Pacific Grove Golf Links is the Monterey Peninsula's sleeper course
PACIFIC GROVE, Calif. -- Even among its more famous neighbors, Pacific Grove Golf Links shines like the beacon in the Point Pinos Lighthouse adjacent to the 16th tee.
Once the best-kept secret on the Monterey Peninsula, Pacific Grove is a bit of serendipity not that much unlike Pebble Beach Golf Links, Cypress Point Club, the Links at Spanish Bay and those other famed courses only minutes down the coast.
For a fraction of the cost.
"It's one of those sleeper courses," said Howard Kihune, Director of Golf at Makena Resort on Maui, who has played all of the fabled courses in the Pebble Beach area. "You don't hear a lot of talk about it, and even a lot of golf people don't know about it."
"Everyone talks about Pebble Beach, Spyglass, Cypress Point and Spanish Bay, and they are some of the greatest courses in the world. But Pacific Grove has some of the elements of all those courses. It's city-owned and it's well maintained."
"It's one of the best municipal courses around."
Pacific Grove Golf Links is actually two nine-hole courses, the front designed by former U.S. Amateur champion Chandler Egan, which opened in 1932.
Due to a re-routing caused by the opening of the back nine in 1960, the course has a quirky start with two par-three holes, followed by two par fours and then two par fives.
The first nine holes wind through the edge of the Del Monte Forest and are designed in the old English rural style.
Pacific Grove Golf Links' back nine, a classic seaside links layout, was designed by Jack Neville, whose claim to fame is perhaps the greatest golf course of them all: Pebble Beach, and it is believed Neville also assisted Egan in his work on the front side.
In all, Pacific Grove is a journey to a time when par 4s did not have to measure 300 yards and the greens were the size of a throw-rug.
The course measures only 5,732 yards from the back tees. All the better says Mike Leach, Superintendent and Course Manager at Pacific Grove.
"It's a course that really lends itself to walking," Leach said. "It's not a long course and there is not a great distance between the greens and the next tee. We have 90,000 rounds played a year, just about equally split between locals and visitors. A high percentage of them walk the course."
"Even the front nine, up the hill through the trees and some homes, is an easy walk. The back nine is truly a links course, with the sand dunes and the elements, with only a few old buildings, including the lighthouse, which is our landmark."
The Point Pinos Lighthouse, which gives Pacific Grove a touch of the great Turnberry Course in Scotland, opened on Sept. 28, 1855, and is the longest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast.
The beacon, which still has much of its original workings, is of 50,000-candlepower strength and can be seen 15 miles out on the Pacific Ocean. It has been powered by electricity since 1915.
"This is really a piece of history and people come from all over to see it," Leach said. "I think the best time to see it is on a foggy or overcast day."
"People come from all over, not just golfers, to take pictures from all angles. The 16th hole has always been the most picturesque hole, especially in the days when there were elk, as well as the deer and the migratory birds that are still here. The hole plays downhill to the ocean and at the bottom is Crespi Pond, a freshwater pond right across the street from the ocean."
Don't get caught looking at the view on the 355-yard hole.
Even though you probably will have a short iron to the green, it's not an easy approach because of three bunkers surrounding the putting surface and several other elements to factor in.
"It's a downhill shot, probably from a downhill lie, with the wind to consider and the pond on the right," Leach said. "It's an hourglass-shaped green, very narrow in the front and opening up deep. It takes a very accurate approach shot."
All that said about No. 16, the 17th hole is probably the most picturesque at Pacific Grove Golf Links.
The 153-yard par three, with the ocean on the left, plays across Crespi Pond (named for Fr. Juan Crespi, Chief Subordinate to Fr. Junipero Serra, founder of the California missions) to a green surrounded by a grove of Monterey Cypress.
"We have had quite a few commercials filmed there," Leach said. "It has all the elements with the ocean, the trees and the migratory birds around the pond."
"The tee shot is almost all carry and you have to deal with a crosswind."
Perhaps the best golf hole at Pacific Grove is the dogleg right, 513 yard par-five 12th, which plays right along the ocean.
It's pure links golf, reminiscent of St. Andrews and other golfing treasures in Scotland and Ireland. You drive over the dunes to cut the corner and play through the ice plant, with the native grasses blowing in the wind.
"Your chance to get home in two depends on which way the wind is blowing," Leach said. "Into the wind, you probably have no chance. On that hole, you definitely get back to the elements."
The sixth hole, a 533-yard dogleg right through the trees, is a three-shot par five that follows the 520-yard fifth hole, which can be reached in two.
No. 6 is rated the most difficult hole on the course, but a Pacific Grove Golf Links regular named Bob, who lives in Monterey, begs to differ. He rates the dogleg right, 424-yard par-four eighth as the toughest.
"I like both of them, but on the par five, you can hit a bad shot and still get there in three, or even four, and have a chance to make par," he said. "On No. 8, you have no margin for error. You have to hit two good shots, and even then you might not reach the green."
"When I first moved here, I was really excited about the golf and I played all the courses. But now, this is just about the only place I play. It has everything all those other courses have."
With the lighthouse, even more, and for less.
January 1, 2003