GOLF.com's courses and travel expert, Joe Passov, answers reader questions about visiting and playing Pebble Beach, including how to score a tee time (even if you're not staying at the resort), the best times of year for walk-ups, and the other stellar golf courses in the area.
I made my first pilgrimage to Pebble Beach as a teenager in 1980, when green fees were $50, and I’ve been fortunate to have returned many times since. I’ve gained a few insights through the years and am always learning more. Here are my answers to your pressing questions about Pebble Beach.
1. To play Pebble Beach, is it required to stay at their resort?
It’s not a requirement that you need to stay to play, though it’s strongly advised. That’s because if you’re a guest of one of the Pebble Beach Resorts properties (The Lodge at Pebble Beach, The Inn at Spanish Bay), you can book Pebble Beach times up to 18 months in advance. Casa Palmero guests (another Pebble Beach hotel), can start 12 months out. If you’re staying elsewhere, you can only try 24 hours ahead of time, and at that late juncture, open slots for two or more players can be hard to come by.
2. Which course(s) in the area do you recommend to play in addition to Pebble Beach? What is the best public bargain in the area?
The obvious choices are two other Top 100 courses under the Pebble Beach Resorts umbrella, Spyglass Hill and Spanish Bay. Ranked Number 15 in GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 You Can Play, Spyglass is the brutal but beautiful co-host to the PGA Tour’s AT&T National Pro-Am. Designed in 1966 by Robert Trent Jones Sr., the layout mixes sand-splashed seaside holes (1-5) and hilly, tranquil wooded tests. Play it once and you’ll be astonished that Phil Mickelson and Luke Donald could have shot 62s here.
The Links at Spanish Bay is an undeniably gorgeous Robert Trent Jones Jr./Tom Watson/Sandy Tatum collaboration that begins at the Pacific Ocean, eases through marshes and dunes, climbs into the forest and finally returns to the sea.
Around the same time Trent Jones Jr. concocted Spanish Bay, he also did Poppy Hills for the Northern California Golf Association. Much-maligned in its early days, Jones and his team returned two years ago and improved it dramatically, softening the green contours, establishing natural sand areas in the roughs and shoring up turf and irrigation to where the course plays firmer and faster than before.
The Bayonet and Black Horse courses in Seaside were once the property of the U.S. Army’s Fort Ord. Today, following a 2008 Gene Bates redesign, they’re among the best values in the area. Tight, hilly and occasionally foggy, both yield boldly sculpted bunkers and undulating greens.
Best public bargain in the area is Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Links. Locals call it the “Poor Man’s Pebble Beach,” an apt description, given its oceanside back nine, its proximity to Pebble and its price tag under $50 during the week. At 5,727 yards from the tips, all that’s missing is length, but toss in ocean breezes, sand dunes and a lighthouse and you’ve got a glorious, cheap day of golf.
3. Is it better to stay at a vacation rental or hotel in the area rather than directly at the Pebble Beach Resorts, if you are looking to save money?
This is a bit of a loaded question, because in no way is it better to stay elsewhere--provided your goal is to play Pebble Beach and your tee time aspirations involve more than one person. Sure, you could save some cash with a rental home, especially if you’re traveling with a group, or even as a couple, as there are so many rental options nearby, but unless you stay at the Lodge at Pebble Beach, Inn at Spanish Bay or Casa Palmero, you can only book your Pebble tee time one day in advance. Most times of year, you won’t get aboard that way.
If you’re a solo golfer and simply dream of knocking Pebble Beach off of your bucket list, you certainly can stay somewhere else for maximum savings. For anyone else, hoard your loose change and spring for Pebble Beach Resorts. And groups, take note: Pebble debuts its Fairway One four-bedroom golf cottages in 2017. For the convenience, the service, the experience, and the certainty of securing that precious tee time, booking with Pebble Beach Resorts is worth the splurge.
4. What’s the best method, time of day or time of year to get on Pebble without staying on-site? What are your chances of getting on as a walk-up nowadays?
Holidays are always slow at Pebble, and especially slow between Christmas and the start of the AT&T in early February. Typically, due to the threat of rain and cooler weather, Pebble has more spots open for lodging and golf between November and March. Yet, as many a recent AT&T event has shown, you can get 70-degree sunshine for a week straight in February as well. So as far as walkups go, try for the holidays (even over July 4 weekend) or during the winter months.
If you’re not staying on-site, you can call Pebble Beach Golf Reservations 24 hours in advance and see what might be available for the next day, starting at 7 a.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. weekends. Occasionally, there is availability, even for a foursome, mostly during shoulder season—but even in prime time, you can sometimes luck out with a cancellation, especially if weather is a factor.
As a same-day walk-up, get there as early as possible, starting around 7:00 a.m. Check with the starter, who will put your name on a list, and tee slots go to first-come, first-served. Typically, 20 to 30 names accumulate per day on that list, so earlier is better. It’s not impossible to get a twosome aboard this way, or even (much more rarely) three or four players, but going solo is by far your best bet. Don’t forget that if you’re desperate to play Pebble, and can live without playing the final few holes, you can play for a reduced twilight rate where you’re not guaranteed to finish. Personally, I’m fine with that—and have done it—at Spyglass Hill and at Spanish Bay, but I’d be a little heartbroken if I couldn’t take that walk up Pebble’s 18th with a little bit of daylight to guide me in my final three-putt.