Monterey and the famed Pebble Beach

April 11, 2012

Monterey and the famed Pebble Beach

So did Pebble Beach live up to its reputation?  Was it worth it?  Would we save our pennies and go again?  You betcha!  Pebble Beach was extraordinary – in so many ways but I’ll get to that shortly.

Late on Saturday morning we headed for Monterey – a really pretty town by the sea about 2 hours south of San Francisco.  It was lovely; albeit very much geared toward tourism.  We explored Cannery Row and learned about the history of sardine fishing in the USA.  Monterey made its mark as a cannery town – and John Steinbeck’s famous book Cannery Row(which Ian has already downloaded on the Kindle to read during the trip) took its inspiration from the place.  There are banners in the streets celebrating Steinbeck and his immortalisation of the town.

We had a slow day – which was great considering the hectic pace we had been setting up until then.  We stayed at the Heritage Best Western which is in a great location one street back from Cannery Row. 

On Sunday morning we took a stroll around the waterfront, saw a man busking with a rabbit on his head (yes a live rabbit) – I guess it was Easter Sunday, and then hopped in the car and drove along the coast to Pebble Beach.  The 17 mile drive is stunning. You need to take it slowly and stop at the various roadside parking areas to take full advantage of the views.  There was a colony of sea lions frolicking in the water near Bird Rock and so many amazing vistas of the Pacific.  There were even some die hard surfers out in the freezing water.

As you enter the park area, the houses are noticeably larger and the landscape more heavily wooded.  Then it opens out again at Spanish Bay – where there is a challenging links course and a beautiful resort – all part of Pebble Beach Resort.  Spyglass Hill is also part of the Pebble Beach group and the only course that has private membership.  I didn’t even ask how much.

Further around the peninsular the homes go from impressive to unbelievable.  The cliffs are dramatic and there is the famous lone cypress pine out on the rock that is over 250 years old.  Hammered by the weather, it must be one of the most photographed trees in the world.
Pebble Beach is about as perfect a golf resort as you could imagine.  It’s also something of an enigma.  Many of the world’s best courses are locked away, for members only but Pebble Beach is a public course.  Anyone can play there – as long as you can pay the green fees.  They do prefer that you stay too.  Ian did some negotiating and we managed to stay one night instead of the preferred two.  We were greeted so warmly and our porter was really helpful without being intrusive. 
The room was something else – I could happily have lived there.  In fact it was almost as big as our apartment at home.  With an open wood fire, a dressing room and two Queen sized beds, it was about as close to hotel heaven as I’ve ever been.  The only place we’ve stayed that would still beat it is Huka Lodge in New Zealand – but they don’t have the golf course.

Our room overlooked the first hole.  Clearly staying one night didn’t warrant an ocean view, despite the occupancy being low.

Although the room was very inviting we didn’t have any time to waste and so headed off to walk around the estate.  The weather was beautiful.  We walked down to the Beach Club, where there are tennis courts, an indoor swimming pool, fitness centre and another restaurant.  It seems to be favoured by the locals and there was a steady stream of luxury cars in and out of the gate.  If you stay at The Lodge at Pebble Beach you can use the facilities but unfortunately we didn’t have time.

We walked along the cart path beside the 17thhole and watched a group of Japanese men playing.  We had heard that it was really worthwhile to have a caddy – to take your photos as well as help with the golf and these guys were making the most of their caddy’s camera skills.

The 17th and 18th holes are truly spectacular.  And so are the houses along the path.  We met a lovely family from Long Island in New York who we took some photos for and vice versa.  They were heading to Carmel By Sea and then to Big Sur and down to San Diego. 

We walked around the shopping village and bought a few golfing necessities.  Fortunately the Izod outlet shop in Monterey had the most fantastic deals and we bought some other bits and pieces there the day before. 

The shops were beautiful – in addition to the golfing stores, there was an antique shop, gift shop, ladies wear and menswear and also the most gorgeous children’s clothing store.  As it was Easter Sunday, The Lodge was hosting a buffet luncheon.  Watching the people come and go was like standing on a movie set with the patrons walking in and out of the country club, dressed to the nines.  Along the buffet table were several ice sculptures and a range of exquisitely presented food.  Suffice to say we both felt a little daggy in our jeans – but then saw plenty of other people dressed the same way.  I had already decided I would dress up for dinner though.

We opted for a very late lunch in The Tap Room, which is their version of a pub.  As it was the last day of the Masters, the place was packed and we got a seat at the bar.  There was a woman beside us wearing thick rimmed glasses – she reminded me of an old movie star and if the whole place wasn’t so wrapped up in the play off for the green jacket I would have found out if she actually was.

It was after 3pm and as I was starving I made the mistake of ordering two bar dishes – which of course were HUGE.  Potato skins and buffalo wings.  Typical US fare and typically enormous servings.

We watched Bubba Watson win his first green jacket, ate our enormous lunch then retired to enjoy our room before dinner.  Not that we really needed any.

On Monday morning we planned to be up early and get organised for the big game.  I would have loved to spend all day in the heavenly bed with the billion thread count sheets but there was golf to be had.  Interestingly while the accommodation and golf at Pebble Beach cost a king’s ransom the food is reasonable.  We had breakfast upstairs overlooking the putting green and I had what would have to be the best eggs, crispy bacon and hash brown I have ever tasted.  The hash brown was more like a potato roesti – and it was all very home made.  And they made good coffee too – finally!


We thought we’d be playing on our own but we were paired with a lovely couple from Tulsa, Oklahoma.  It just happened to be Dennis’s 60th birthday.  He and his wife Susie were staying at Pebble Beach for three nights and playing all the courses.  I felt a little more pressure at this stage – having not picked up a club for a year.  I really didn’t want to ruin their day.  But they were lovely people and  so happy and grateful to be there that no amount of bad golf on my part was going to ruin their fun.  I felt exactly the same way.
Bing Crosby’s old house on the course

Teeing off was a little daunting and my first two holes were forgettable to say the least.  Ian was none too thrilled with his first tee shot either but he found form a lot faster than I did.  Fortunately by the third hole I was beginning to remember that I could actually play – getting a shot into the air was a big thrill and things picked up from there.  I couldn’t have cared less about the standard of my golf though as the views were amazing in every direction.  Our caddy, Matt knew all the local stories – he could tell you who owned which house and where you could still buy real estate in Carmel By Sea for less than a quarter of a million dollars.  Unlike some of the houses on the course which were for sale for anywhere between six and seventy five million dollars.


Matt said that most of the homes were owned by self-made millionaires and in some cases billionaires and that the old money tended to be the other side of the bay.  The travesty of it all is that most of the homes are empty bar the housekeeper for the greater part of the year.  It seems wasteful in the extreme.

He had some great stories about people he’d caddied for including Clint Eastwood who he caddied for the day he bought the resort – well a pretty big share of it.  There are six major shareholders and a whole lot of smaller ones.  At least Mr Eastwood actually lives here – he was the mayor of Carmel for a while and he is apparently a very active and visible member of the local community.

The golf was fun – we had some great holes and some really ordinary ones but it didn’t matter.  We were pinching ourselves that we were playing Pebble Beach, home of the US Open on several occasions and again in 2019. 

The weather had been kind, mostly sunny and the wind wasn’t too blustery to begin with but by the 17th hole it was freezing.  The caddies told us that we had been truly fortunate with the weather as it’s frequently raining and cold and in the summer, extremely foggy. 

For anyone who loves golf, a sparkling day at Pebble Beach is a must.  Who knows if we’ll ever get back – I wouldn’t mind spending my next big 0 birthday playing there again.  Ian has three courses in the world he’s always wanted to play.  Pebble Beach, The Old Course at St Andrew’s – which he played about 25 years ago and Augusta National; the home of the Masters.  I’m not sure how accessible that one is, but surely two out of three ain’t bad.

Driving back to San Francisco we passed through Carmel By Sea which is like a postcard and a definite must see for next time.  Big Sur is also on that list.  We took a wrong turn on the freeway – and found a little town called Castroville which we headed back through to get to the right road.  It was dead flat and dirt poor.  The juxtaposition of the area 20 minutes away was not lost on us as we took in the sights of the artichoke capital of the world – with their very own ‘big artichoke’.

Waking up this morning to teeming rain we knew how lucky we had been to have a clear day at Pebble Beach.  We’re now en-route to Chicago, currently high above the snow covered peaks of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.  Chicago is a balmy 7 degrees Celsius today so we’ll be bringing out the winter woollies again and getting set to meet lots of kids over the next three days.


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