January 05 2013
I first went to Pebble Beach as a graduate student in California in the late 1970s. I’ll never forget the spectacular 17-mile drive from Monterey around the coast to Carmel and the onward journey to Point Lobos and Big Sur. The author Robert Louis Stevenson described this stretch of coastline as “the most felicitous meeting of land and sea on earth” – and it didn’t disappoint. At the time my head was full of counter-cultural heroes such as Jack Kerouac and Jim Morrison, but more than 30 years later I find myself getting equally enthusiastic about the stunning golf courses in this ocean-bound corner of California. Maybe that’s a sign of maturity, or just depressing middle age, but there are eight great 18-hole courses on the Monterey Peninsula, and I’d recommend visiting all of them.
One of the most exclusive, and arguably most beautiful, of the world’s golf courses is Cypress Point, which was created in 1928 by the Englishman Alister MacKenzie, who also co-designed Augusta National, home of the Masters. The rocky shoreline blends with sand dunes, pine woods and cypress trees to form a stunning backdrop, and at the celebrated par‑three 16th hole players have to hit a tee shot 231 yards over the Pacific. It’s a private club and you will need to know a member or have very good connections to play there. But the nearby, and equally majestic, Pebble Beach Golf Links is open to the public and non-members can enjoy a round, providing they stump up almost $500 a day in green fees.
Pebble Beach has staged the US Open five times between 1972 and 2010, and it’s also the setting for the annual AT&T National Pro-Am Championship that takes place in early February. The event, which features both professionals and celebrity amateurs such as Bill Murray and Andy García, is played over three courses, with the Pebble Beach Golf Links staging the final round on the last day. The Pro-Am was founded by that great golfing enthusiast Bing Crosby in the 1930s, and since 1986 it has been one of the most lavishly endowed tournaments on the US Tour. Phil Mickelson collected a cheque for $1,152,000 when he won the competition for the fourth time last year and even the 15th-placed players, including a certain Tiger Woods, each received over $100,000 in prize money.
The Pebble Beach Golf Links has generally been kind to Woods. He won the Pro-Am there in 2000 and then returned that June to dominate the US Open, finishing 12 under par and an astonishing 15 strokes clear of the runner-up. It’s perhaps not surprising that California should hold such happy memories for him: the former world number one grew up in Orange County and spent his university years at Stanford (which was also my US alma mater). But to recapture his top-gun status in 2013 he faces a titanic struggle against the prodigiously talented young Ulsterman Rory McIlroy. The 23-year-old, who turned professional at 18 and didn’t need a college education to help him, has already won two Major championships in the US and looks poised to win more. But I believe Woods still has the ability and mental strength to win a fifth green jacket at the Masters in April at 7-1 with Coral.