Happy Birthday Pebble Beach!

Peble Beach

Pebble Beach - always a Special Venue

With the playing of this year’s US Open Championship no course since 1972 has hosted America’s premier golf event more times than Pebble Beach. Six in total. The return this year marks an even greater milestone - the 100th anniversary of the resort’s opening in 1919.

For the first half of its existence, Pebble Beach was known to many but not till 1972 when the resort became the first publicly accessible facility to host the US Open did the reputation spike even higher. It did not hurt matters the winner of that event was the game’s premier player Jack Nicklaus. The Golden Bear had previous winning experience at Pebble Beach when claiming the 1961 US Amateur Championship. 

The 2019 event marks the 13th time a national championship conducted by the USGA will take place on its storied grounds overlooking Carmel Bay. The events played over the years is especially noteworthy. The PGA Championship was played here in 1977. On a yearly basis, the PGA Tour returns via the AT&T National Pro-Am event. Originally, the AT&T event was the brainchild of renowned entertainer Bing Crosby commencing in 1937 in the San Diego area. The “clambake” moved to the Monterey Peninsula starting in 1947 and was the place where amateurs from Hollywood and sports fame would mingle together through a shared bond with golf. Nicklaus would claim the Crosby event three times in 1967, 1972 and 1973. Although the Crosby name ended direct mention after the 1985 event - the Pro-Am still resonates with his fingerprints.

Since its inception Pebble Beach has been rightly hailed as a superior golf design intersecting on a grand scale where land and sea meet. The brainchild for the development came from Samuel Finely Brown Morse. Known as the Duke of Del Monte, Morse wisely ensured a number of golf holes for what would be Pebble Beach would be situated along the coastline. Many questioned that wisdom early on given the money that could be realised in selling various lots along the coast.

Morse’s long term vision preserved the character and ambiance of the Monterey Peninsula. The design of the course came about from two highly skilled amateurs - Jack Neville and Douglas Grant. But it was the involvement of Herbert Fowler, hired by Morse, who changed the 18th following the 1921 California State Amateur from a lack luster 378-yard par-4 into the iconic par-5 closer one sees today.

Others such as H. Chandler Egan, Robert Hunter Alister MacKenzie each made various improvements to the course over the years. The most significant overhaul to the course came in 1988 when Nicklaus designed a replacement hole for the par-3 5th. Land not available early on was now purchased and the new hole bolstered what many had considered to be among the layout’s weakest holes.

A new ownership group, among them Arnold Palmer, took the reins of the property in 1999 and added a number of needed touch-ups keeping the course relevant given the modern skill levels of world class players and the improvements to club and ball technology. Overall turf quality was a key consideration and the golf course has benefited immensely from the detailing provided now. When visitors are paying top dollar to play, it is incumbent that the turf be equal to the task. Credit the new ownership in also providing for the expansion of the green to the stellar par-3 17th. In recent US Opens the shrinking size of the putting surface had made playability and fairness a major concern. The “new” 17th looks to once again play a major role in deciding who will win this year’s US Open.

The most spectacular dimension of Pebble Beach comes with the holes abutting the coastline. When you march out to the water on the classic par-5 6th the atmosphere is simply riveting. The dropshot par-3 7th is utterly devilish because shifting winds can change club selection dramatically. And, the three par-4’s that come in succession with the 8th, 9th and 10th holes is a trio of uncompromising beauty and top tier challenges.

Once the 10th is completed you move inland for the next six holes. A key improvement has also happened with the demanding par-5 14th. In years past the available areas for pin positions was limited to the far rear left corner. That has changed and the wherewithal to provide much needed flexibility will only add to the hole’s versatility.

The ending two holes are well known to golfers and when the round is completed there are a myriad of amenities at the resort to indulge oneself. A visit to The Tap Room is advised. The food and service are both superior and the recounting of one’s round can be clearly assisted with a tantalising array of noteworthy beers and wines. The Lodge itself has been upgraded and provides accommodations of the highest order.

The sensational memories from past Opens come quickly to mind - the epic 1-iron at the 17th by Nicklaus in the final round in 1972, the heroic chip-in at the same hole by Tom Watson in 1983 and the tour de force effort provided by Tiger Woods in winning the 2000 event by a record 15 strokes. Each of these moments are seared into golf’s history. New memories will be no doubt be in store with the 2019 US Open. Happy birthday Pebble Beach - the vision Morse put into motion lives on spectacularly today.

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