(Written by Jim Allen) … After spending years flipping through Golf Digest’s lists of the top courses to play, the Top 100 idea finally started to become a reality in 2003. Why just dream about it, when you can actually do it? However, getting on places like Pebble Beach is perceived as being a humbling experience, a place famous for being a little on the pricey side. Is it just me, or is it strange how they can call it a public golf course when 99% of the public can’t afford to golf there?
But things changed dramatically after 9/11. Apparently business slumped and Pebble Beach Resorts began advertising in major newspapers looking for new clients. It was the sweetest ad I ever saw. Three phone calls later and the trip got booked for June of 2003. It included Jim Dee from Phoenix, Mr. Las Vegas Rickey Berger, John Lundgren from Reno, NV and me.
Once we set foot on the first course, the Golf Digest list had a real meaning, one that was promptly shared by the group. Why not attempt to golf at the Top 100 golf courses in the United States? Everyone bought into the concept and thought it was a great idea. The problem was, while the concept had a lot of potential, the group wasn’t big enough – YET.
So the following year, the Top 100 quest was shared among our fellow friends and hackers and the inaugural Golfest adventure in 2004 grew to an eight-some. We picked the week after the Independence Day weekend (July 6-9th) for the trip. The idea was to let all of the tourists go home before we got there and that proved to be a good call, because we had the run of the joint.
We signed on for a standard Stay-N-Play package that included three of nights at the Inn at Spanish Bay, a round at Pebble Beach, and a round at Spanish Bay. And for that $2740 package (per twosome – shared room), they had the gracious heart to “throw in” another complimentary round at Spanish Bay. Of course, when you are attempting to feed the Golf-Jones, three measly rounds doesn’t quite quench the hunger. So our group added another round at Spyglass and an opening event at the unsung hero in the Pebble Beach family – Del Monte.
Now there are some pretty big differences between throwing a foursome together and booking a couple of groups. Little things that one might take for granted, like back-to-back tee times, dinner reservations, and who snores and who doesn’t. For example, Mr. Las Vegas enjoys his sleep and has taken snoring to a whole new level. On a scale of one to ten, he’s at least a 14! If you are in desperate need of a good night sleep, and you’re bunking with Rickey, you need to (A). Get a one-hour head start and hope you can sleep with a Peterbilt idling a few of feet away, or B). Insert some ear plugs, cover those with some high-tech Bose earphones, bury your head under at least two pillows and hope you survive the night.
Mark Suzda ended up being the Berger bunk-mate, which seemed like a good fit at the time. Mark is the kind of guy who can be talking to you one second while watching TV, and be in a deep slumber just seconds later. It was a match made in heaven, or at least a good reality show. Being the resort that it is, Spanish Bay is built to be quiet, so that guests can get that warm fuzzy feeling of solitude and relaxation. They may need to redesign the place now. Jim Dee and I were sharing the room next to the Berger-Suzda snore-fest and could literally hear Berger snoring through the walls. The last thing I remember saying before dozing off was … “poor Mark.” Other roommates on the trip were Greg Jones and Todd Baltzley and business partners Jeffrey Adkins and Mike Werner, all from the greater Sacramento area.
Our group kicked off the tour at Del Monte Golf Course, which boost an affordable green fee of just $95 – by Pebble Beach standards. It got better when we discovered they sell a membership card that ultimately reduced the fee to $65 and gave us a 10% discount off of everything in the pro shop. Looks like more money for the cart girl.
The Pro Shop & 18th green at Del Monte
Mark and I RV’ed to the Del Monte in the wee hours of Tuesday morning and parked and slept in the parking lot. Now it wouldn’t have been the wee hours, but the Monterrey Peninsula gets really dark, extremely foggy, and street sign challenged in the middle of the night. We should have arrived around 9:00 p.m. – MONDAY. Actually finding the place, and not ripping off the top of my RV in the process was considered an accomplishment. I made more U-turns than a family looking for real estate. But the reward paid off the next day. Waking up at a Pebble Beach course first thing in the morning, is like dozing off in a hot tub and waking up and finding you’re sitting next to Charlize Theron and Jessica Alba. I’ve died and went to heaven. The rest of the group drove in that morning.
Del Monte was a perfect tune-up for Pebble Beach because we discovered that the rough was deep, the traps were there for a reason, and the greens were fast. We also learned that we were defying some physical law. Of our eight golfers, three – Dee, Jones and Werner – are left-handed. That is a full 25% higher than the national average for lefties. Needless to say, southpaws throw their clubs just as far as normal people do.
From there we were off to the Inn at Spanish Bay. The rooms go for $500 a night, and are worth every penny, which is pretty ironic considering I parked my 34’ diesel-pusher with my favorite pillow just a 100-yards away in their parking lot. One of the great things about Spanish Bay is that the premier on-site restaurant is Roy’s – yes, that Roy’s. Food described as Hawaii-fusion cuisine at a place that chef Roy Yamaguchi opened in 1996 – his first restaurant on the mainland. It doesn’t get much better than that after a hot shower. As our receipts will show, our group ate there three nights in a row, spending more than $3000 in the process. The entrée of choice was their famous Pot Roast, which according to our calculations, made it the most expensive meat in California. Most of the talk focused on walking the historic Pebble Beach course the next morning. Tee times were at 11:40 and 11:50 a.m. With breakfast and warm-ups, most of us had a chance to sleep in.
With a green fee of $21.11 per hole, Pebble Beach was by far, the most expensive course any of us had ever played. Oh lets not forget about the $60 for the caddie and the Ben Franklin tip. Maybe a second mortgage on the house wouldn’t be such a bad thing? Expectations were high and rightfully so.
If that wasn’t enough of a golf investment, by some strange PB conspiracy, it was cold – in California – in July. What are the odds of that? Considering that all of us traveled from areas where temperatures were nipping at the 100’s, not a single one of us was prepared for cold, overcast, and 58 degrees. We needed gear – coincidentally gear with the famous Pebble Beach logo. Now, some logos have more value than others and by the luck of the draw, Pebble Beach is at the high end and charged accordingly. (“Excuse me miss, what is the multiplier on this shirt?”) In little less than a half hour of pro shop action, our group dropped more than two grand on NO TOLERANCE wind gear and Nike mock necks. Chasing the TOP 100 courses was going to get expensive. Maybe we can start robbing the TOP 100 convenience stores on the weekends?
The other thing about Pebble that most novices should be forewarned about is the first tee box. The starter is some chap wearing knickers with an English accent who politely explains the nuisances of the course and tries to lower your anxiety levels. Then you’ve got your soon-to-be double-bagging caddies that try to ease your fears and figure out the personalities of the group. Things are pretty good at this point. Then … (JAWS MUSIC GOES HERE), while taking some warm up swings, you discover that there are about 100 tourist-types standing around the peripherals of the tee box — waiting for you to top your drive about eight yards and laugh their asses off. Just great!!
The first group off was Adkins, Werner, Dee and Allen, followed by Berger, Suzda, Jones, and Baltzley. Most of us were nervous and gripped our drivers like a ladder rung on the side of a ten story building. Surprisingly, after some extreme peer pressure and bad jokes, everyone got it into play on the first ball, some better than others. I managed to dump it in the sand twice on the first hole; once at the slight dogleg in the fairway and again on the right side of the green. However, a 10 foot putt salvaged a double-sandy par. Man, I love this place! But getting cocky at Pebble is like slapping a Pit Bull in the face with a piece of meat. Most holes can be conquered, but a few will have you deep in a wintry wonderland (i.e. – see snowman). Our group’s scores ranged from a 76 to a winter-friendly 125.
It is strange to note that Pebble Beach isn’t in the greatest of shape when tournaments are not in the near future. Because of the high traffic on the course, it’s a little rough around the edges. But when you take into account that you are walking on the same course as many of the sports greatest linksters, you politely turn a blind eye. What you will remember the most about Pebble is the PAR 3’s, and the other three holes directly on the water – mainly number 18. If you don’t pause at the 18th tee box and duplicate the Jack Nicholas retirement pose and photograph on the fence, you are going to have to empty your 401K to play here again.
Thursday was all about the Spanish Bay Golf Links, with back-to-back rounds, something that would become a staple at future Golfest. Get up, eat, warm up, play 18, eat, play 18 more, eat, drink and crash. Most people either really love Spanish Bay, or would rather take a knee to the groin. It’s a love-hate type of relationship. (As you can see, Todd Baltzley loved the joint) Our group was 50-50 on the love-hate scale, but entertained either way, with a variety of games and bad jokes. Things got tricky in the afternoon when the wind machine kicked up to the 25 mph range. There is nothing like hitting a three-wood on a 160-yard par three.
The ace of the Pebble Beach courses – unless you are a King and can get on Cypress Point – is Spyglass Golf Course. Playing this course on PlayStation really doesn’t do it any justice. Some of the opening holes are unique in their own right with doglegs being the norm, trees that are always in play and more ice-plant than normally seen on a course. After dropping our $275 green fees, our groups were the first off and nailed this baby in four-hours. This course has a lot of personality with a lot of elevation changes, ocean views and uniquely shaped golf holes. It quickly became the favorite of the trip.
The bottom line? We nailed three courses from the list: Number one ranked Pebble Beach, the ninth rated Spyglass and the 62nd best course in the country – Spanish Bay. Not a bad start! The place is worth every penny, or in this case, stacks of bills with Ben Franklin’s on them. We would do it again in a heartbeat!