If you say Monterey to any golfer worth a sleeve of balls, the first two words out of their mouth is usually Pebble Beach or simply Pebble. Like iconic athletes, celebrities and musicians recognizable by a single moniker: Elvis, Ali, Tiger, Oprah and, yes, Pebble. The reality is this may signal the pinnacle of recognition, but like the rest of the Himalayas, Everest isn’t the only great mountain to climb. Within 15 minutes of Pebble Beach is Seaside, CA, which like Monterey is located right beside the ocean and is home to incredible golf courses.
I lived in St. Andrews, Scotland in 2008 and worked as the Head Golf Concierge for The Fairmont St Andrews. Ninety per cent of the guests had either pre-paid to play The Old Course or would submit a ballot, which I did on their behalf, in the hope of getting drawn to play The Old Course from the limited openings available daily. Those who didn’t get on The Old Course would ask me if there was anything comparable for them to play. Within 25 miles there were at least 30 courses of similar style and quality, yet without the name recognition or pedigree. The same situation exists in greater Monterey with a slightly different system for access to the legendary Pebble Beach which is easily ranked in the top 5 courses globally. There’s no ballot system or even a need to book through specialty companies like you do for the Old Course in St Andrews. You make a booking online or by phone and for the “bargain basement” price of $540 US or about $700 Canadian your green fee is paid. Power carts and caddies are extra.
I played The Old Course, but just once. Six miles away I played, in my opinion, the best days of golf at the finest course on earth, Kingsbarns Golf Links, often called the Pebble Beach of Scotland. If your budget doesn’t include Pebble or even the rest of the iconic layouts on the peninsula which range from $290 to $390 per round, then Black Horse Golf Course is an obvious option. Situated overlooking the incredible Monterey Bay this layout steeped in history underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation in 2008.
This winter has seen heavy, persistent rain in California and today was no different. We awoke to the rain still performing a constant drum like beat upon the roof of The Golfmobile. I called Sam at the pro shop to inform him that we wouldn’t make the 9:10 am tee time. However, just in case the weather improved, Myra and I wore golf outfits to go sight-seeing in Monterey. As a courtesy, we popped into Black Horse to at least say hello and to thank Pat Jones Director of Golf for the invite to play.
Upon arrival, the parking lot was almost empty which caused us to remark with a chuckle that this must be the land of fair weather golfers. The sun was starting to shine and the rain clouds seemed to be clearing as we looked over the water. Nathan greeted us at the bag drop. We explained to him due to the rain we weren’t dropping our clubs off, but just popping into the pro shop. He adjusted his sunglasses a little, smiled and said if it was him he’d be unloading his gear and teeing it up. It’s all the convincing we needed and rather sheepishly I went in, introduced myself to Sam saying we would now like to play. He fit us in with a half hour to spare.
Pat Jones then appeared and in his very friendly and professional manner gave me some insight to the style of course we were playing. We were also booked to play the sister course to Black Horse, Bayonet on Sunday so he covered facets of both courses in one swoop. After playing Black Horse, I totally agree with his description of it. It was wide open off the tee, more of an approach shot course and the green configurations were potentially lethal so ball position was at a premium. From the clubhouse, onto the practice green, down to Don in the starters hut and up to number one tee the place oozed of class, but in an understated non-pretentious way.
Often, the first hole for me is a real eye opener and this one indicated we had come to a special place. Huge iconic cypress trees bent by the wind were prevalent all over the course and yes there were those wide landing areas off the tees. The fairway and green side bunkering is fantastic with the amoeba shaped delineation, some looking like a sprawled-out octopus with arms of sand extending outward. Hole design was innovative and no hole looked like the other, 18 different outlines but all of the same continuity. The greens were quite expansive, some severely sloped and being greedy would be punishing. We both loved the entire layout and delighted in not only the look, but the way the need for good approach shots. To say it was spectacular would be an understatement and to say the greens would win the day would be succinct.
If you lost track of where the water was, then you lost the ability to get the ball close. Now downhill is downhill even here, so if it looks like its going to climb it’s not. On one particular hole the Par 4 13th I had 70 feet for birdie and lipped out, tapping in for a par. On the next, I had 12 feet for birdie and 3 putted.There were more than a handful of glorious shots from us both and with only one or two slight little mini showers we basically got around bone dry. Myra’s own lip out birdie attempt with a tap in for par on the Par 3 15th was her shot of the day. My own uphill shot into the wind from 185 yards to 20 feet on the Par 4 9th elevated green was world class. As each hole passed and the sun warmed us up, we were so thankful we dressed for golf. This was an incredible day on an equally outstanding course. Our scores weren’t truly indicative of how well we played considering we had spent the last 3 days cooped up in the Golfmobile due to the torrential rain.
Myra’s 109 and my 83 were both littered with over 40 putts, so we won from tee to green and the greens won the rest. Come to this stunning area of California and play the mighty Pebble. Or perhaps just buy the hat and come for a ride on the majestic Black Horse.