Many holes of the famous U.S. Open course offer chances to experience the rough-and-tumble Pacific Ocean, "one of the most majestic features of planet Earth — let alone a golf course," said Chuck Dunbar, head golf professional at Pebble Beach.
But Pebble Beach, with its oft-photographed finishing holes and esteemed history, is just the beginning. Monterey Peninsula is bursting with courses that flirt with the ocean. Hewn into the California coastline are six — if not more — of the most stunning golf courses in the world.
SPYGLASS HILL GOLF COURSE
The author of the novel Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson, could often be seen trampling around this area before golf course architect Robert Trent Jones carved his crowned greens into it in 1966. Stevenson is said to have been inspired to write his novel here; each hole is named for an aspect of the book. The uphill ninth, for example, is Captain Smollett; the par-3 10th is called Skeleton Island.
The adventure isn't limited to the names; "Spy" is continuously the highest scoring course out of the three played annually at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Don't miss: No. 4 (par-4, 370 yards). While short, No. 4 sums up Spyglass. Precision and accuracy are a must. A dogleg left, players face a blind approach shot into a narrow, hard to hit, sloping green that is surrounded by ice plant and dunes. Designer Robert Trent Jones called it his best par 4.
Professionally speaking: "There is not one poorly designed golf hole at Spyglass. Every one is a masterpiece," Dunbar said.
"A lot of people would back me on this: if it was not in the same zip code as Pebble and Cypress Point, it would be ranked as a top-10 or top-20.
CYPRESS POINT CLUB
Actor Clint Eastwood is a member of this exclusive private club. Scotsman Alistar MacKenzie designed the track in 1928;he was subsequently asked to design Augusta National, the site of the Master's Championship. MacKenzie has been lauded for blending natural elements such as parkland, forest, dunes and oceanside into a seamless progression of holes. The links feature back-to-back par-5 holes on the front nine and consecutive par-3 holes at the end.
Don't miss: Its back-nine waterfront holes. Many a 19th-hole argument has been held over which of the par-3 holes, the 15th or 16th, are a better hole. Indeed they are two of the prettiest golf holes in the world. The 16th is especially dramatic; an elevated green surrounded by iceplant forces players to look down on a220-yard carry over the swirling Pacific. But there is also a bailout area to the left. Wind makes the hole that much more dangerous yet exciting.
Professionally speaking: "Going from 14 tee, you have to pass the 17th green. You walk over 17 Mile Drive and it takes your breath away. Alister MacKenzie designed the course, but the good Lord had a lot to do with it," Dunbar said. "It's magical."
POPPY HILLS GOLF COURSE
Named for the state flower of California, this Robert Trent Jones Jr. layout meanders through the Del Monte Forest.
Don't miss: The 428-yard No. 5 was ranked as one of the most difficult par-4s on the PGA Tour during Poppy's years in the AT&T Pro-Am rotation. Trees guard the right and left side of the tee box; a large pond sits further ahead on the right.
Professionally speaking: "This is a wonderful golf course," Dunbar said. "It's kind of unique that a golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., is right next to Spyglass, designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. Having father-and-son courses next to each other is really unique."
MONTEREY PENINSULA COUNTRY CLUB
This private club is home to the Shore and Dunes courses. The former flanks the Pacific, while the latter is known for its tight turns.
The Shore course took Poppy Hills' place in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am after a 22-year rotation. Lauded golf architect Mike Strantz spent the last year of his life completely redesigning the course, which will be in the AT&T rotation until at least 2014.
Don't miss: Shore — The par-3 No. 11. Standing on the rock-perched tee box, players get a stunning view of the course around them, the Pacific, and even (on clear days) Cypress Point. Depending on the wind, the 176-yard hole can play any-where from a 4-iron to an 8-iron.
Dunes — Yet another spectacular par-3 hole: at No. 14 players face a 170-yardcarry over the rocky shoreline to a two-tiered green on the edge of the Pacific. This is a scenic, yet potentially terrifying, beauty.
Professionally speaking: "Mike died before the course reopened to member-ship. So he did not have a chance to hear all the accolades," Dunbar said. "I'm sure he's happy now looking down on every-thing. He did a tremendous job. I think MPCC approached a few other design companies who said, 'It can't be done.' Mike said, 'I can do it.'"
THE LINKS AT SPANISH BAY
With its pot bunkers and fescue, Spanish Bay is said to be one of the most authentic Scottish links courses in the U.S. It rewards players who keep the ball low.
In 1991, the first year it was eligible, the course was named to the U.S. Golf Digest Top 100 list.
Don't miss: No. 5 is a risk-and-reward hole that fairly well sums up Spanish Bay. It's a dogleg right with three gaping pot bunkers in the right-center area of the fairway. Approach shots heading right will kick onto a green that slopes severely from back-to-front.
Professionally speaking: "Probably the most unique golf course on the Peninsula," Dunbar said.
Learn more about the Monterey Bay area at MontereyBayAdventures.com.