Hole by hole leads to personal triumph at Pebble Beach

Growing up in a family of golfers, I spent my development years trying to keep up with three older brothers out on the course. It was their influence that made it an easy decision in choosing how to play the hallowed grounds of Pebble Beach – “Grip and rip it!” I could already hear my brothers voices telling me I was a wimp for playing the ‘forward’ tees being a long hitter with a 4-handicap. But the course starter said the course played a solid 400 yards longer than the card said – which put me right in my comfort zone of a 5,600+ yard track. The whites, or next set of tees, were listed at 6116. That is within my reach, but I was out here to have fun, and I figured the natural layout of the course would provide plenty of challenge.

This was my third time playing Pebble Beach. Previous rounds came as a 12-year old in 1975 – I shot a 93. This was during a family outing – what a special week. But the cost back then was as relatively expensive as it is now, and my Dad paid me $20 to NOT play again. My next trek back to Pebble didn’t come until 1998. I played with my middle brother and the round was comped because he was a golf apparel rep and Pebble was one of his accounts – good to have contacts! This time around my husband and I paid full price, so we were determined to make the most of the Pebble Beach experience.

Hole 1: Par 4. Up to the first tee I stepped – slight dog-leg to the right. Small crowd gathered. Do I play conservatively putting it in play with my 3-wood, or take my driver and hit a hard high cut, over the evergreens at the corner? No sense starting off soft. I undercut it a bit, but hit it solid enough to carry the trees and land over the corner about 5 yards from the fairway. If I had gone down the fairway – I would’ve missed the opportunity to walk within 5 feet of some of the most domesticated deer I have ever seen. I punched out of the heavy sticky rough with an 8-iron, getting a flier. The ball rolled through the green.  Caught another flier coming back and pitched the ball back over the green, 2-putt for a double bogey. Not the start I was looking for – but lots of holes left!

Deer on the 1st hole of Pebble Beach

Deer on the 1st hole of Pebble Beach

Hole 2: Par 5. A chance for me to make up some of the ground I lost on the first hole. Hit a solid, low hook-draw to the left side of the fairway, leaving me 170 yards in. I pulled out my 4-hybrid, playing left of the pin to allow the howling left to right wind carry it into the middle of the green. The wind stopped – my ball dropped out of the sky into the green-side bunker, hole high. Decent bunker shot, but two putts left me with a disappointing par. Oh, well – lots of holes left.

Hole 3: Par 4: This is a grip and rip opportunity – and rip it I did. Perfect contact and my ball comes to a stop 20 yards short of the green. Should be an easy up and down for a birdie. Shoulda, woulda, coulda – I bladed a 56-degree wedge over the green; flub a gap wedge shot barely on to the green. Two-putt for a bogey. Off to an auspicious start.

Looking from the green back towards the tee on the 3rd hole at Pebble Beach

Looking from the green back towards the tee on the 3rd hole at Pebble Beach

Hole 4: Par 4: Another grip and rip it hole – so much so I actually have to hit my 3-wood so as not to fly the green. I play for the left side of the narrow long green, going from front to back. This time the big left to right wind did not die down, and my ball got hung up in it, and found the beaches of Stillwater Cove. But I was pin high, played a soft flop shot over the bunker, ending up twelve feet away from the pin. Two-putt bogey.

4th hole at Pebble Beach

4th hole at Pebble Beach

Hole 5: Par 3. Feeling caught between clubs, short was better than long. I hit a gap wedge perfectly, but the ball landed short. Soft hands I reminded myself. For once I listened and a nice little bump and run left me in the circle of friends. Par.

Hole 6: Par 5. The beginning of the ocean holes. My caddy, now knowing the strength of my length, suggests hitting it hard up the left side to leave me with an opportunity to go for the green in two. I carry the three fairway bunkers, hit a hardpan along the left side and it bounds forward and hard right – everything leans to the right on this hole. And right is right into the ocean. I have a good lie in the long rough that bisects this hole, but on the incline of steep hill, feet way above the ball, 170 yards from the hole. Perfect set up for a huge cut. My caddy lines me up to take this into account. I hit it solid, but with a little more cut than I’d counted on. As I reach the ridge, I see I could have and should have aimed at least another 30 yards to the left. Upon reaching the green my hopes are dashed of catching the green-side bunker when I see an empty bunker, but a ball lying in the rocks some 30-feet below. My wedge shot flies over the green, pitch on, two-putt double bogey on yet another reachable par 5. Oh, what a humbling game.

Hole 7: Par 3. The infamous 7th at Pebble Beach. Views from a golf hole do not get any better. It may be short, but golf holes do not get any harder. Yardage – 80. Downhill, wind from behind. Ocean on right, back and left. Bunkers front. Did I mention the greens at Pebble are very small? I undercut a 56-degree wedge and my ball lands in the front bunker. I splash it out and the ball trickles past the pin to the back edge. Bump it on into one-putt range for a bogey.

Me playing the 7th hole at Pebble Beach

Me playing the 7th hole at Pebble Beach

Hole 8: Par 4. The infamous horseshoe-shaped 8th. I lay up with a 5-wood as I don’t want to even risk trickling over the edge into the abyss some 60 feet down a sheer rocky cliff. I’ll leave that thought for my second shot. I am on the edge of the left rough with a fluffy lie. The pin sits 180 yards over one of the most daunting drop-offs on any course, anywhere. But playing around the horseshoe vs. over is not an option I would ever consider. I pure a 5-wood and watch as it seems to float endlessly through the air, trying to use enough body English to coax it over the cove and to the green nestled between two large bunkers. Mission accomplished or close. I landed just short, and with a nice bump and run up the green to one-putt range I was able to come away from the very tough 8th with a par.

8th hole at Pebble Beach

8th hole at Pebble Beach

Hole 9: Par 4. Beauty is beguiling. The 9th and the impending 10th line the shorelines of Carmel Bay – with the little hamlet of Carmel by the Sea just slightly off in the distance. The generous fairway slopes hard to the right to the beaches below. This drive gets away from me and I slice my shot hard towards the ocean, but my caddy assures me there is a landing area down below the hill in the middle of the fairway that I should catch. Catch it I did, barely. Sitting on a fluffy lie in the rough, 160 yards out, time for my favorite club – 6-hybrid aka ‘little whitey’. I pure it, catch the green and come away with a two-putt par.

9th hole at Pebble Beach

9th hole at Pebble Beach

Font nine score: 42. The play was better than the score. Starting off with that double hurt. Missed opportunities on 2 and 3 and 4 hurt. Miscue on 6 hurt. But hey the sun is shining, the temps are perfect and I’m playing Pebble Beach.

Pebble’s front nine does not return to the clubhouse, but there is now a snack shack between nines, that a waiting cart shuttles you up to for a quick pee break and a snack. Welcome relief and opportunity for that extra energy to finish the second half of my stroll through one of the most beautiful ‘parks’ in the world.

Hole 10. Par 4. The march down the 10th hole along elevated shores of Carmel Bay started with a low pull draw drive into a fairway bunker. I was not going to flirt with left to right flow of this fairway after hanging on by a blade of grass after my drive on 9. I had 180 yards out of a flat lie. I love hitting a wood out of a fairway bunker, but apparently the excitement of pulling off the shot was too much and I push topped the ball, which proceeded to run downhill left to right and into the long grasses bordering the drop off to the beaches below. Unfortunately unplayable and beyond the hazard line, I took my drop and proceeded to slam my pitching wedge into the ground, leaving my shot 10 yards short of the green. A nice bump and run put me in one-putt range to salvage a double bogey – my limit.

Hole 11. Par 4. Uphill and into the wind, moving inland. Not a good time to hit a pop fly to left field. I caught it solid, but I still had an uphill shot into the wind of a 140 yards. I pulled out my 170 yard club and pured it. The ball spun in the wind and took a nose dive short into the bunker – fried egg. I made a mighty swing with a closed down lob wedge and blasted the ball barely over the edge of the bunker where it trickled down a small ridge, but past the hole beyond the circle of friends. Two-putt bogey.

Hole 12. Par 3. A 180 yards to a shallow green fronted by a deep faced bunker. I throw my 170 yard club up into a big right to left wind. The ball hits pin high and bounds to the back of the green. A soft handed bump and run curls away from the hole, but ends up pin high. I make a 6-foot putt for par.

Hole 13. Par 4. Another uphill hole. But the right to left wind plays right into my natural draw. I smoked the best drive of the day with a baby draw and the ball settled 100 yards out. I’m feeling maybe I can still salvage the round if I can birdie this hole and get me back on track. The pin is middle left – again a perfect set up for my baby draw. But my energy must be waning as I slam my wedge into the ground, again, and the ball goes about 70 yards. I pick myself and my spirits up off the ground, remind myself where I am and how many of my golfing buddies would trade places with me in a heart beat. A decent pitch puts me 12 feet away and I two-putt for a bogey.

Hole 14. Par 5. Number 1 handicap hole. Big dog leg right, up hill, into the wind on the approach to a very narrow double tiered green tucked behind one of the deepest bunkers on the course. Nothing to it. I hit a solid drive down the left side of the fairway to the corner of the dogleg. I have a great lie to hit a shot to give me a perfect set up into the green, but somehow I cut-shank a 5-wood from a hook lie – out of bounds. Drop another ball, pure it, 100 yards out in the middle of the fairway. Always hit your second shot first. Tired of leaving my short approach shots short, and a tad bit fearful of that bright white sand of the bunker looming between me and the pin, I go after my wedge and blow it over the back of the green. Okay – deep breath, soft hands – ‘fluff’, the next shot barely makes the fringe. My putt lips out and leaves me with a 7X, a max double bogey.

Hole 15. Par 4. Time to regroup. A fairway so wide it’s almost impossible to miss, but I tried really hard and almost succeeded. I hit a solid drive, but my baby draw with a helping right to left downhill wind and my ball ended up a yard short of a nasty deep fairway bunker. Another 100-yard shot, and another slam of the club into the ground, and my ball landing in the right green side bunker. I catch my sand shot thin and it trickles up hill over the back of the green. Which left me a ticklish downhill pitch shot to a pin sitting high on the slope of the green. ‘Zip’, past the hole it goes by 12 feet, but I make the putt coming back for a bogey.

15th hole at Pebble Beach

15th hole at Pebble Beach

Hole 16. Par 4. A decision hole. Grip and rip it over the hill to the right or play safe and short to the left. No sense in changing my game plan now. I haul off and catch the ball flush on the sweet spot of my driver. My caddy thinks it is okay, but it was going a bit right. Luckily I caught the ball good enough that it carried the trouble on the right and landed in the fairway on the low lying landing area. Another 100-yard shot to an elevated green. Another slam of my wedge into the ground. Another plop in the powdery abyss of the green side bunker. I take a mighty swing and leave it in the bunker. Focus. Breathe. Open the blade, finish the swing, the ball floats up and out and into the circle of friends for a bogey.

Hole 17. Par 3. One of the most interesting, picturesque, photographed par 3’s in the world – second only to the par 7th of the same course. The pin is in the front lobe of this two lobed green. Let’s finish strong, I tell myself. The yardage is perfect for my most favorite club in the bag – ‘little whitey.’ I pull out my 6-hybrid, hit it solid and catch the left edge of the green – pin high. I have been told that 95 % of all putts left short never go in. I make a smooth stroke and the ball glides by the high, pro side of the cup. I make the short one coming back and finally get back on the par train. Too little too late, but it feels good.

17th green at Pebble Beach

17th green at Pebble Beach

Hole 18. Par 5. Thee most photographed golf hole in the world. Even non-golfers know what this hole looks like. Shaped in a crescent along the rocky shores of Carmel Bay. The tee box sits on a block land that juts out into the bay. Your aiming point is two Cypress trees, purposely located right in the landing zone. The decision is to go left and chance bringing the water and/or the fairway bunker that dissects the fairway from the ocean, into play OR to the right and hope you catch one good enough to get past the second tree for a clear shot to the green.  My baby draw is a perfect fit to taking it down the left side of the trees leaving me a clear shot to the green. I hit a solid drive, but block it a bit right and it floats to the right of the trees, halfway between the first and second tree. I have low branches in front of me and if I leave it too far right, I will get stuck behind one of the most photographed trees, guarding the green. I take out my 3-wood, put it back in my stance, close my stance and keeping my head still I catch the ball clean. It makes a low climb under the branches and with a little draw it carries long and rolls out to guess where – 100 yards from the green. Taking this all in and remembering how privileged I am to be witness to these hallowed grounds and having the opportunity to leave my mark on this course, I take a deep breath and tell myself I can do this. I steady my feet, keep my head still and clip my chip shot perfectly, landing 12 feet to the left of the hole. It is 6:40 pm and dark. We will most likely be the final group to finish. I am a feel putter, and standing over the ball I feel good and make a smooth stroke dropping the ball in the bottom of the cup. The previous 17 holes melt away in the mediocre play I displayed on them. I just BIRDIED the 18th hole at Pebble Beach – life is good.

18th hole at Pebble Beach

18th hole at Pebble Beach

Back nine score: 43

Total: 85

A wee bit outside of my handicap range – but hey this was was Pebble Beach where it is easy to get sidetracked by a natural beauty that overrides the need to score.

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