Pebble Beach seduces with risk/reward
Pebble Beach Golf Links
• Par/yards: 71 / 7,040
• Rating/slope: 76.3 / 149
• Original architects: Jack Neville and Douglas S. Grant (1919)
• Ranking: Course is No. 8 on Golfweek’s Best Classic list
On the final day of this year’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the 14th hole looked like a crime scene.
Pebble Beach Golf Links’ notorious 580-yard par 5 plays uphill to one of the course’s smallest greens. During Sunday’s round, it had been the site of three quadruple-bogey 9s, the last two as a national TV audience watched contenders Bryce Molder and Paul Goydos play virtual pingpong on a shaved bank left of the domed putting surface.
Mike Davis, the U.S. Golf Association’s senior director of rules and competitions, was at Pebble Beach that weekend and took notice. During the next two days, he toured the site with superintendent Chris Dalhamer to tweak the course and maximize the incomparable setting along Pacific bluffs for next week’s U.S. Open.
The result will be different than previous AT&Ts and Opens there.
Two changes involve mowing heights:
• Higher on the bank left of the 14th green to keep wayward shots from trickling down the hill and into an unrecoverable spot under a tree.
• Lower around the protective collars ringing bunkers, to bring the hazards more into play. That means more hand work for the maintenance crew and additional labor, if the practice were to continue beyond the Open, which Dalhamer accepts.
Since the 2000 U.S. Open, Pebble Beach has been stretched 194 yards, a 3 percent increase. Meanwhile, average driving distance on the PGA Tour has grown twice that rate.
But Pebble Beach has other defenses.
On the coastal holes (Nos. 4 and 8-10, all par 4s, and Nos. 6 and 18, both par 5s), the fairway cut has been pushed out to the shoreline, so golf balls won’t be as cushioned by protective rough and are more likely to find disaster.
In the first U.S. Open to be played with smaller-volume, less-spinning iron grooves, players will find the greens hard to hold. At 3,500 square feet in average size, these Poa annua greens are among the smallest in championship golf. Normally, during the winter playing of the AT&T, the air is heavy, the ground wet and golf balls will hold, even when hit from the rough. But the U.S. Open is played in drier conditions.
The faster, firmer course requires the setup crew to find enough usable hole locations on greens primed to roll at Stimpmeter speeds of 11.5-12.5 – faster than during the AT&T in February.
Fairway widths run about 26-28 yards. On some holes with considerable side slope and where the ocean is on the low side – such as the 495-yard, par-4 10th – the fairway is 45 yards wide. Accurate drivers will be rewarded, because controlling the spin on approaches into these minuscule greens will be the defining element of play at Pebble Beach.
Players will find the par 5s accessible to smart play. The 523-yard sixth hole will be reachable in two, though trees right along the coastline compound risk.
That’s the power of Pebble Beach: So much natural beauty, so many risk/reward options.