Pebble Beach – why it’s #1 on my Bucket List

Tuning into the AT&T Pro-am at Pebble Beach Golf Links – with views of waves crashing in from the Pacific Ocean into Carmel Bay – always reminds me of my golfing bucket list.

There are lots of courses I’d like to play before I die and Pebble Beach is my #1. Having played The Old Course at St Andrews, Augusta National and Pine Valley (twice), I know I’ve been blessed – but I’m still dreaming of teeing up at the course Jack Nicklaus calls his favorite.

It’s not just the magic of its U.S Open history like Tom Watson’s chip-in in 1982, Tom Kite’s pitch in or Tiger Wood’s 15-shot win in 2000 – it’s the incomparable beauty of the place.

I’m lucky enough to have been to Pebble Beach and the Monterey Peninsula, home to golf’s 17-mile drive.

I was a college student then, at University in Atlanta on the Bobby Jones Memorial Scholarship, an exchange program from St Andrews University. There was a rumor that one of the trustees lived in Pebble Beach and often invited Scholars out to stay with him and play Pebble.

I lived in hope I’d meet Mr. Jim Griggs. Eventually I did, in Butler Cabin of all places.

The Jones Scholars were guests at the 2002 Masters at Augusta. Over a generous gin and tonic, sure enough Jim invited me; a young journalism student from England to “come and visit with him out West.”

Westward bound | Monterey, California

I flew to Los Angeles, borrowed a friend’s car then drove along Highway 101 with windows down and freedom coursing through my veins.

When I hit Monterey in Northern California, the clear blue skies and still warm air had done a house swap with Scotland’s dank wind and rain. It felt more like I was heading out to battle Portrush than the courses of California’s 17-mile drive.

Jim Griggs is a highly influential man in golf and a former director on the PGA Tour. By the time of this trip, he was enjoying retirement golfing with his buddies at Pebble Beach and Monterey Peninsula Country Club.

I stayed in a rustic bolt-hole motel in Carmel and Jim invited me to take a walk with him around Pebble Beach the next day and have dinner with his friends in the Lodge.

Right on time, Jim picked me up and we drove to Pebble Beach Golf Links via Cypress Point – where he introduced me to the Pro – and kindly gifted me a hat, which I still have to this day.

When we reached Pebble, I expected an air of romance, that tingle in the air that haunts the first tee at the Old Course in St Andrews, cuts the salty air at Muirfield and clings to the art-deco clubhouse at Royal Birkdale.

I only really found that magic after leaving the luxurious modern lodge and setting foot on the golf course.

18th hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links
Pebble Beach, Monterey Bay, California credit Joann Dost

Signature Holes at Pebble Beach

Riding in a cart, we passed the palatial homes which lined early fairways and I hankered after those postcard moments, the tiny par three 7th hole, the fairway built atop rugged coastal cliffs at the 8th, and the drive over the gaping Pacific Ocean at the par-five 18th. I felt as if I knew the place intimately, a bi-product of the days and days of TV coverage I’d watched of my heroes playing Pebble.

Driving around this sacred links only made me more desperate to play it.

Looking back, with the inevitable wisdom of hindsight, I should have returned and paid the green fee. Back then, I was burdened by five years of student debt, didn’t have $400 in the bank and simply felt lucky to see it.

The moment I knew I must return was when I stood on the 18th tee staring out into Carmel Bay, watching the epic lull of the waves and picturing Stillwater Cove where the first Chinese immigrants established their fishing settlements.

In the years since, many good friends have sent me images of their own special moments at Pebble, deepening the desire to gaze upon the breakers and marvel at the sea spray.

Pebble Beach Golf Links hole 18
Friend and St Andrews University golf team-mate Martin Parry @ Pebble Beach

Cognac and Carmel Bay

I knew then that Pebble Beach Golf Links would be #1 on my Bucket List. That night, after dinner with Jim and his friends, we shared a cognac on his verandah looking down on the bay by night. We talked about the BBC, golf coverage, media rights and the PGA Tour.

I may not have played Pebble Beach in the far-away Summer of 2002, but I was fortunate to be the guest of a generous man who loves golf and was willing to share the fruits of his time and home with a young student journalist from North East England.

The next day we teamed up in the invitational at Monterey Peninsula Golf Club and played amid grazing deer on a supremely beautiful golf course.

Thanks Jim, I’ll never forget my first time on the 17-mile drive. I have already mooted to my wife what I would like for a present when I turn 50.

  • Article first published in 2012 and updated in 2023

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