Magical moments are a dime-a-dozen at Pebble Beach, from Jack’s 1-iron in ’72 to Watson’s chip-in a decade later. But there’s more to the Monterey Peninsula than the famed U.S. Open venue — and there had better be, given the cost of a round at Pebble ($495). Here’s your insider’s guide to what to do — and what to avoid — on the peninsula.
Must-Play Course: Besides Pebble Beach — it’s Spyglass Hill. Sure, you’ll have to swallow the $350 fee, but there’s no better starting stretch than Spyglass’s first five oceanfront holes, and perhaps no tougher finish than its finale in the trees. ($350-$385; 831-625-8563, pebblebeach.com)
Best Bargain: The front nine at Pacific Grove Golf Links is pedestrian parkland, but the back nine whisks you off to Scotland with a collection of short holes cut through towering sandhills. An easy walk, it’s $42 for outsiders to hoof it on weekdays. ($42-$65; 831-648-5775, pggolflinks.com)
Hidden Jewel: It doesn’t touch the ocean, but Pete Dye’s Carmel Valley Ranch is fog-free, 15 minutes inland and plunges through mountain valleys on some holes and skirts the Carmel River on others. A recent Gene Bates redesign calmed some of the quirks, rendering it much more playable. ($85-$195; 831-620-6406, cvrgolf.com)
Course Worth Groveling to Play: We all know the answer to this is Cypress Point Club, but you should save your supplications for a more realistic recipient. Carmel’s most idyllic retreat is the Preserve Golf Club at Santa Lucia Preserve, a Tom Fazio design that is isolated atop a mountain. If you crave more oceanfront golf, shoot for either the Dunes or the Shore courses at Monterey Peninsula Country Club. The pros loved the Shore at the AT&T this year, but the Dunes has the most dramatic hole, the over-the-Pacific par-3 14th.
What’s New: Gene Bates has completed his renovations at the somewhat awkwardly named Bayonet Black Horse two-course complex, and the results are stunning. Trees have been thinned out to allow superior views of the ocean, gorgeous sprawls of sand have replaced the old drab ovals, and turf conditions are vastly improved — you won’t find scruffy lies in the middle of the fairway anymore. ($95-$160; 831-899-7271, bayonetblackhorse.com)
Don’t Bother: Quail Lodge Country Club ($100-$185; 831-620-8808, quaillodge.com) in Carmel Valley offers golfers terrific service and flawless conditioning, but don’t confuse bucolic with bland. The short, entirely forgettable front nine makes the high-season fee of $185 look downright silly compared to Monterey’s more worthy options.
Another Don’t Bother: The Hog’s Breath Inn (831-625-1044, hogsbreathinn.net) used to be the place to hang in Carmel, but it no longer quite lives up to the hype. Clint Eastwood hasn’t owned the place in years, and it’s always crammed with tourists fighting for uncomfortable plastic patio chairs to wait interminably for overpriced, mediocre food.
ONE THING WORTH KNOWING
Opt for the twilight rate at Spyglass Hill — at $185-$210, it’s half the cost of the regular fare. In mid-summer you’ll likely finish the round before dark, and even if you don’t, the front nine is much more memorable than the back.
EAT DRINK STAY
If the awesome Pebble Beach Resorts give you sticker shock, try the Monterey Plaza Hotel on Cannery Row (of John Steinbeck fame), just steps from the ocean and the Aquarium (June rates from $220; 831-646-1700, montereyplazahotel.com).
Spring for one beer at the Tap Room at the Lodge at Pebble Beach (pebblebeach.com). The place is soaked in memorabilia and ambience.
Hanging at the Mission Ranch’s Piano Bar (831-624-6436, missionranchcarmel.com) is always sweet, especially when owner Clint Eastwood makes one of his frequent visits.
You’ll find another great bar — and terrific food — at Rio Grill (831-625-5436, riogrill.com) in Carmel. Local produce is the way to go: Try the Castroville Artichoke, marinated and fire-roasted. It might be the best appetizer in town.
Seafood fans schooled on value love Monterey’s Fish House (831-373-4647) near the Naval Postgraduate School, while the best casual lunch in the area is right next to the Monterey Airport, at Tarpy’s Roadhouse (831-647-1444, tarpys.com)