Good is Good, Whatever the Cost

#8 at Pebble Beach. Photo by Joann Dost.

There are certain things that are difficult to admit:  Your sports hero is a juicer; you’re not remotely charming when five martinis down in the bar; college football really is all about the money, not the game.  But nothing, and I mean nothing, tops years of being asked to discuss what it’s like to play Pebble Beach Golf Links and being left with: “Well, umm, ahh, I’ve played Spanish Bay, and Quail, and oh, Old Del Monte.”

The veil of shame has been lifted.

Forget all the reverentially hushed tones, the breathy accolades.  Step up, speak up:  Pebble Beach ROCKS.  Go ahead.  Drink the Kool-Aid. It’s OK.  (And ignore the folks who bitch about the inland holes; they’d probably rat out Santa and the sleigh to TSA.)

The facts:  6828 yards, par 72. Rating: 74.7.  Slope: 143.

The facts that are germane to us: $495, plus caddie fee and gratuity (see below). That’s the green fee.  There’s also a mandatory two-night stay at a Pebble Beach Resorts property; think a starting point north of that green fee, per night.  Day-before callers can access available—good luck—slots for the aforementioned five Bens less one Abe.

Worth it? Come on.  It’s usury times two, and more with the room vig added.  But children cost a fortune and you love your kids, right?  And you won’t be doing 18 (25?!) years of Pebble.

Worth it: Otters.  Birdieing 7, 16 and 17, not breaking 90, and smiling the entire way.  Being paired with bros on a bucket-list trip and remembering in the bar hours later we’d played golf.  My caddie, walking up 18, patting me on the back on, saying, “Mr. Van Vechten, you’re some kinda messed up, aren’t you?”  Otters.  An all-world flop and a tap-in par on a great hole that drives the “These Guys Are Good” guys to tears and quads and that too many people want to destroy—14.  Walking through the lodge prior to the round and seeing where the day is heading.  Otters.

Weather:  Central California coast?  Expect fog, rain, wind, calm and perfect sunshine, not particularly in that order.

What the cameras cannot quite capture: There’s an intimacy with the Pacific, or more correctly two coves and a bay, at Pebble that goes lacking at other Left Coast courses touched by salt air, be that Torrey or Trump or Bandon, and the TV guys might go to that bank often during the AT&T, and the Open when it cycles through, but it still falls short regardless how stunning it looks in HD.  In a Wrightian sense, Frank Lloyd not Ben, those courses are at the ocean. The at-hand crystalline sea, the otters, the ring and spray of wave on rock, even the dogs running freely down on Carmel Beach, Pebble is of the ocean, that largest of biospheres on earth is central to the Pebble experience.  On a lesser scale, that’s a vertical wall rising up in the middle of 5, not a ripple in the fairway.

The Pebble must-do:  Walk it, with a caddie.  If you are considering a cart at Pebble: move to Toledo, take up bowling.  I’m serious.  Turn in the sticks.

The best hole: Many candidates, but, truly, is there a better hole in golf, not just at Pebble, than the par-4 8th?  Sea at your back, blind uphill tee shot, mid-iron approach from clifftop to clifftop to a narrow green robed in a Scylla of sand and Charybdis of gnarly rough, both of which are eminently more loveable than what’s short and right.  Epic.

The Final Word Tom Watson, ’82 U.S. Open champ at Pebble, who received a special exemption to play in this year’s Open, Pebble’s fifth:  “I gratefully accepted the exemption to play in our national open on my favorite golf course.  The combination of its required shotmaking variety with its oceanic beauty of the middle stretch and the finish defines Pebble Beach.  Given the chance to compete this summer at Pebble, I only ask that I play up to my capability.”

We’re just glad you showed up, Tom …  just showed up.  You see, golf needs a hero, and you are our last great golf hero.  Thank you.

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