I grew up in Monterey County and spent my college summers working as a cart boy at Pebble Beach Golf Links. I still live in the area. I thought it would be helpful to conduct an interview between two local experts—me and myself. So:
Is there any way to play Pebble without spending five bills?
Yes, join the Northern California Golf Association. A couple times a year they have specials where members can play Pebble for around $350, with big discounts at Spyglass and Spanish Bay, too. Other offers include discounted tickets to the Crosby Clambake, dirt cheap greens fees at Poppy Hills and other goodies. Plus you can maintain your handicap and play in regional tournaments.
OK, what if I’m willing to pay full price but don’t want to spring for a room at the Lodge or Spanish Bay– can I still get a tee time in advance?
Supposedly those who don't book a room can only reserve a tee time 24 hours in advance, but I've heard plenty of stories that when the occupancy is a bit low or the tee sheet is somewhat open - which has been happening with some regularity since the Great Recession - the resort reservationists will bend the rules. Call 800-654-9300 and commence sweet-talking. You can also just show up the morning you want to play and put your name on the starters’ wait list. You’d be surprised how many folks sneak onto the course this way every day. It works best as a single or twosome, but during my days as an occasional starter we sometimes got a whole foursome out. You can’t tip the starter in advance – that would be bribery! – but a nice thank you is always appreciated.
What’s the best time of year, weather-wise?
The area enjoys a blissful Indian summer September-November. This is definitely the high-season. Spring is usually nice, too. June and July tend to be the foggiest months.
Where else should I play while I’m in town?
Municipally-owned Pacific Grove Golf Links is one of my favorite little courses, a nice, brisk walk with a great variety of holes and a spectacular back-nine stretch among the dunes. With greens fees around $50 it’s a poor man’s Pebble. Spyglass Hill is awesome, but very pricey. Bayonet is just as good a layout but a quarter the price. The greens at Bayo are a little extreme and there have been some turf issues but it’s definitely worth playing. Alister MacKenzie’s Pasatiempo is a must-play, well worth the 50 minute drive north to Santa Cruz. It’s an artful layout with some really wild terrain. Poppy Hills has gotten a bad rap through the years – it’s a really good track with a peaceful forest setting. If you wanna warm up head into Carmel Valley, where the sun is always shining. Both Quail Lodge Golf Club and Carmel Valley Ranch are fun, sporty, scenic courses.
Where should I eat while I’m in town?
Cassanova (romantic vibe), Café Fina (fresh seafood), Fandango (eclectic cuisine), Peppers (nuevo Mexican), Katie’s Place (for breakfast), Bistro Moulin (sophisticated European grub), Gianni’s (for pizza), Pacific’s Edge (fine-dining with an amazing view), Dametra Café (lively atmosphere), Cantinetta Lucca (awesome Italian), 1833 (cool crowd), Red’s Donuts (no explanation needed).
God help me, my wife wants to rub elbows with celebrities during the week of the Clambake. Where do we go?
Hang out at the Tap Room, the gloriously atmospheric bar/restaurant adjacent to the front door of the Lodge. Or at Mission Ranch, the rustic retreat in Carmel where a lot of the celebs stay. The guy who owns the joint, Clint Eastwood, has been known to set up shop at the piano.
Watching the tournament telecast I’ve fallen in love with Monterey Peninsula Country Club but don’t know any members – is there any prayer of playing it?
Actually, yes. The day after the Clambake ends MPCC hosts a pro-am for the Boys & Girls Club, and anyone can play so long as they plunk down the (tax-deductible) $1,500. Call the club (831-373-1556) for details.
Can you get me on Cypress Point?
I dispense advice, not miracles.