PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – There’s a certain feeling one gets when they drive down Highway 1 and get their first peak at Monterey Bay. Whether it’s the first time or the 100th time, few things compare. Especially if the golf clubs are in the back, freshly cleaned and polished.
That emotion is only exemplified when the tee goes into the ground at Pebble Beach’s par-3 seventh hole, where a seemingly routine wedge shot becomes anything but, as winds and nerves equally influence the strike. For those lucky enough to experience the oceanside holes on exclusive Cypress Point, instant nirvana. The Shore and Dunes courses at Monterey Peninsula, Spyglass Hill and The Links at Spanish Bay aren’t far behind.
Even a slow crawl along 17 Mile Drive – with stops at Lone Cypress, Seal Rock, Lover’s Point and more, as well as incredible views of both the golf and maritime variety – appears to make time stand still, only for it to have actually flown by.
And then there’s Pacific Grove Golf Links, a municipal marvel designed by the very minds that helped create Pebble Beach, mixed in with it all and boasting a back nine with views that rival the peninsula’s heavyweights.
Ranked 35th on Golfweek’s Best list of municipal courses, Pacific Grove opened in 1932 as a nine-hole course cut through the town of which it’s named. The parkland-style design by H. Chandler Egan resembles a figure eight and initially featured opening and closing par 5s. In 1960, when the Jack Neville-designed back nine and a new clubhouse were added, the front nine was rerouted to open with two par 3s. The old clubhouse, now on the easternmost tip of the property, currently serves as a Meals on Wheels location just off the present fifth green.
These days, it’s the back nine that is easily the most fulfilling. Laid out in the dunes and in the shadows of Point Pinos Lighthouse, the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast, the Neville links-style conception gives golfers a taste of its high-priced neighbors at a fraction of the cost. (A Sunday-morning tee time is only $73, and the 5,727-yard course offers back-nine-only specials from 6 to 8 a.m.)
Fittingly and affectionately, PG, as the locals call it, has earned the moniker “The Poor Man’s Pebble Beach.”
“There are a lot of people who may take that as negative, and I can understand that, but I don’t,” said Kevin Williams, Pacific Grove’s general manager. “I take it as we’re being compared to tons of history and heritage over there.”
It’s tough to compare to Pacific Grove, as well. The place has character. It’s a late-afternoon meeting place for old friends.
A chance for families to bond. A spot for golf couples to enjoy a seaside stroll, the walk not so spoiled by the setting in this case.
The par-5 12th hole is a stone’s throw from the bay, and the par-4 15th can play lengthy, up toward the lighthouse and back down into a green tucked against a sand dune.
(Local tip: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration building is your aiming point off the tee.)
“You can’t beat the views and the atmosphere on the back nine,” Williams said. “It’s golf as it should be. It’s pretty. It’s land that’s unchanged. Everyone can play and enjoy it. It’s golf in its natural state.”
Williams said he’s already getting phone calls about tee times during next June’s U.S. Open just down the road at Pebble Beach, though the tee sheets won’t open up for non-locals until early January 2019. The U.S. Amateur also takes place at Pebble and Spyglass this Aug. 13-19. And then there’s the world-renowned Monterey Car Week, scheduled for the week after the Am. Plenty of chances for Pacific Grove – and Monterey, for that matter – to shine for the masses.
Even if it’s not golf you fancy when visiting this mecca of the game, there’s an assortment of things to do and appreciate. And we’re not talking about what you’ll find tucked in a brochure rack at your hotel.
Yes, touristy Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf are worth seeing at least once. And the Monterey Bay Aquarium is world-class, located right on the bay with an outdoor tide pool and live kelp forest. (On Saturday evenings through Sept. 1, the aquarium is advertising “Evenings by the Bay,” which allows visitors to enjoy extended hours while sipping wine and listening to live music.)
But for a true Monterey-area experience, you have to travel a little farther away from the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
One should start in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea. You won’t find any chains there. Instead, the charming village is home to many shops and boutiques, art galleries and restaurants. One look at the cottage-lined streets and one might imagine themselves in a small European town.
When Graeme McDowell won the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, he celebrated at Brophy’s Tavern because it reminded him of back home in Northern Ireland. But take note: Brophy’s has since changed ownership, and the original owners opened another golf-themed tavern, Mulligan Public House, located on Dolores Street between Ocean Avenue and Seventh Avenue. The Mulligan Stew is a popular item, as is the Beer Bacon Flight. (An aside: While not in Carmel, Sticks at Spanish Bay cooks a mean burger and its outdoor fireplace setting is unreal.)
Rather skip the bar food and dine in style? Just down the road on the corner of Seventh and Dolores sits, well, Seventh & Dolores. A classic steakhouse at heart, 7D is much more, featuring a contemporary menu created by executive chef Todd Fisher that includes some fun highlights – Cornmeal Fried Oysters, Warm Napa Wedge salad, Maple Leaf Duck Breast and a stout selection of steaks, including a 21-day, wet-aged, 10-ounce filet mignon and a 28-day, dry-aged, 20-ounce Kansas City. The Smoked Old Fashioned, made using Bulleit Bourbon, is part cocktail, part entertainment.
A former bank building in the 1970s, the reinvented 7D, complete with an open-air concept and two bars, including one of the raw variety, opened in 2017. As manager Jaime Morales says, “This is our baby.”
The “mother,” you could say, is Folktale Winery and Vineyards. The 15½-acre property off Carmel Valley Road, formerly known as Chateau Julien, was sold and renovated in 2015, transforming the once-neglected land into something out of a storybook – a French chateau-inspired boutique winery surrounded by five acres of organic vineyard. Just five miles from the ocean, it is the closest full winery experience to the bay, meaning visitors can see everything from the vineyards to the barrel rooms to the on-site bottling.
One 12,000-square-foot barrel room at Folktale doubles as a 300-person concert venue and has hosted public and private concerts, as well as other events, including weddings. English singer/songwriter Barns Courtney recorded an album in Folktale’s studio during a month-long stay this year. Yoga in the Vines takes place on Sunday mornings amid the site’s natural beauty. The grounds are dog-friendly, so feel free to bring Spot or Sparky. And the pairings menu is also a Fisher creation with the Crispy Octopus (gluten free, by the way) and Fry Bread Margherita Pizza among the recommendations.
But the real story at Folktale is, of course, the wine. One walk through the barrel room with winemaker David Baird and one can see the passion that goes into every bottle, where the wines are carefully crafted using sustainably grown fruit and with minimal intervention.
“Every glass of wine has a story,” said Chris Whitman, director of business development and marketing for Folktale. And so does every bottle label, with each wine getting its own unique artistic design.
The Non-Vintage Sparkling Rosé is a big seller, its sweet, fruity flavors perfect for a hot summer day. The 2016 Le Mistral Joseph’s Blend is another popular selection and recommended with a barbecue pairing. For those seeking a more exotic wine, the 2016 Le Mistral Syrah is a great option.
Nearly three years after its inception, Folktale is clearly realizing what Whitman calls its “massive potential.” Just down the road, a golf resort is enjoying quite the rebirth, as well.
Quail Lodge and Golf Club doesn’t have the luxury of ocean views, but it’s also hard to beat a backdrop that showcases the Santa Lucia Mountains and conditions that have earned the club multiple superintendent awards. (And yes, there are plenty of quails rooming the grounds.)
Opened in 1964, the golf course and its lodge have hosted such greats as Arnold Palmer, David Graham and Bob Charles. After closing its doors for four years, the lodge reopened in 2013 after a $28 million renovation, and the course received some updates in 2015 – adding undulation in the fairways, fixing and repositioning bunkers and filling in some water features.
While some holes are lined with houses, others such as the signature par-4 fourth and par-4 10th holes allow for an escape to nature.
“It’s in a beautiful setting, set in the sunny part of the Monterey Peninsula,” said Tommy Welsh, tournament and member event manager at Quail Lodge. “When people come out here, they’re often expecting fog but they’re getting sunshine.”
The semi-private course has member-only play each day from 8:30 to 10 a.m. and 1 to 2 p.m. But early-morning rounds offer the public an option to get out and play in great weather and at a nice pace. (A solo round beginning at 8 a.m. on a Wednesday took just over two hours.)
The lodge, which still had vacancy for U.S. Open week as of press time, also includes bocce courts and a nine-hole putting course with greens similar to what golfers would find on the big course. Even if visitors for Pebble’s major golf events aren’t staying at the lodge, they can always book a foursome at a reasonable rate for less than $200 a person.
Also, if near Quail, make sure to stop by local favorite Wagon Wheel Coffee Shop. You never know who you might run into.
Monterey is home to all walks of life, from movie stars to the everyman. As for the golf courses on the peninsula, there’s a common theme among them: They offer something spectacular. Some more than others. But all will leave those polished clubs sandy and the hands that swing them feeling undeniably utilized.
For a golfer, there’s no greater feeling. Gwk
(Note: This story appears in the August 2018 issue of Golfweek.)