Rookie diary: A homecoming at Pebble Beach
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – We are lucky enough to be playing this week on the Monterey Peninsula, at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. I consider this the most beautiful place in the world, and the golf courses that reside within 17 Mile Drive are unmatched. I grew up 45 minutes north of here, in Santa Cruz, and attended my final two years of high school here in Pebble Beach, so this is a home event for me.
Growing up in Santa Cruz, I got into golf at age 10, when my dad started smacking some golf balls around the backyard. I always had excelled at basketball and baseball, so for me, golf was a new challenge. Santa Cruz’s culture is more oriented around surfing and skating, so golf was not exactly the norm. Things have changed a little bit. The surfers and skaters will come spend some of their afternoons on the golf course, but this wasn’t always the case.
I think I am quite a bit different from most of the players out here, in the respect that I grew up working at and playing at public golf courses. I don’t know this for a fact, but I would have to assume, given some of the attitudes out here, that quite a large percentage of the Tour grew up in a country-club environment.
About Nate Smith
PGA Tour rookie Nate Smith will write a diary for Golfweek.com throughout the 2011 PGA Tour season. Smith will give you a detailed account of life both inside and outside the ropes on golf's grandest stage. Smith, a Duke grad from Soquel, Calif., is a unique player, having competed in more than 35 countries before earning his PGA Tour card.
My first job was at the Aptos Par-3. I worked in the golf shop and picked the driving range by hand. Next, I worked at DeLaveaga Golf Course and Lodge as a cart boy, and changed metal spikes to soft spikes.
When I wasn’t chipping and putting or hitting balls on the double-decker driving range, I was out honing my skills on the 6,100-yard golf course. By municipal standards, I’d say that DeLaveaga measures up against some of the best. While it is not long, it is very narrow, with severe trouble if you stray too far from the fairways, and has extremely challenging greens. I learned how to score on this golf course and how to use my imagination around the greens, something that still serves as a tremendous advantage.
During high school, I was able to get another job, at Pasatiempo Golf Club, the private course in town and a true gem. This course exemplifies the characteristics of its famed designer, Alister Mackenzie, better known for his other designs, such as Cypress Point and Augusta National. I consider Pasatiempo my favorite golf course in the world.
After attending my first two years of high school at Soquel High in Santa Cruz, I transferred to Robert Louis Stevenson School in Pebble Beach for my final two years. Our home course was Spyglass Hill, and we had the opportunity to play and practice at most other courses on the Monterey Peninsula.
RLS is located just off the 18th tee at Spyglass Hill, and I can remember some of our teachers letting us out of class to watch the action at the AT&T. I always dreamed of someday playing in this event, so this is a very special week.
Even though my parents live just 45 minutes away, I am renting a house in Pebble Beach with some other players. This week’s roommates include Steve Marino and his caddie GW, Spencer Levin, my caddie Brian and our resident culinary expert for the week, “Super Dave”. I have been playing golf with Spencer since we were 14. We have been sharing hotel rooms and chopping it up since way back in the JGANC (Junior Golf Association of Northern California) days.
I am pretty sure Marino lives meal-to-meal, so he had to make sure “Super Dave” was on first alert last night with the bone-in New York strip steak, gorgonzola mashed potatoes, ranch-style beans and salad. Tonight we are going Mediterranean. Dave is a caddie on Tour, but also attended a culinary academy and has some legit skills in the kitchen. “Super Dave” is the name, mastering the kitchen is the game!
It’s always nice to be in a place you are familiar with because you know all the secret shortcuts and great hidden gems. Little Chicken House in Pacific Grove has the best rotisserie chicken and ribs, and the owners always give me the “hello amigo” and an extra side of garlic bread. There is a great spot by a telephone pole above Pebble Beach where the elevated panoramic view of Stillwater Cover and Nos. 6, 7 and 8 is unmatched. I still have a lot of friends in the area and it will be great to see them. I am sure there will be a pretty good crowd out, which is also exciting.
Pebble Beach Golf Links clearly needs no introduction, and the other two courses are equally impressive in their design, geography and uniqueness. Spyglass is probably the toughest of the three, with all of the elevation changes and demand on precise shot-making. At about 6,800 yard it plays extremely long, and I can see why a player like Dustin Johnson has had great success here. The Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club has some of the best views on the peninsula and is just a very enjoyable place to walk around chasing a little white ball. At about $500 a pop I am getting my money’s worth and playing all my practice rounds at Pebble.
The weather report is calling for an amazing week, so I will keep my fingers crossed. The golf game is coming around and I am hoping for good things on the course this week. I know these courses like the back of my hand, so there are no excuses. I just hope Bill Murray doesn’t throw me in a sand trap.
Plus I'm looking forward to Duke's victory over North Carolina in Wednesday night's game. Go Duke!