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Yesterday's Pebble Pick 'Em post (and of course, the actual Tour event this week) got me thinking back to my first round/experience at Pebble Beach on the Monterrey Peninsula, as a golf announcer might refer to it.
I was nearby that week for work and decided to leverage the weekend and experience one of golf's great feelings, a round at Pebble. I made the best arrangements I possibly could given the somewhat short notice. All I really needed was a one night stay at a hotel/motel not too far from the course and a tee time at Pebble. Check.
In the early morning I drove down PCH in the most perfect solitude. The weather that day was postcard-like and I stopped once off the side of the road to look down the cliffs and out in the distance at the Pacific. I specifically remember calling both my mother and father on my cellphone to somehow describe the scene to them best I could. My father had seen it before and knew of what I spoke, while my mother hadn't and as I sometimes feel she does, lived a brief moment through me. I promised them both pictures and subsequently snapped off some amazing photos with my digital camera before I was on my way. My tee time was that day so I had little time to waste.
The ride was smooth and surprisingly shorter than I thought it would be from the Bay area, but my mind was probably still hazy from the scenery just north. As I pulled into Monterrey my first impression was one of a friendly, safe city. For some reason I had a bit of trouble locating 17-Mile Drive, but once I did, yet another kind of scenic experience ensued. The drastic changes from tight winding roads within the woods to ocean's-edge views were much more than I hoped for - if you've never been, open another Internet browser window right now and book your trip.
As I pulled into the Pebble Beach [Golf Links] parking lot I kind of laughed to myself, because it seemed like every other golf course parking lot. Like what was I subconsciously expecting, mahogany parking stop barriers and gold-leaf lined spaces? I had a couple more hours before my tee time, which sadly was the last of the day, and as the attendant explained to me upon checking-in, I may not get the round in [it was approaching Fall and the days were getting shorter]. Oh yeah and there were no caddies left either. I'd have to walk or take a cart, which would normally be completely acceptable choices, but at Pebble I had planned to both treat myself to the caddie experience and leverage his/her course knowledge. No luck.
I killed time by getting lunch in the Tap Room (which was fantastic, by the way), walking the property and rolling about a thousand or so putts on one of the best practice greens I've ever seen (my link doesn't do it justice). Having now heard my name called to the first tee and having paid my $385 greens fee (yup, $385 and 'I may not get the round in'), I nervously made my way to the box and met the two guys I had been paired up with. I think they were from Texas, but I can't be certain. Wherever they were from, they were great guys and models for the day's pairing with me, a newbie to Pebble. They also had apparently checked-in before me because they were sharing a caddie. When I say I was nervous, I should clarify. It wasn't 'nervous' based on people (the guys I had just met). It wasn't 'nervous' based on golf (a common experience for some golfers). It was 'nervous' based on location. As in, I was acutely aware of where I was in the world and the plot of land I was standing on. I think there are only a select few places on Earth, rather a select few golf courses on Earth that I would react to in that way.
The first couple holes at Pebble actually leave you feeling, well...ripped off! As in, "I just paid $385 for this?!" I can actually see the designer picturing golfers saying this to themselves as he charted the layout. But #3 gives you the first glimpse of the coastal, ocean views. #4 and 5 a bit more scenic. And #6, 7, and 8 just about leaves you unable to focus on hitting a golf ball or anything else for that matter. Of course I only knew this from the pictures I had seen in the Pro Shop, because the late afternoon of my round had the most unbelievable blanket of fog covering the ocean views. I'm not kidding. Visibility was no more than 100 or so yards and after that there could have been levitating boards of sheet rock masking the Pacific Ocean for all I knew. #9 and 10 of course continue the vistas along the right side [thank goodness I play a cut] and #11 sends you back inland. The next several holes were beautiful and just as tranquil as the coastal holes, but you begin to sense the round is nearing it's end. For all practical, playable purposes, daylight was gone around #14 or 15, but that didn't stop me from hitting shots into the foggy and now darkening air. #17 and 18 were as picturesque as I thought they'd be, even in those conditions. Simply amazing.
While not a particularly good round for scoring, it was not without exceptional shots or holes that will forever be memorable. Walking off the 18th green I took a moment to thank my playing partners for the round and to tip their caddie who was kind enough to help me with reading putts and distances to flags the entire day, even though he was already caddying for two others. I took one last look at the green which was lit up with spot lights, as I had often seen on TV, before walking to the parking lot and my [rental] car as I had hundreds of times before after a round of golf, only this time it was Pebble.