My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
The Golf Bucket List
#5, Par 3, 142 Yards
"Opened for play in November of 1998, this spectacular new addition is sure to test your mettle. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, this beautiful Par 3 sits naturally upon the bluffs overlooking Stillwater Cove. The ocean breezes will affect club selection. The safest play is to the left-center of the this green."
In the original design, the fifth hole headed diagonally to the left from the 4th green and away from the ocean. This was as a result of Samuel Morse selling a five-acre piece of land that fronted Stillwater Cove in 1915. Pebble Beach bought this land back in 1995 and built the new hole hugging the coastline. While it makes more sense in the context of Pebble Beach's water frontage throughout, the original hole was a smoother routing, directing you right to the 6th tee. Now, after the 5th hole, it's a bit of an awkward walk to get back to the next tee. However, having another hole along the water is probably worth it.
The experience at Pebble Beach is really special. You are walking in the footsteps of all of golf's best, and there aren't many spots that bring back memories of some of golf's most historic moments. Maybe only Augusta National would surprise Pebble Beach in history. Whether it's worth the money is a very personal decision, but for serious golfers, it's probably worth doing once for most.
#18, Par 5, 532 Yards
"Set up for three shots on this hole. The best tee shot takes a line just left of the tree in the fairway. The second shot is ideally placed on the left side of the fairway to avoid the tree overhanging the green. Your short iron into the green must carry the frontal bunker - and finally, putts will tend to fall oceanside."
This has to be one of the most famous and recognizable holes in golf. The tree in the center of the fairway is critical to the hole's strategy, and the club has taken steps to make sure it stays where it is--it is wired in with steel cables! A draw would be the perfect shot shape throughout, respecting the ocean and making sure you're safely away from it, before shaping it back toward the hole. Tourists and visitors frequently gather out by the green to enjoy the view, so you might even have a bit of a gallery as you finish your final shots at Pebble Beach.
#11, Par 4, 349 Yards
"A well struck tee shot will take you left of center avoiding the bunkers left and right on your approach. Take enough club on this uphill approach, but be careful not to overclub - this green is fast from back to front."
Turning away from the ocean, you say good-bye to the cliffs for a while on the 11th hole. The telephone poll is a good line off the tee. When we played Pebble Beach, the USGA had largely taken over the maintenance plan for the course, leading up to the U.S. Open that would take place that June. There were several holes that had fairways tightened off the tees. This was one of them. The left side of the fairway was tightened, with rough protruding further to the right and forcing the player to hit what is normally the right half of the fairway, which ensured an inferior angle into the green.
#16, Par 4, 376 Yards
"Take aim directly over the island bunker with a 3-wood or long iron. A driver may leave you with a difficult downhill, sidehill lie or worse yet, in the deep rough through the fairway. DO not attempt to cut the dogleg - the right side is fraught with danger. Hit the approach to the right side of the green as all shots will slide left."
Trees on either side of the hole at about 70 yards out create a chute into the green. Shots played from anywhere other than the center of the fairway might need to be played over or around them to get to the putting surface.
#9, Par 4, 460 Yards
"Take aim at the left center of the fairway, hit it long, and beware of the bunker on the left. Side hill lies are the norm for long iron second shots so beware of the ocean right. There is a deep bunkered gully left and short that will punish and timid approach. This is truly the most difficult hole on the course."
This hole is just plain hard. It's probably a harder hole than the second, and this one plays as a par four, even though the distance (from the gold tee) is the same. When coming in with a long iron or fairway wood, there is seemingly no way to get the ball on the green! A par is an outstanding score here.
#8, Par 4, 400 Yards
"Tee it up over the aiming rock and note wind conditions. A well placed drive of 240 yards will leave you with a middle iron shot across a deep oceanic chasm. Take a deep breath and fire to the middle of the green here; take heed, this green is sloped severely from back to front."
After a nice warm-up on holes one through seven, the teeth of Pebble Beach are about to show. After a lay-up drive up the hill comes the shot that Jack Nicklaus called his favorite in golf. The advice noted above about hitting to the middle of the green--well, that's good advice throughout the round as the greens are so small that you'll leave yourself a reasonable putt. With that said, it's always better to be below the hole.
#4, Par 4, 307 Yards
"A long iron or 3-wood to carry the long bunker in the center of the fairways is your best bet. This short hole is tightly guarded with a cluster of menacing bunkers and the green slopes decidedly back to front."
By this point in the round, you might be asking yourself, "Wait, isn't Pebble Beach supposed to have a bunch of water views?" Yes, and you're about to get them. After your tee shot on the fourth hole, the ocean will be revealed as you walk to the fairway ahead. It's an awe inspiring sight when you see the water for the first time. The fourth is the smallest green on the course, with the 11th very close behind. It's mind-blowing how small this green really is.
#7, Par 3, 98 Yards
"Club selection is predicated on wind factors. Knock down a short iron and keep the ball from ballooning in the wind. Pay it safe to the middle of the green.
Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and most photographed holes in the world. Again, it's fabulous that the designer had the guts to build a hole on the edge of a cliff that measures only 106 yards from the back tees, and plays downhill. I played a three-quarter sand wedge and hit it over the green into the back bunker. For me, in this day's conditions it was probably a 60-70 yard shot, at most! This is the shortest hole in championship golf.
#2, Par 5, 460 Yards
"Find the fairway long off the tee and you can reach the green in two. Another option is to lay up short of the deep bunker or barranca hidden 75 yards from the green.
This short par five plays as a par four in US Opens, and it's a great opportunity to make birdie and some positive momentum. A drive on the right center of the fairway is ideal to avoid trees that can block your line into the green. Avoiding the bunker mentioned above on the second shot is the key. Go for the green in two if you feel confident, but the green, like all of Pebble Beach's putting surfaces, is really small, and being short-sided is bad. Laying up on the second shot might not be a bad idea to leave roughly a 100 yard shot into the green, where you can confidently get it close. This is especially the case if you don't hit the fairway off the tee.
After rolling some putts, it would be time to meet my playing partners and head to the first tee. I actually got paired with a few guys, which included Damon Hack, studio analyst for The Golf Channel, most frequently working on their Morning Drive Show. Damon, his agent, and another single like me, would head to the tee and get ready for our special experience. The Blue Tees at Pebble Beach are listed as the back tees, and measure 6,828 yards. There are a few other tee boxes that are used for professional events that can stretch the course further, but they're not set up on a daily basis. From there, the rating and slope is 74.7 and 143. Playing in February, and under VERY soft conditions, I'd be playing a tee box in front of that, at the Gold Tees, which are 6,454 yards with a rating and slope of 72.6 and 136. With a par of 72, that would be enough for me on this day. I'll quote distances from the Gold Tees below.
Bear with my pictures below, as I did my best with on-and-off rain throughout the day. I'll quote the comments from the yardage book in italics, with my own comments after them, if relevant.
#13, Par 4, 391 Yards
"This uphill par 4 plays longer than the yardage. Line up over the right edge of the fairway bunker and hit your best tee shot. The uphill approach shot calls for an extra club. Shots to the right side of the green will slide left on this, the most severely sloped and quickest green on the course."
The bunkers straddling the fairway need to be avoided. A draw off of the right bunkers is the ideal shot.
If you were to ask the average American to name the most famous golf course he/she can think of, I'm guessing Pebble Beach would be the response more often than not. In fact, it's probably one of only a couple courses that nearly every American has at least heard of--Augusta National is the only other course that comes to mind that might be close. However, what separates Pebble Beach from August National (aside from several thousand miles) is the fact that ANYONE can play Pebble Beach. Well, at least everyone with a credit card and the willingness to drop around $600 on the round.
Situated within the 17 Mile Drive in the Monterey Peninsula, Pebble Beach is on one of the most beautiful plots of land in the Continental United States. With temperate weather conditions, the course and surrounding area is available to visitors all 12 months of the year, with crashing waves, barking sea lions, and breathtaking forest land attracting photographers and nature lovers from all over the world. The golf course first opened in 1918 but was quickly closed, renovated, and reopened in 1919. From the course yardage book:
"It's too dom beautiful, I ken not keep my mind on the game," proclaimed Englishman Jim Barnes, the 1921 U.S. Open Champion upon playing Pebble Beach. Over the year, all of the Greats of the game have come to challenge her beauty and strategy. In addition to great championships and unmatched beauty, what separates Pebble Beach from its peers is that it is a public access course - the only one to host 5 U.S. Opens and the only one regularly ranked among the Top Five Courses in the World.
S.F.B. Morse envisioned the seaside course to salvage a failing real estate development. He enlisted the skill of two amateur golfers, Jack Neville and Douglas Grand, to design the course. Both past champions, their experience and Grant's extensive notes on British courses were used in the design of Pebble Beach. For roughly $100,000 in construction costs, the amateur team created the famed seaside links.
Seeing the possibilities, S.F.B. Morse formed Del Monte Properties Company in 1919 and bought the Del Monte Unit from his employer for $1.3 million. Encompassing 18,000 acres, it included the new course and The Lodge at Pebble Beach.
Morse's efforts to attract national attention led to the USGA contesting the 1929 U.S. Amateur at the fledgling Pebble Beach Golf Links. Harrison Johnston prevailed over a field that included Cyril Tolley, Francis Oimet, and Chandler Egan, and featured the shocking first-match loss of Bobby Jones.
Pebble Beach again hosted the USGA with the 1940 Women's U.S. Amateur. Returning champion Betty Jameson won over a large field of ladies that included Morse's own daughter, Mary.
World War II marked another downturn, but when the war ended Morse whisked his property into the Golf Capital of the World. The Men's U.S. Amateur returned in 1947 (won by Skee Riegel) and the Women's in 1948 (won by Grace Lenczyk). The season also saw the resumption of entertainer Bing Crosby's winter extravaganza. Known as the Crosby Pro-Am, it first brought professional golfers and celebrity amateurs to Pebble Beach in 1947 and quickly became a cherished annual event. Pebble Beach became a fixture for golfers and non-golfers alike. Each winter they'd watch the finest pros and an interesting array of amateurs joust among themselves in the Pro-Am, now the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
The USGA again tested the course with the 1961 Men's U.S. Amateur. Featuring the new breed of college golfers and both British and American Walker Cup stars, a 21-year old senior from Ohio State, Jack Nicklaus, emerged the winner.
When the USA brought the U.S. Open Championship to a public-access golf course for the first time in 1972, Nicklaus won at Pebble Beach again. His one-iron rattling the pin on the difficult, 218 yard 17th is one of golf's most remembered shots in a Major.
The Golden Bear was attempting to win his fifth U.S. Open in 1982 when he started the final round three shots behind Tom Watson and Bill Rogers. Five straight birdies on the first nine on Sunday rocked the coastline. With a 69 for 284, Nicklaus sat back to wait for Watson. Watson came to 17 even with Nicklaus when his tee shot came to rest in gnarly rough, about six yards from the hole.
"Get it close," caddy Bruce Edwards said.
"I'm going to sign it," Watson answered. And he did, for yet another incredible shot in U.S. Open history. Adding a birdie on 18, Watson won with a 282.
Fierce wind and ultra-firm greens greeted Tom Kite on his final round in the 1992 U.S. Open. With the field averaging 77 strokes on a brutal afternoon, Kite fired an even-par 72 to beat Jeff Sluman by two shots, 285 to 287.
Pebble Beach also hosted the 1977 PGA Championship, with Lanny Wadkins winning a playoff against Gene Littler on the third extra hole. And also the 1988 Nabisco Championship (today the Tour Championship) in which Curtis Strange won a playoff against Tom Kits with an almost-perfect tee shot on the 17th.
Kite played a small role in the 1999 Men's U.S. Amateur when he sent a final-round telegram to fellow Texas Longhorn David Gossett before Gossett defeated Korea's Sun Yoon Kim 9&8 to claim the title.
The U.S. Open celebrated its 100th playing at Pebble Beach Golf links in June of 2000, showcasing what will become a symbolic passing of the torch from golfing great Jack Nicklaus to heir-apparent Tiger Woods. Woods' performance was nothing short of unbelievable. His first-round score of 65 is the best 18-hole total in any of the five U.S. Opens held at Pebble Beach. On Friday, he shot a 69, giving him a sex-stroke lead on the field. Despite a triple bogey on Saturday's third hole, Woods rebounded to a par 71 and extended his lead to nine strokes. Finally, on Sunday, he turned a dominant victory into a historic feat. Tiger combined a bogey-free round with birdies on holes 10, 12, 13, and 14. His 67 gave him a four-day total of 272, tying the record for the lowest 72-hole score even in the national championship, and besting his nearest competitor by 15 strokes.
As a boy, growing up along the rugged Portrush peninsula in Northern Ireland, Graeme McDowell would fantasize that he had two putts to win the U.S. Open Championship. he lived out that dream, two-putting for par to capture the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Fittingly, in a championship where a score of par is the most meaningful, the 30-year-old McDowell posted an even-par 284 for the 72 holes to become the first European winner of the championship since England's Tony Jacklin in 1970. "This is just a special golf course to win," McDowell said. "Pebble Beach, it's such a special venue. To join the list of names ~ Tom Kite, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus ~ I can't believe I'm standing here as a Major Champion."
I had been to the Monterey Peninsula before, but never with golf clubs in tow, so this would be a special experience, for sure. Unfortunately, this would not be a week of great weather. The week before my arrival was the AT&T National Pro-Am, the PGA Tour's annual event that groups pros with amateurs on a three-course rotation. During that event, won my Phil Mickelson, there would be delays for hail, which covered the greens like snowfall. It didn't get much better once I arrived.
My itinerary was a strong one. The plan was to meet an acquaintance at Olympic Club, and then head south to CordeValle, and then to the Peninsula, where I would play Pebble Beach and Spanish Bay. That isn't exactly what happened! Upon arrival in San Jose, high winds and rain forced the closure of the Olympic Club as the saturated ground coupled with gusts made the large trees/limbs a threat to player safety. So, rather than head north to one of the country's most historic private clubs, I would head south to one of its best value municipal courses, Pacific Group. Conditions weren't ideal (cold and breezy), but there was ample sunlight to make the gorgeous views on Pacific Grove's back nine really pop. The next day, I'd take on CordeValle, which was a very pleasant surprise, though we did face a rain/hail delay. On day three, it was my turn at Pebble Beach. The recent winds had knocked out power for most of the 17 Mile Drive, but Pebble Beach, being the multi-million dollar enterprise was well prepared with generators to keep operations active. There would be a couple detours to get to the course as PG&E workers had blocked roads to clear fallen trees and power lines, but once I arrived at Pebble Beach, everything was running roughly according to plan.
After checking in, I took a short shuttle to the practice facility to warm up. This practice area, coupled with a teaching center, was built several years ago to support resort guests, but was also much needed for major golf championships. With cool temperatures and on-and-off rain throughout the afternoon, my rain gear would be on-and-off throughout the day, including while I was warming up.
Once it was approaching my tee time, I was shuttled back to the staging area, where one of the game's coolest putting greens awaits. The putting green at Pebble Beach lays in front of the vast Shops at Pebble Beach shopping area, which is essentially a collection of Pebble Beach themed shops aimed at fulfilling the logo geared needs of every individual and niche you can imagine. With browsers and tourists wandering around, it's a special feeling to be one of the few who can actually putt in this area in front of many jealous on-lookers.
#3, Par 4, 374 Yards
"A slight draw around the corner of this dogleg leaves you in perfect position for a short pitch to the green. if you play it safe to the far right of the barranca, be prepared to contend with the bunkers flanking the right side of the green."
If you're a Tour Pro, you just bomb it over the trees, cutting the corner, and leaving yourself 50 or so yards into the green. However, taking on the trees on the left if done with HUGE risk if you can't pull it off. Hit whatever shot you can get into the fairway, and this is another fairly easy par hole.
#1, Par 4, 346 Yards
"Take aim at the right edge of the first bunker beyond the fairway with a 3-wood or long iron and try not to cut the dogleg - it doesn't pay. The approach shot plays somewhat longer than the actual yardage and the green is tightly bunkered left and right. Key Note: Pay attention to the putt on this first hole - a clear indication of consistent breaks toward the ocean.
You really need to make hay at Pebble Beach on the first seven holes in my opinion. It's a pretty easy start, before toughening up significantly on the eighth tee and beyond. As if there weren't already enough pressure of hitting your opening tee shot at Pebble Beach, this puts even more pressure on you--score here, or you'll run out of chances!
#12, Par 3, 187 Yards
"The staggered bunkers in front give a false perspective on this long par three. Club selection is key in approaching this wide but shallow green. Check the wind by looking back at the flag on 11 - the wind above the trees, undetectable by eyeing the 12th green, may alter your shot."
This is a really hard green to hit. The right side is somewhat accessible, but the left side is really shallow, so your shot needs to come in high to hold the putting surface. As I said, rain kept popping up and then going away throughout our round. The two pictures below show proof of that!
#15, Par 4, 377 Yards
"This medium length par four requires an accurate tee shot. The fairway is guarded on the left by bunkers and on the right by trees. A well placed drive in the center of the fairway will leave you with a medium to shot iron. Remember to check the ocean left, as putts will move in that direction."
Better players probably won't hit driver on this one to avoid the array of bunkers in the landing area. If you can keep your tee ball in play though, it's a definite scoring opportunity.
#10, Par 4, 429 Yards
"A strong tee shot to the left center of this sloping fairway will leave you with a medium iron shot. Take enough club on your approach to carry the inlet on the right. Bunkers left and long will capture errant shots. Green slopes from left to right."
The ninth hole does not return to the clubhouse, and the tenth green is basically the furthest point from the club house. There is a snack bar near this tee box. As I mentioned, it was pretty chilly with intermittent rain, so a couple guys in my group grabbed a hot beverage, with or without an adult beverage mixed in. The tenth hole has similarities to the ninth, but is a bit shorter with a green that is a little more open in the front. It's still hard though. Enjoy the views, because after this hole, you turn inland and don't get back to the coast until the 17th green.
#14, Par 5, 560 Yards
"This dogleg right is a three shot hole for virtually all players. A well placed bunker on the right will capture shots aimed at cutting the dogleg. Hit as much club as possible on the second shot and if the pin is tucked upper left, take at least one extra club to carry the huge frontal bunker."
These days, there aren't many holes that require three shots from the pros, at least from a length standpoint. This one generally takes three shots because of the difficulty on and around the green complex. There just isn't much strategic reason to go for the green in two and risk being in some of the areas that will be impossible to get up-and-down from. So, most players will lay up their second shot to a good distance and then try to wedge one close for a makeable birdie putt. The back portion of the green was extended recently, making holding the green easier and the hole a bit more fair for some recovery shots.
#17, Par 3, 170 Yards
"Check pin placement and wind conditions - these two factors determine choice of club. Beware of the ocean left."
This hole has provided some of the most notable moments in golf history, as detailed in the summary at the beginning of this page. The hole is in the shape of an hourglass, and angled diagonally away from the player from front right to back left. Being in the right section of the hourglass is critical, to avoid an awkward and/or impossible putt. Gary Woodland ended up on the wrong side in the 2019 U.S. Open, and needed to chip.
After golf, most people head to The Lodge to have a drink afterwards. Inside The Lodge, the two main options are The Bench (its patio can be seen above where people are sitting) and on the other side of the clubhouse, the famous Tap Room. The Tap Room has no view, but what it lacks in vistas, it makes up for in reputation and ability to draw famous clientele. When I was there, I ended up sitting next to Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford's and his family. Food and drink at the Tap Room were quite good - I had a great meatloaf.
#6, Par 5, 496 Yards
"The optimum placement for the tee shot is left center of the fairway. Your second shot must carry the steep slope but beware of the bunkers on the left."
This might have been the most jaw-dropping hole on the course in my opinion. While others might be filled with more pure beauty, this was the one that blew my mind. I guess the reason was the scale and size of the hill you need to climb to get up to the green and also the fact they had the guts to build this hole in the first place. I can't imagine anyone today routing the second shot of a par five up a hill this high to a green that's completely blind. Maybe that's the reason the hole is so special--I just don't know of anything like it.