Pebble Beach has a driving range? Who knew? I’ve been lucky enough to play Pebble six times since 1980 and I’ve never once hit balls there. I think I warmed up one time at Poppy Hills, elsewhere within fabled 17-Mile Drive on the Monterey Peninsula, but that’s about it. Otherwise, my first tee preparation was pure nervous energy and nothing else.
It turns out that Pebble Beach offers a practice ground, maybe a mile from the course that seems adequate for shaking off the rust, but little more. On the plus side, if you’re camped at Pebble Beach Resorts, you can catch a ride in a Lexus to take you to your pre-game session.
This past week, however, the powerbrokers at Pebble, led by CEO Bill Perocchi, announced sweeping changes to the range, the resort and even the course itself. Well, tweaks, rather than wholesale change to the course -- but much needed, including an ongoing renovation of the 9th green, which will restore putting surface to its left side, creating a new hole location behind the yawning bunker that fronts the green. Current work on that green also includes calming the contour in the center of the green, to make it more puttable at faster tournament speeds. Perocchi hinted at other green alterations, likely at the par-5 14th and par-3 17th, greens that elicited heavy criticism at the 2010 U.S. Open.
Still, the larger story was the plan for the new Pebble Beach Driving Range, accompanied by an expanded Golf Academy. The improvements make up the major part of Phase I of the Del Monte Forest Project, a multi-phase development and conservation plan intended to protect native habitat, enhance guest experiences, and solve the traffic snarls that occasionally gum up the entrance to 17-Mile Drive at the Highway 1 gate. Eventually, over 10 years, plans call for new rooms at the Lodge at Pebble Beach and the Inn at Spanish Bay, a new 100-room hotel near Spyglass Hill, extra parking, 90 residential home sites and most significantly, the preservation of 635 acres of native habitat.
First up, though, is the range and academy. It’s never really bothered me that the practice and teaching facilities were so meager -- it just seemed kind of “Old World.” Honestly though, when compared to facilities at other great golf resort destinations, Pebble lagged -- and clearly, that was obvious. Pebble always had superb instructors: Current staffers Laird Small and Dan Pasquariello have both been ranked among Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers. In the near future, they’ll have triple the space in which to operate, as well as access to a larger club-fitting area. The new range will be double-sided and almost twice the size of the existing range. Situated across Portola Road from the present range, the new facility will occupy the same ground that housed the media center at the 2010 U.S. Open. Expected opening date for Range and Academy is January 2014, prior to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Part of me will miss the old simple setup that characterized Pebble Beach. A bigger part of me welcomes the progress as a necessary step towards keeping my favorite destination resort among the elite. I’m still going to head to the first tee ice cold, but it will be of comfort to know that a primo practice park awaits nearby in case I change my mind. Photo: The 18th hole at Pebble Beach (Even Schiller).