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

Tuning into Thursday’s coverage of the AT&T Pro-am at Pebble Beach Golf Links – with views of waves crashing in from the Pacific Ocean into Carmel Bay – reminded 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 both the Old Course at St Andrews and Augusta National, I dream of teeing up at the course Jack Nicklaus calls his favourite

Pebble Beach Golf Links
Dramatic 8th hole Pebble Beach Golf Links by Evan Schiller credit Visit California

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 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 – on exchange from St Andrews University.

There was a rumour that a scholarship trustee lived in Pebble Beach and often invited Scholars out to stay with him and play at Pebble.

I lived in hope that I would meet Mr. Jim Griggs.

I did meet Jim.

At the 2002 Masters at Augusta, at a drinks reception in the Butler Cabin, and sure enough he invited me, a 22-year old student from County Durham, England to “come and visit with him out West.”

Heading out West
I flew to Los Angeles and borrowed a friend’s car driving along Highway 101 with windows down and freedom coursing in my bloodstream.

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 was a connected man in golf and a one-time director of the PGA Tour. By this time, 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 afterwards.

The next day he picked me up and we drove to Pebble Beach Golf Links via Cypress Point – where he introduced me to the Pro and kindly bought me a hat as a souvenir.

At 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 when I left the busy and luxurious modern lodge and reached the golf course.

Hole 7 at Pebble Beach Golf Links
Perched atop cliffs - the infamous par three 7th at Pebble Beach (credit E Schiller/ Visit California)

So near yet so far
Driving a buggy 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.

Driving around this colossus of American Golf only made me more desperate to play. Perhaps I should have returned later and paid the green fee but at that age I didn’t have $400 spare in the bank and I just felt lucky to see it.

The moment I knew I had to 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.

18th hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links
Staring out over Carmel Bay and the Pacific Ocean - #18 at Pebble Beach credit Joann Dost

Drinking Cognac staring out over the 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.

I may not have played at Pebble 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 Bobby Jones Scholar.

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 40.

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