Closed for 4 years, Quail Lodge enjoys a revival

Quail Lodge

CARMEL, Calif. -- In 2008, when the financial crisis struck with its full force in California and shock waves rippled, quake-like, up and down the coast, it was hard to find a golf course that wasn’t shaken. On the Monterey peninsula, the impact was apparent, even at some of the game’s great strongholds. Play slowed at Pebble Beach. A once-cluttered tee sheet cleared up at Spyglass. You could take your pick of times at Poppy Hills.

What hammered the courses also hit hotels. By late the following year, as vacancies soared and revenues dwindled, the region lost one of its inland icons.

Though play continued at Quail Lodge & Golf Club, the lodge itself shuttered its doors.

To a peninsula native such as Bobby Clampett, the news hit particularly close to home. In 1970, when he was 10 years old and the golden child-to-be of amateur golf, Clampett moved with his family from Monterey to Carmel Valley, relocating from the foggy seaside to a town known for its sunshine and rustic surrounds. Set amid the valley’s ancient oaks, Clampett’s new house sat so close to Quail that young Bobby could walk from his front door to the first tee. Throughout his teens, he was a fixture on Quail’s grounds, picking range balls and corralling golf carts while working on his game with swing guru Ben Doyle, the first authorized instructor of the technical bible “The Golfing Machine.”

Then, as now, Quail was a sweet spot for a student of the game. Stretched along the flanks of the Mayacamas Mountains, the Robert Muir Graves-designed course was largely flat and walker-friendly, but its green complexes were subtle, its par 3s were stout and its slender doglegs called for a blend of brains and brawn. Then there was the range, which faced into a prevailing wind, exaggerating spin and exposing any flaws in a player’s ballstriking – an ideal spot for Clampett’s brand of precision-minded practice.

“I loved everything about the place,” Clampett says today. “But given the location, so close to Pebble Beach, the course was always going to be a little overlooked.”

Even as a boy, Clampett understood what really drew attention. Quail’s accommodations were its claim to fame.

Like the course that lies beside it, Quail Lodge opened in 1964 and quickly gained acclaim for its luxurious appointments, a refined rival to The Lodge at Pebble Beach. Every year, when the stars turned out for Bing Crosby’s splashy Clambake, the coast was where they played, but Quail Lodge was where many of them chose to stay, seeking sun-kissed sanctuary from the fog. On the same range where he practiced, Clampett wound up shagging balls for the likes of Arnold Palmer, Bob Charles, David Graham and Bruce Devlin – all regulars on Quail’s guest ledger.

Those were different days, the gap between sports heroes and their worshippers less distant. One afternoon, after watching Palmer play a round at Pebble, a 12-year-old Clampett persuaded the King to give him a ride home by chartered helicopter.

“I just walked up to him and said, ‘Mr. Palmer, are you headed back to Quail Lodge?’ ” Clampett says. “He gave me a quick once-over and said, ‘Sure, kid. Come on.’ ”

Years went by. Clampett rose to amateur glory, then fell short of expectations on the PGA Tour. Quail Lodge ran upon hard times, too.

But in a fitting bit of symmetry, both are back – Clampett as a mainstay on golf’s 50-and-over circuit, and Quail as a reborn 50-year-old lodge.

This past spring, following a top-to-bottom, $28 million renovation, Quail began welcoming guests again. The overhaul has brought a new look to the property, the interiors reworked in gold and orange hues to reflect the sun-splashed valley setting. Each guestroom now opens to an outdoor deck, overlooking lush gardens or green-fingered fairways. Fireplaces have been added to some suites. Footpaths, spilling through the sylvan grounds, wind past a swimming pool, bocce courts and a nine-hole putting course.

The mood is quintessentially Californian: luxe but relaxed, upscale but not uptight. And the shift in aesthetic comes with a nod to changing economic times.

Service has been streamlined, and the savings passed on in the nightly room rates. There are no bellhops. Bookings are handled exclusively online.

“The idea is to strip away the frills,” says general manager Sarah Cruse, “and give people a great experience that fits their pocketbooks.”

As part of the refurbishments, the golf course also will be refreshed this fall – modest changes ranging from drainage upgrades to nonnative tree removal. All six lakes that dot the layout will be filled in and replaced with indigenous landscaping.

But the bones of the course remain largely the same as they were when Clampett learned to play.

“You’re not going to lose a lot of balls, and you’re not going to walk off feeling badly beaten up,” Clampett says. “At the same time, though, it’s a very nuanced design and it’s not really all that easy to score.”

On the range where Clampett honed his game, Katherine Marren now presides. An acclaimed instructor who came to Quail 41⁄2 years ago from the Pebble Beach Golf Academy, Marren is known for her easygoing manner and a methodology that’s less mechanically driven than was Ben Doyle’s back in Clampett’s early days.

Still, she can go high-tech, and often does, at an indoor teaching lab beside Quail’s range, where she makes good use of NASA-worthy training aids and shot-tracking devices.

“I think I’m the only girl in the valley with her own man cave,” she quips.

Periodically, Marren also teams up with Clampett at his two-day signature golf schools, the most recent of which was held Oct. 3-4 at Quail.

For Clampett, there couldn’t be a more comfortable setting. He has a house in Carmel, and his mother still lives in Carmel Valley. But Quail is where his golfing heart resides.

“The game has taken me all around the world,” he says. “But coming to Quail is like coming home.”

– Josh Sens is a freelance writer from Oakland, Calif.

• • •

Quail Lodge and Golf Club

• Carmel, Calif.

• quaillodge.com; 831-624-2888

• Resort overview: 850 acres; 90 rooms; 18 holes

• Closed for renovations: November 2009

• Reopened: April 2013

• Cost of renovations: $28 million

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