by Bill Monson
There are 20 golf courses tucked away in the oaks and pines of California's Monterey Peninsula. Some are private, but most are public; and the best offer splendid vistas of ocean and bay. The U.S. Navy even has one of its own which it shares with the public at Monterey.
The most famous of these courses is Pebble Beach Golf Links. It's one of the ultimate destinations for golfers, and the only word for it is SPECTACULAR. Perched on the cliffs above Carmel Bay, its scenery makes it hard to keep your mind on merely playing golf.
Millions around the world will be watching on TV this weekend as the AT&T Pro Am tees off at Pebble and its companion courses, Poppy Hills and Spyglass Hill. Defending champion Davis Love will be there. So will Tiger and Clint and Bill Murray. And the camera shots from the Goodyear Blimp will once more make golfers' mouths water as the big bag hovers above Stillwater Cove. This is truly one of the meccas of golf.
Well, three weeks ago, I took my wife to Mecca. It kind of completes a circle. It was at Pebble that Polly fell in love with golf. First, she accompanied me and my son Jim to see a couple of Pro Ams. She adored Payne Stewart and his knickers and was narrowly missed -- twice on the same hole! --by errant shots from Lee Trevino. (When we talked to him at the end of his round and related this, he grinned and said, ''Next time, stand behind the green. You'll be safer there.'') We followed Clint Eastwood and Jack Lemmon and were there the first time Bill Murray played.
By my son's 21st birthday, she was eager to drive my cart as I gave Jim a birthday present to remember -- a chance to play Pebble. As I stood on the tee at the 18th -- easily the most magnificent hole in golf --I said (and meant it!) ''I can die happy now. I've played the 18th at Pebble.'' Six weeks later, I gave Polly her first golf clubs for Christmas. She's been playing now for a decade.
The first week in January, to celebrate her 65th birthday, Polly and I went back to Pebble. This time, she played -- and did very well. She got four pars and nearly chipped in for a birdie on #7, which is out at the tip of Arrowhead Point with precipitous drops on three sides to the rocks and waves of Carmel Bay. She also played the entire 18 holes with only one ball. As for me, I got four -- FOUR -- snowmen! (A snowman is an 8, folks.) Neither of us came close to par, which is 72 at Pebble -- but we had a sunny, shirtsleeves-warm day, and storm surf in Carmel Bay made for an exciting distraction.
At 66, coming off a year of fighting prostate cancer, I was in no shape for such a challenging course -- but I actually did better score-wise than a decade ago. Dog-tired as I was on #18 -- where I got one of those snowmen --I felt overjoyed to still be alive and to have played this hallowed ground. And Polly, of course, was walking on air.
She did find one negative: the locker rooms at the Pebble clubhouse are definitely a disappointment. Built in 1919, the clubhouse has never been enlarged or modernized. The women's facility has one sink, one small mirror, and two toilet stalls (and one of the toilets was broken!) There were 16 small lockers just big enough for shoes. The men's area was not much better. (The pros change in their rooms for tournaments here.) But you don't go to Pebble Beach for the locker rooms.
Was it expensive? Yes! It cost $700 for the two of us, which included our cart -- but what price can you put on a memory of a lifetime? (We also got fancy bag tags with our names on them, free ball-cleaning towels, and a dozen tees.)
This weekend, most of America will be concentrating on the Rams and the Patriots in the Super Bowl (which was pushed back because of the NFL taking a week off after Sept. 11); but at our house, there'll be two old coots watching the AT&T Pro Am and reliving their golden four-and-a
half hours at Pebble Beach.