“Let There Be Pebble” arrived as unexpectedly as Shivas Irons showing up on the first tee at Burningbush, ready to share golf’s mystical and metaphysical secrets. In a world where the hype machine needs to be taken in for a tuneup after every 5,000 press releases, Zachary Michael Jack’s chronicling of his year at Pebble Beach, culminating with the 2010 U.S. Open, landed on my desk with precious little fanfare.
Perhaps we can chalk that up to the modest Midwestern ethos of Jack, a college professor in Illinois, and his publisher. Regardless, I suspect “Let There Be Pebble” won’t fly under the radar for long, this being the writerly equivalent of Tiger Woods’ 15-shot romp at Pebble in 2000.
Jack self-deprecatingly refers to himself as “an Iowa farm boy” or – far more damning – a “golf writer.” (He has the Toyota Echo with 200,000 miles on it to prove it.) Truth is, Jack is simply a writer, and one with unusual gifts; golf just happens to be his genre, albeit one he knows well. Words and metaphors seem to cascade from Jack’s brain in a wondrous display of free association. While his narrative is at times weighty, it’s always leavened by his wit and enviable skill with words. In Pebble, he has an evocative subject, but I suspect Jack could find an entertaining way to write a grocery list.
Jack’s journey was prompted in part by “an early middle-age crisis.” He’s the same age as his father was when he taught young Zach how to play – “one milestone to knock some carpe diem into you.”
Jack jarringly mentions his dying father’s alcoholism and the forced sale of the family farm on which they had built their beloved, if makeshift and unkempt, golf course, which they dubbed Foxbriar. That serves as the backstory, which he revisits when he travels to see his father on his deathbed shortly before the 2010 U.S. Open. Jack is moved to tears by his dog-eared copy of “Golf in the Kingdom,” in which he scribbles in the margins, “Dad . . . my partner . . . dying.” He references that in the lead-up to an amusingly esoteric lunch conversation – ranging from phantasmogenetic centers (don’t ask . . .) to Odysseus – with the shaman who conjured that fable, Michael Murphy.
Most of the book is spent detailing Jack’s effort to discern the secret sauce that makes Pebble Beach one of America’s most fabled pieces of real estate, golf or otherwise. A Murphy-esque brand of golf spirituality seems to flow as freely as the wine on the Monterey Peninsula, as locals, celebrities and PGA Tour players share their thoughts on Pebble’s magic.
Even when the narrative loses some steam with fairly unrevealing passages culled from conversations with Casey Boyns, a top California amateur and longtime Pebble caddie, and Bobby Clampett, Jack pulls it together, like a Tour player erasing a bogey with an eagle on the next hole.
Few courses have spawned as many published words as Pebble Beach. It’s unlikely that any writer will ever tackle this subject with the skill displayed by Jack.