt for an audience. There will be at least 100 sets of eyeballs on you. Your best bet is to listen to your caddie and be gentle. It’s the fastest green on the course and you don’t want the three-jack cheers.
(Pro Tip: Take lots of pictures. Your caddies will understand.)
MyGolfSpy Experiences: Final Thoughts
As mentioned, Pebble isn’t cheap. A three-night, three-round package starts at around $3,200. Tips, meals, rental car and airfare are extra. But with $900-a-night rooms at Spanish Bay, packages look a little better.
If you don’t stay on-site, you can book a tee time a day or two in advance depending on availability. Pebble runs $595 but jumps to $625 in April. Spyglass Hill is $435 ($465 in April), and Spanish Bay is $315 ($335 in April). We used forecaddies at Spanish Bay and Spyglass Hill ($50 per person, plus tip). Go for the caddie at Pebble. It’s $150 plus tip ($200 for a double bag), but it’s worth it.
But is Pebble worth it? If you can swing it, it’s a definite yes. Along with St Andrews, Pebble is on the I-gotta-play-it-before-I-die list, and it’s worth saving up for. And you can trim costs. Del Monte, for instance, is “only” $110 per round. And you could substitute a hidden gem like Pacific Grove and only play Pebble and Spyglass. Dining offsite can also trim costs. Downtown Pacific Grove is next door and features plenty of options. Hell, there’s a McDonald’s 15 minutes away if you want.
Either way, Pebble is worth it.
Spanish Bay is great fun and you’ll want to play Spyglass Hill again and again until you get it right. But the walk down Pebble’s 18th fairway rivals 18 at the Old Course. For any golfer with a soul, it’s hallowed ground. You’d need a heart of granite not to get a little lump in your throat as you putt out.
We hope you enjoyed this latest MyGolfSpy Experiences feature. Now it’s your turn. Have you played Pebble? What are your thoughts?
And what should MyGolfSpy Experiences check out for you in 2023?