Through the many generations of golf course design, there has always been something that has drawn course designers and golfers towards water. Many great inland courses do what they can to create and utilize the theater water provides, but only views and contact with the ocean really give that extra wow factor. The closer, the better. If you can’t feel the sea spray crashing off the rocks then you aren’t close enough.
The finality of holes close to the ocean on Monterey Peninsula are a hypnotic temptress. With absolutely no chance of finding a ball that disappears into 10 feet high waves, the jeopardy this creates can’t be replicated inland, no matter how hard golf course designers try. Combine this with coastal weather and this is what draws golfers to experience the challenge of coastal golf both in Europe and in North America.
Monterey Peninsula displays all of these qualities in bucket loads. In fact, without being too cliche, Monterey is Golfing Heaven. The dunes and barren links of Europe may be the original back drop for coastal golf but they contrast starkly with the manicured fairways and greens the Californian version provides.
A pilgrimage is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "a journey to a place of particular interest or significance." The word also has religious connotations. However, you don’t need to be religious to feel the ghosts of golfers past walking the fairways of the courses here. This is one golfing pilgrimage beyond all others that I would implore you to make.
At the heart of it all, an icon of American sport. Bordering the Pacific Ocean on the peninsula is Pebble Beach Golf Links. The 18th hole alone has to be up there with America’s most famous sporting backdrops. Pebble is often seen as the home of North American golf. Even though it is the top of the tree in terms of golfing real estate, it is not the oldest course in America. In fact it only celebrates its centenary this February. There are many courses on the east coast that are upwards of 30 years its Senior, probably the most famous of which is Shinnecock Hills. Pebble Beach has hosted the US Open no less than 5 times (this year will be its 6th), but that isn’t the most that one course has hosted. Oakmont Country Club has hosted that particular event 9 times. I highlight these points to show that there are pretenders to its crown, but in terms of iconic venue status, nowhere can rival Pebble. And to understand just why, you need to play here. The course is open to the public so for a $500 fee, you can do just that.
Monterey Peninsula is not just about Pebble Beach though. The density of golfing greatness is staggering. As a way of trying to entice you further to make the trip, there are many other courses to discover. Often voted as the best golf course in the world, Cypress Point (although private) is located on 17 Mile Drive (the national park road that stitches its way across the peninsula). As are the Links at Spanish Bay, Poppy Hills and Spyglass Hill (84th in the world). In fact there are numerous golf courses of Championship standard in the wider Monterey area. Renovated in 2009, Bayonet and Blackhorse, the old Army club at Fort Ord, is a notable option located off the Peninsula but still within sight of the ocean. These are but just a few courses amongst a myriad at your disposal.
Putting golfing to one side momentarily, you must visit the Lone Cypress Tree (famously part of the Pebble Beach club crest) that nestles proudly on one of the many rocky outcrops hugging the shoreline of 17 Mile Drive. It is one of the most photographed trees in North America and epitomizes the defiance of the coastline to the ocean's power. It has resided here for possibly as long as 250 years, long before golf was played on this shoreline.
An article about Monterey would be incomplete without comment about the infamous marine fog. A layer regularly swirls between the fairways and often hugs the tops of the trees. It does usually give way to crystal blue Californian skies at some point during the day, but much like coastal golf in the UK, one would be very foolish not to pack clothes for all seasons when visiting.
All in all, a day on Monterey Peninsula is cathartic and good for the soul. It makes you feel human and appreciate golf and life in general. Like an errant tee shot sinking deep into the Pacific, don’t put this adventure to the bottom of your priorities. Plan the trip of a lifetime and tick playing here off of your golfing bucket list.