Pebble Beach: The ultimate golfer’s guide of where to play, stay, eat
Pebble Beach Golf Links has a storied history, but the tale of its development in the Monterey Bay, California, area begins with a common motivator: money.
The course was built in 1919 to help lure real estate investors to Pebble Beach. It did that—and much more. Pebble Beach is one of the most stunning and recognizable golf courses in the world, but admission does not come cheap. Green fees for resort guests are $550.
History of Pebble Beach Golf Links
The Pebble Beach course opened in 1919 but truly started to carve out a name for itself in 1929 when it played host to the U.S. Amateur. Jack Neville and Douglas Grant designed Pebble Beach despite having no course design experience. In 1972, Neville told the San Francisco Chronicle, “It took a little imagination, but not much. Years before it was built, I could see this place as a golf links. Nature had intended it to be nothing else. All we did was cut away a few trees, install a few sprinklers, and sow a little seed.”
Samuel F.B. Morse, who was tasked with developing the Pebble Beach area to lure investors, commissioned Neville and Grant to design the course. Morse also ended up buying Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Pebble Beach has undergone a number of improvements over the years. First up, in 1919 a team of amateur golfers headed by course professional Harold Sampson tackled turf and playability issues. Next, in 1921, the 18th hole was transformed into one of the game’s great finishers. In 1926, the 8th and 13th greens were reshaped. A few years later, in preparation for the 1929 U.S. Amateur, every green was rebuilt.
In 1998, Jack Nicklaus designed a new 5th hole. When Arnold Palmer took over ownership of Pebble Beach Company in 1999, he rebuilt several greens and reshaped several bunkers. He also had new trees planted to replace ones that had died.
Many championships have been held at Pebble Beach, including California State Opens, U.S. Women’s Amateurs and U.S. Opens. The sixth U.S. Open at Pebble Beach was held in June 2019 and there are plans for a seventh in 2027.
The Pebble Beach Family of Golf Courses
Pebble Beach Golf Links is 7,040 yards from the tips, the shortest layout on the PGA Tour. Still, the creative design and ever-changing wind and weather patterns make Pebble Beach one of the most challenging courses. The design rewards smart strategy, and on the steeply pitched greens, it’s essential to leave the ball below the hole.
Drive in any direction on the Monterey Peninsula and you’ll find a superb course, including the likes of Cypress Point, the two offerings at Monterey Peninsula CC, and just up the coast, a fabulous muni, Pacific Grove Golf Links, aka, the Poor Man’s Pebble Beach. But the Pebble Beach family of golf courses are exceptional in their own right: Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Spanish Bay, Del Monte and the Peter Hay par-3 course
Pebble Beach Golf Links
Is Pebble Beach pricey? Of course. The far better question: Is it worth it? Same answer.
No golf course in the world offers what Pebble Beach has, from its curving coastline and cliff-top setting above the Pacific Ocean to its entrancing, moody mix of sun and wind and fog. There isn’t a more thrilling and spectacular stretch of coastal holes than Nos. 5 through 10. You return to the sea at 17 and, of course, at 18, for an oceanfront stroll on the most famous finishing hole in the game.
Jack Nicklaus helps explain why Pebble is worth every penny. “The scenery is incredible,” he says. “You just don’t get many opportunities to put a golf course on such a marvelous piece of property. [But] aside from aesthetics, [it’s] a great test of golf. It’s a wonderful, thinking-man’s golf course… It forces you to use your head and tests your composure.”
Small greens place a premium on solid iron play. Lush rough framing the fairway landing areas demands straight driving. Deep bunkers make for difficult recoveries from the sand. Targets are further shrunk by the coastal breezes that ask a player to use every type of shot and trajectory. In other words, Pebble may be a beauty queen, but it’s also a complete test of golf. Mix in its walking-in-famous-footsteps appeal, and the only remaining question is, Why don’t they charge more?
Playing golf at Pebble Beach can be slow going due to a cart path-only policy. We suggest walking with a caddie and soaking in the scenery.
Spyglass Hill Golf Course
Overshadowed by its famous neighbor, Spyglass Hill would be the headliner almost anywhere else. Few of the world’s courses offer a better blend of beauty and brawn.
The library-quiet, 595-yard opening hole offers a striking ocean view from the crest of a fairway hemmed in by Monterey pines. Holes two through five zigzag through dunes and provide peeks at Pacific panoramas. Holes 6 through 18 are forested and mostly play uphill, making them a grind to walk and to score on—unless you’re Phil Mickelson or Luke Donald, both of whom have scorched Spyglass for 62s.
The Links at Spanish Bay
Spanish Bay is the resort’s best value if you seek links-like fun along the ocean. Don’t miss the kilted bagpiper, who blows his haunting tune at dusk.
The youngest sibling in the Pebble Beach family, Spanish Bay turns 30 this year. It’s a birthday definitely worth celebrating. This visually stunning layout begins at the Pacific, romps through marshes and dunes, climbs into the woods and swings back to the sea. Set foot on the green at the par-5 first, where waves and sea spray serve as elemental distractions, and you will grin in amazement.
Del Monte Golf Course
One of the region’s best bargains is to walk Del Monte in the late afternoon.
Touted as the oldest course in continuous play west of the Mississippi, Del Monte isn’t a must-play, but it’s surely a fun play. Befitting a layout of its century-plus vintage, the course is shoehorned into a pint-sized tract, its slender fairways bracketed by oaks. Bereft of water hazards, its defenses are found in its small greens, overhanging trees, coastal breezes and bunker minefields. Del Monte’s old-fashioned virtues were sufficient to test the PGA Tour Champions in the First Tee Open from 2004 through 2013.
Peter Hay Golf Course
Named for the longtime Scottish pro at Pebble Beach, this itty-bitty nine-hole par-3 track—one of the area’s best-kept secrets—is across the street from the Pebble Beach pro shop and 1st tee. With a handful of hills and nicely bunkered greens, it’s perfect for a warm-up after a long flight, short-game practice, a late-in-the-day wager or, if you have youngsters or beginners tagging along, a starter track for golf’s next generation.
How to Get a Tee Time at Pebble Beach
Pebble Beach Golf Links is a public course, and a handy online calendar shows available dates in green. Unfortunately, “public” does not mean cheap. Golfers should expect to pay at least $550 to play the course.
There are two ways to get a tee time. One is to stay as a guest at Pebble Beach Golf Resorts and reserve a spot as early as 18 months in advance. There are minimum stay requirements that you need to ask about when booking, and at least two nights are required for a weekend stay. If you’re not staying at the resort, you may be able to make tee time reservations 24 hours in advance. Of course, availability can be spotty, and the busiest months are April through November.
Staying at The Lodge at Pebble Beach can be pricey, with the most inexpensive rooms going for about $940 a night during peak season. The most expensive accommodations may set you back more than $4,500. The prices at the other resorts (The Inn at Spanish Bay and Casa Palmero) are also high.
As for the golf costs themselves, here’s a quick breakdown (last updated: June 2019):
- $550, resort guest staying in April or March 2020
- $550 + $45 per person cart fee, non-resort golfer
- $95, single bag-carrying caddie
- $190, double-bag carrying caddie
- $47.50, forecaddie
- $142.50, forecaddie for three golfers
- $190, forecaddie for four golfers
- $25 to $70 per bag, gratuities
- $95, one set of TaylorMade equipment
If you’re unable to get a tee time at Pebble Beach Golf Links, as mentioned above, Monterey Beach offers other great courses, and some of them are affordable. But the history behind Pebble Beach and the course’s uniqueness make it an experience worth splurging on.
If you’re visiting Monterey, other attractions in the area include Cannery Row, Monterey Beach Aquarium, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Big Sur, Point Lobos and many vineyards.
How to Get to Pebble Beach
Pebble Beach Golf Links is part of a group of resorts and golf courses. The other courses (Spyglass Hill, The Links at Spanish Bay, Del Monte and Peter Hay) cost less to play. The resorts provide complimentary shuttle service from course to course and to the resorts.
If you prefer to travel via air, the closest airport is Monterey Regional (MRY). Also called Monterey Peninsula Airport, it has nonstop flights to and from these airports:
- Dallas Fort Worth (DFW)
- Denver International (DEN)
- McCarron International (LAS)
- Los Angeles International (LAX)
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International (PHX)
- San Diego International (SAN)
- San Francisco International (SFO)
Many other airports offer one-stop service to Monterey Regional. They’re in cities such as Boston, New York, D.C., Orlando, Miami, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa, Salt Lake City, Austin and Orlando.
For a more luxurious experience, you may prefer a private charter jet. If you’re staying at the resort, you can get up to 25% off an Avis car rental. Pebble Beach has a transportation department that offers rides to and from the airport. The drive to the resort from Monterey Regional is very easy and takes about 15 minutes.
There are other airport options as well. For example, San Jose International is 90 minutes away, and San Francisco International is two hours away. Oakland International is also two hours away.
If you don’t want to lug your clubs onto a plane, no problem. You can ship them in advance via FedEx.
Where To Dine
The Monterey Peninsula dishes out a wide variety of culinary experiences, from gourmet to drive-thru. However, to properly celebrate your day at Pebble Beach, have a meal that pairs well with the golf. Here are three superb area restaurants up to the task.
The Bench, Pebble Beach
This refined but relaxed restaurant in The Lodge at Pebble Beach overlooks one of the greatest finishing holes in golf, yet it opens with great starters on its menu, including Asian-style steamed pork buns. What follows isn’t shabby either, whether it’s the pan-seared salmon with cranberry beans, or the wood-grilled chicken with butternut squash and pecan sauce. Grab a seat at sunset. It’s a feast for the eyes and a whole lot more.
You’re apt to find oysters and abalone if you follow your wild tee shot into Monterey Bay. You’ll also come across them on the $150 prix-fixe menu at this smart, seasonally inspired restaurant, which draws on local bounty to produce such dishes as crab with green strawberries and mussel “frost,” and milk-fed pork with carrots and honey. The atmosphere is posh but unpretentious, and the cooking is as sharp as you’d like your game to be.
Although the French have yet to produce a major champion in golf, they have given the world plenty of culinary classics. Take frog legs Provençal, or veal medallions with wild mushrooms, or cassoulet, a satisfying medley of pork sausage, duck confit and white beans that’s the perfect belly-warmer when fog blankets the coast. Those and other smartly constructed dishes make up the menu at this graceful bistro, which gives you the option of a prix-fixe dinner or Gallic staples offered a la carte.
When to Go
Temperatures are moderate year-round, with average daytime highs of 58 in December and January and 70 in August, September and October. For the best time to go in terms of access and affordability, the smart money is on November through March. Holidays are a slower time at Pebble, especially so between Christmas and the start of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in early February. Surprisingly, June and July aren’t as jammed as the three months that follow, in part because the fog and heavy air linger longer at that time of year. July 4th weekend is a great time for an escape, with generally increased availability. For the prime months of August through October, book as early as possible. Even with top price tags, rooms go fast, and so do Pebble tee times.