On the Road in California: 17-Mile Drive's Historic Jaunt to Pebble Beach

By David R. Holland, Contributor

MONTEREY, CA - The road to Monterey leads through Salinas, home of America's salad bowl, where the harvest of "green gold" - iceberg lettuce and broccoli - made the area prosper after World War I.

The road to Monterey winds through the garlic patches of Gilroy, through the strawberry and artichoke fields of Watsonville and Castroville.

The road to Monterey passes through Big Sur in the boondocks of the Pacific Ocean's spectacular mountain-high cliffs and enters the city through quaint Carmel-By-The-Sea.

Rest assured. When the road to Monterey brings you in sight of the rolling mist, the cooling fog coming off Monterey Bay, you know that one of the most hallowed golf grounds in the world is just minutes away.

In 1996 when the Pentagon asked me to conclude a long career in the Air Force Reserve with two years active duty in one of the world's most scenic golf venues, I couldn't stop giggling for days.

The big decision upon arrival on the Central Coast to begin "serving my country" was: Do I live on the beach in Monterey or find one of those neat little cottages in Carmel to call home?

I did both - one year in Monterey, one in Carmel.

The rugged, rocky coastline, sandy beaches, scenic cliffs and sunsets of the Pacific Ocean draw tourists from all over the planet to this part of California. If you look closely on many days you can see otters and dolphins at play and even the plumes of gray whales in the distance, traveling a migratory route they have negotiated for centuries.

Unfortunately, most migrating golfers can't afford to play at the Pebble Beach Golf Links or stay at The Lodge at Pebble Beach. There are, however, some things you can do to experience this great golf haven for (almost) free.

Carmel Beach, at the bottom of Ocean Avenue, is just steps away from the surf-misty verdant green of Pebble Beach Golf Links. First glance, as you stroll along the beach, is hole No. 10, the furthest point from the clubhouse, and shortly after one can climb the hills near sunset up to Pebble Beach's No. 9 oceanside hole. Sometimes Pebble Beach logo golf balls will get in your way, walking through the rough on this revered course.

If you are sensible, respect the land, wait until all the day's players have passed by, and you don't bring your golf bag with you, this is something you can do for free.

Another must do is have dinner at The Tap Room at The Lodge. It's casual dress and after dinner you can go out on the veranda and gaze out over No. 18, feasting on one of the most striking views in the world. Some call it "worship".

Even at night you can imagine seeing the ghostly figures of Bing Crosby's Clambake celebrities and the greats of the game tapping in a short one for birdie on No. 18, probably the most written about finishing hole in golf history.

In the darkness and under the starry sky, you can still see long, faint shadows because of the light hanging in the huge 80-foot Monterey pine situated just off the 18th green. Listen, too, as the waves crash in the distance.

There's sad news about that tree, however. Pitch canker disease has killed this stately symbol of perhaps one of the most famous holes in the world The question now is: replace the tree with one of like size or place a couple of cypress trees at that location? It's a logistical dilemma facing The Pebble Beach Company. Whatever, it's a sad day.

Pitch canker disease is threatening many trees in the Del Monte Forest. Two pines on the second hole have already been removed and contributed to changing the 484-yard par-5 into a par-4 for the U.S. Open. Cypress trees were planted to replace these dead trees, but the strategy has been altered for now.

Remember When?

I first saw Pebble Beach Golf Links in 1976 when I showed up about 9 a.m. without a tee time and was off down the No. 1 fairway about an hour later. When I told my dad the green fee was $36, he said: "You're nuts. I'm not going to pay $36 to play golf." Dad drove the cart that day and took Super 8 movies of the golf and scenery.

Other old-timers remember the days when they could play Pebble Beach all day for $5 or even the days when a golf ball cost more than a round of golf here. Today it will cost you in the $350 neighborhood and tee times go to those staying at The Lodge.

An Affordable Option

Affordable golf? Never fear, there are golf courses on the Monterey Peninsula and some within 30 minutes, that you can experience and still have enough money left over to be a regular tourist.

One of the best deals is Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Course where 100,000 rounds of golf are played each year. It's got a real municipal feel to it (don't expect anyone to carry your bag from the parking lot) and you will have to get in line with the hordes of golfers, but the back nine, which has views of the Pacific, Point Piños Lighthouse, and traverses through the ice plant and sand dunes, is well worth the $36 price tag. Pacific Grove residents can buy an annual pass for peanuts.

The course was built in 1932 by Pebble Beach legend Samuel Morse as a housing development. Morse later sold the course to the city of Pacific Grove. The front nine starts with two par 3s, crosses the street five times and even has a huge slanted mirror, enabling golfers to see down the fairway on a blind tee shot.

Jack Neville, who co-designed Pebble Beach in 1918, layed out the back nine in 1960. From the back tees, this par-70 course is just 5,732 yards, but it can be challenging in the wind shooting toward tiny greens.

Not So Affordable Golf

One of the great drives in the world is along the ocean from Monterey into Pacific Grove and beyond the gates of Pebble Beach. As you exit Pacific Grove, the world-famous Monarch butterfly sanctuary on Ocean View Boulevard and pass Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Course and Point Piños Lighthouse, the waves are crashing and you are nearing the great golf courses of Pebble Beach.

As Ocean View turns into Sunset Boulevard you soon see Spanish Bay, the beach and The Links at Spanish Bay, as the road turns back inland and you head toward the Pacific Grove Gate of 17-Mile Drive. The Inn at Spanish Bay is world-class and includes a kilt-wearing bagpiper, who appears each night at sunset.

Bargain golf is not found on this route and tourists have to pay $7.75 just for the drive.

The Scottish links Spanish Bay course - a Robert Trent Jones, Tom Watson and former USGA president Sandy Tatum design - is on property of an old sand quarry. At one time it was the most profitable business The Pebble Beach Company owned. The 6,820-yard course is tough and authentic Scottish links. Even the weather is cool, damp and windy on most days.

Back on 17-Mile Drive head inland through the Del Monte Forest and your next stop is Spyglass Hill. Inspired by the novel Treasure Island, this could be the toughest course on the Monterey Peninsula. The first five holes give you views of the Pacific before the Robert Trent Jones Sr. course heads back inland and it becomes a traditional gem winding through the thick Monterey pines.

Poppy Hills, owned by the Northern California Golf Association is the next on your tour. In 1991, the PGA Tour replaced the Cypress Point Club on the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am with this course. Since it has five par-5 holes everyone has expected Tiger Woods to tear it up during the tournament. It hasn't happened. Poppy Hills is tough and demanding.

Most will never get close to ultra-exclusive Cypress Point Club, but you can see the clubhouse and a few holes from 17-Mile Drive. Famed golf architect Allister MacKenzie designed this legendary course along with Pasatiempo in nearby Santa Cruz and then tackled a project named Augusta National.

Back In Monterey

The other golf course on The Pebble Beach Company's roster is Del Monte Golf Club located in the heart of Monterey. It's the oldest course west of the Mississippi River, having been unveiled in 1897.

When Ken Venturi fired the course-record 62 in 1954 he asked the pro not to post or publicize his score. Why? At the time he was a soldier at nearby Fort Ord and didn't want his commanding officer to know he had been on the golf course that day instead of at work.

Affectionately called "Old Del Monte", this is the most affordable of the Pebble Beach courses. Take advantage of their twilight rates, which allows you to finish in the cool of Monterey's sunset.

The Hidden Gems of Seaside

Speaking of Fort Ord, just a few miles north of Old Del Monte, you will find Bayonet and Black Horse. Bayonet was built in 1953 for the personnel of this once bustling 25,000-acre U.S. Army military base. The base is closed, but there's still a Department of Defense presence located here.

The two 18-hole golf courses were deeded to the City of Seaside and it's now an upscale $70 daily-fee facility with a resort hotel in construction. There have been many AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am participants to practice here the week before the tournament. These are tough, exacting layouts, and 30 of 36 holes have views of the Pacific, even though it is a mile inland.

The Bayonet Course was designed by General Robert McClure, a left-hander with a slice. So the layout has many right-to-left bending holes. Bayonet, site of PGA Tour qualifying-school tourneys, is a par-72, 6,982-yarder. Black Horse, par-72, 6,936, was designed by Fort Ord personnel in 1963. It is only slightly shorter and also very demanding.

It's Warmer in Carmel Valley

The flag may be bending to the ground at Pebble Beach Golf Links and only a couple of miles inland, in Carmel Valley it might be calm and 75 degrees.

This is where you will find the 36 holes of Rancho Cañada's East and West Courses. These are the most affordable courses in the Carmel Valley with beautiful, challenging holes - some holes traverse the Carmel River.

At Carmel Valley Ranch you can find solitude only minutes from the trendy shops of Carmel-By-The-Sea. This 6,234-yard Pete Dye-designed course's front nine meanders along the Carmel River before heading into a hilly and heavily wooded back nine. At the highest point the view is awesome. Carmel Valley Ranch's Oaks Restaurant is a winner.

The Golf Club at Quail Lodge at Quail Lodge Resort is a flat 6,516 yards track designed by Robert Muir Graves with 10 lakes dotted along the valley floor. Quail Lodge, built on a former dairy farm of Charles Lindbergh's brother-in-law. It includes 100 rooms and a great place to dine at Quail Lodge's Covey restaurant.

Monterey is a must on any avid golfer's list of vacations.

Things to Do

The Point Sur Lighthouse is the most spectacular lighthouse in the area and the tour is free. Point Sur is 19 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1 to Big Sur. The Point Sur State Historical Park is open year around for three-hour tours, held only on Saturdays starting at 10 a.m. and Sundays beginning at 2 p.m.

Point Piños Lighthouse, Pacific Grove. Tour is free from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

Cannery Row in Monterey is a National Historic Site and has many shops and restaurants. John Steinbeck, a local, penned the novel Cannery Row about this historic Monterey Bay site where sardines were once canned. The Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the best in the world, is located here.

Carmel Mission, 831-624-3600.

Monterey Wine Country tours, 831-375-9400.

Point Lobos State Reserve, 831-624-4909.

17-Mile Drive: Around the corner from the base of Ocean Avenue is the Pebble Beach gate of 17-Mile Drive, could be the world's most scenic stretch of road. For a $7.75 daily fee (free if you stay at Pebble Beach or Spanish Bay), the only private toll road west of the Mississippi offers a Kodak moment at many scenic pullouts along the route, including Bird Rock, Point Joe and the Cypress Point Lookout which. If the visibility is good, meaning less mist or fog, you can see Point Sur Lighthouse 20 miles south. Stop at the Lone Cypress and the Ghost Trees for photos. Ghost trees are a stand of bleached-white, twisted Monterey cypress trees. Former peninsula resident and Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson described these trees as "ghosts fleeing before the wind." The Lone Cypress is the trademark of The Pebble Beach Company.

Where to Stay

Carmel Valley Ranch, Carmel, 800-422-7635.

Casa Palmero at Pebble Beach, 800-654-9300 or 831-624-3811.

LaPlaya Hotel, Carmel-by-the-Sea, 800-582-8900 or 831-624-6476.

Mission Ranch, Carmel, 800-538-8221 or 831-624-6436. (Owned by Clint Eastwood.)

Quail Lodge Resort & Golf Club, Carmel, 888-828-8787 or 831-624-2888.

The Inn at Spanish Bay, Pebble Beach, 800-654-9300 or 831-647-7500.

The Lodge at Pebble Beach, Pebble Beach, 800-654-9300 or 831-624-3811.

Monterey Weather

The Monterey Peninsula is a year-round destination, but the best weather is in September and October when the cold Pacific warms up a little. The rainy season runs from December through February. The temperature is fairly moderate year-round, but even summer can be cool, especially when the frequent fog rolls in. Typical daytime temperatures from July through October are in the high 60s to low 70s. The coolest month is January, with temperatures normally in the mid-50s. No matter what time of year you will probably need a jacket or sweater at night. Carmel Valley, in summer, can be 15 degrees warmer than on the coast.

Where To Dine

Monterey Joe's, 2149 N Fremont, Monterey, 655-3355.

Monterey's Fish House, 2114 Del Monte, Monterey, 831-373-4647.

Stokes Adobe Restaurant, 500 Hartnell St., Monterey, 831-373-1110.

Nepenthe Restaurant, on the road to Big Sur, 831-667-2345.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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