Pinehurst – finally!

As I have mentioned in previous posts I am an avid golfer. I grew up in a family where you learned to play golf and ski or you find a new family. I decided I liked my family so I didn’t fight it when parents put me on my first set of skis at age 3 and put golf clubs in my hands at age 6. I skied until about 10 years ago, when I decided I liked my body in one piece and risking the slopes with an aging body was no longer a smart play. Golf, although mentally taxing, is a little kinder on the body and has given me opportunities to see some of the most amazing tracks of land across this great country of ours.

I played my first tournament at age 8, and made golf my focus from that age on. I spent the summers on the golf course, while all my friends were hanging out a block away at the local pool. They were working on their tans and I was trying to hide my golfers tan. But that’s what comes with the territory of being a serious golfer. Living in Minnesota we had a very short golf season, but that didn’t deter our desire to play this crazy game. We spent our winters fixing clubs, hitting into nets and creating our dream courses on large pieces of tag board. Minnesota had one of the strongest junior programs of any state in the country, so we had plenty of tournaments to play in once the snow melted and the courses opened.

Our family of six had a standing tee time every Saturday and Sunday at our local course. My dad never missed a Men’s day and my mom – who got us started in this crazy game – never missed a Ladies day at the club. My Mom grew up in Duluth, and way back in the day, to earn a little summer fun money, she caddied for little known Patty Berg, one of the founding members of the LPGA. If Mom had only known back then what an icon Patty would become she would’ve stayed on her bag a lot longer.

My two next oldest brothers and I spent from sun-up to sun-down working on our games. If we couldn’t play, we took multiple shag bags of balls and headed to the largest fields we could find and pound balls hour after hour. Then head to the putting green and work on our putting, short game, sand game, and trick shots! Hey I took hot dog lessons when I was a young skier – so for golf I had to learn to hit every trick shot my brothers threw at me. They were pretty cool to let their little sis tag along, but they gave me one rule to abide by – ‘keep up’ – because they weren’t waiting around for me. So I learned to hit the biggest ball my 110 pounds of body mass could muster. It wasn’t anywhere near as long as they hit it, but it was enough to ‘keep up’ with them.

My oldest brother was more the team sport guy – baseball, football, basketball. But the stud athlete he was allowed him to play a pretty solid game of golf. My middle two brothers were the golfers of the family. They both had scratch handicaps for most of their high school years. One summer, the older of the two shot the course record of 63 on our home course. The next week, the younger brother topped that feat and beat the newly set course record by one.

Golf was such a huge deal in our family that for our high school graduation my parents gave us a choice between a week of golf at the most renown golf resort in the country, Pinehurst, or help in buying a car. My oldest brother took the car, but the two golfing brothers chose trips to Pinehurst. In the seven years since my oldest brother had graduated from high school, I put my all into the game of golf. My intent from the age of at least 12 was to become a professional golfer. I put the time and effort into achieving this goal, even moving to Arizona in my junior year of high school so I could practice year round. But what quickly became evident was that I was good, but probably not good enough to play at the pro  level. Or if I was good enough it would be a constant struggle of just trying to make cuts. I became burned out on the game and sadly hung up my clubs at age 18 for the next 5 years. No Pinehurst for me.

In the ensuing years I picked up my clubs again, and other than another 5 year break when my kids were born, I put enough effort back into my game to keep my handicap in the middle single digits. My husband took up the game after we got married. He played sparingly over the years with a very busy work schedule, but he was a strong athlete and made strong enough progress that in the last 20 years we have been able to enjoy some of the most amazing golf tracks around today: Pebble Beach, Spyglass, Pasatiempo, Bandon Dunes, Sahalee, Interlachen, The Ocean Course – but the one that kept eluding me was – Pinehurst.

Even though I willingly gave up the game of golf for a time, I never let go of the dream of one day wanting to play Pinehurst. Partly because Pinehurst was part of our families golf legacy, partly because of its place in history in the game of golf as a whole. Earlier this year we were invited by friends who belonged to Pinehurst to come play this iconic golf mecca. It took me all of 3 seconds to accept.

This has been my longest standing bucket list item – golf related or not. After 37 years of bypassing my opportunity to play Pinehurst for my graduation gift from my parents, last week I was finally able to check Pinehurst off my bucket list. We could not have hit better weather – 75 and sunny every day. Pinehurst now touts 9 courses in its’ line-up and was the location of the World Golf Hall of Fame from 1974-1998. Back when my brothers went, there were 5 courses with the 6th just about ready to open. My husband and I only had a few days, so we let our hosts pick the courses they recommended playing – as long as one of them was #2.

Pinehurst #2 is where it all happens. This is the course that has played host to several iconic US Open Championships and a myriad of other major tournaments. Champions list includes: 2014 US Women’s US Open and Men’s US Open played back to back – Michelle Wie & Martin Kaymer; 1999 US Open emotional winner Payne Stewart – there is a statue in his honor at the 18th green; 1951 – Sam Snead captained the winning Ryder Cup team.

The fairways are tightly lined with towering Loblolly Pines, and where their pine needles don’t fall in mats of slippery undercover, there are unending seas of waste areas consisting of the local sandy base with native wire grasses sprouting up like landmines. Not a hilly course, no water, but keeps your attention.

The greens are small, undulating, crowned and fast. We had a tough time keeping the balls on these upside down bowls – they were running at about 11 on the stimpmeter. For US Opens they run about 12.5-13. One of golfs most notorious sayings is ‘Drive for dough, putt for show’ – but at Pinehurst you need to put the ball in the fairway so you can hit your approach shots with the highest lofted club possible to have a chance of hitting a landing area about the size of a dime and keeping the ball on the green. Then work on your breathing – a lightly tapped putt is all you’ll need to have a chance of it dropping. Or take your lag putt and run to the next tee!

We played Pinehurst #6 first – this Tom Fazio designed course was the most benign of the three we played, but it still demanded big drives and aggressive approach shots. A wayward tee shot easily turned into a double bogey just getting back in play. But a good course to prepare for what was to come on #2, which we played on our second day at Pinehurst. We finished our tour playing Pinehurst #9. This Jack Nicklaus design incorporates every discipline available to this imaginative course designer – tons of water; winding, rolling, lush, tight fairways; deep bunkers with wet heavy sand; long narrow undulating greens; towering pines lining the fairways with beds of slippery pine needles.

My Pinehurst mission is replete. I came, I saw and I got conquered – mainly by #2. I would love an opportunity to go back, knowing what I now know of the course, and give it another whack!

I generally intertwine my pics throughout the post, but there was a story that needed to be told, supplanted at the end with a few photos of the adventure that was Pinehurst. More pics available to view in the Global Gallery.

Played #6 in our first round at Pinehurst. Shot a respectable 78 with 3 double bogeys. Should’ve stopped after this round.

The end of October #6 & #9 will play host to the LPGA Q-School Finals. Good luck gals!

The drive into the entrance of #2 just oozes iconic golf course.

One of the famed waste areas on #2. Try and hit out of it to a crowned green with a landing area the size of a dime.

Sure you can hit that fairway. And you better hope that you do, as the green is about the size of a nickel and sloped at a weird angle.

By the 12th hole, our scores were in the stratosphere, so we decided to have some fun and have a head to head – literally – putt off.

Still smiling after the round and enough energy left to do the famed Payne Stewart fist pump!

Uphill, long, dog-leg, tree-lined hole at #9 had us all taking the esteemed Jack Nicklaus name in vein.

But alas, we made it to through with our dignity and love of the game intact. Shooting a 41 with 2 double bogeys on my last 9 at Pinehurst was a bit of salve on the wounds from the previous 27 holes.

Luckily they make a tasty and strong margarita at the Ryder Cup bar at the Pinehurst Resort. All is well that ends well – at the 19th hole.

Golf: Oh the places it will take you!

The front image of my blog is of a golf ball lying inches from the hole – the closest I have come to having a hole-in-one in 42 years of trying. The image is an inspiration to keep trying. It’s the journey – not just the destination. This goes for everything in life – not just golf. As my smart-alack friends keep telling me – “…aim at the hole.” And one day that little white ball will go in.

The closest I've come to a hole-in-one of playing golf for over 40 years!

The closest I’ve come to a hole-in-one of playing golf for over 40 years!

Golf has been a part of my life since I was eight years old. In my family you learned to golf and ski or be very lonely while the rest of the family was hitting the long ball or shooshing down the slopes. Growing up in Minnesota was always a challenge to be an avid golfer. During the first signs of spring my three older brothers and I searched the large open fields in our small town for a patch of grass to show through in the piles of snow. We dropped our shag bag full of balls and hit balls into the snowy fields, preparing for the upcoming golf season.

My summers were spent, sun-up to sun-down at the golf course. If I couldn’t play, I was chipping and putting. While all my friends hung out at the public pool a block away perfecting their golden swimsuit tan lines, I was working on my ‘farmer’s’ tan. You could always tell a golfer at the pool. The weekends were sacred family golf time. Our family of six had two standing tee times – one on Saturday morning and the other after church on Sunday. A family bond was created that still binds my family together to this day.

As the years wore on, golf became my main sport. I played tournaments ranging from the local club championships to the USGA National Junior Girls Championship. In my junior year of high school I moved to Arizona so I could have the opportunity to play golf year round to see if that was what I wanted my life to be full-time. Instead I felt burn-out, and at age 18 I hung up my golf clubs – for about 5 years.

After that much-needed break from the game I returned with a refreshed outlook and desire to play golf – for fun. Golf had taken me to some amazing locations in my youth. But because of the tension tied up in trying to play well in the tournament that took me to these places, I never got to fully enjoy the surrounding area.

For me, golf is as much about getting to experience new places as it is in trying to play a great round of golf. Because of the years I spent as a youth working on my swing and my knowledge of the game, I have a strong foundation from which to tee it up with every time I step to the first tee. I’ve been able to hold on to hitting a long ball and keeping my handicap around a 5, but I’ve let go of getting upset with a bad shot. My frustration lasts only until the next shot instead of ruining my whole round, because I figure there are a lot worse places I could be at that given moment.

Over the years, my love for the game of golf has taken me to places that even the most ardent of non-golfers could appreciate. During the winter months in Minnesota, my brothers and I would take large sheets of tag board and design our own golf courses. If I had to do it all over again, I would have followed through on those dreams and become a golf course architect.

Instead, now I get to witness the creativity of some of the world’s top golf course developers and architects by playing golf courses like: Pebble Beach (California) with the rugged beach property that lines so many of the holes; Gleneagles (Scotland) with its deep gorse and wild grasses and naturalized setting; Interlachen (Minnesota) with its lush thick grass and towering trees that line every hole; Calusa Pines (Florida) with untouched swamplands and grasslands; Firerock (Arizona) a true desert golf experience with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountain ranges and the Phoenix valley.

Mark Twain may have said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” But he either needed an attitude adjustment on how to enjoy the game or was playing the wrong courses.

The holes at Pebble Beach lining the rugged cliffs along Carmel Bay, CA

The holes at Pebble Beach lining the rugged cliffs along Carmel Bay, CA

The thick long wild grasses and gorse at Gleneagles, Scotland

My 80 year old father pipes it down the middle of the heavily tree lined fairway at Interlachen CC, Edina, MN

My 80 year old father pipes it down the middle of the heavily tree lined fairway at Interlachen CC, Edina, MN

The naturalized swampland and grasslands of Calusa Pines Golf Club, Florida

View from a high point in Fountain Hills, east of Scottsdale, looking down on one of many valley golf courses.

First and second holes of Firerock Country Club nestled into the desert landscape with the Phoenix valley and mountains off in the distance

Even though most traveling I do these days does not revolve around playing golf, most golf vacations I take do revolve around the location being appealing to the senses. If I am going to spend the better part of five hours in a specific area, it better offer me more than a just long strip of greenish grass with a tee box on one end and a 4 1/4″ hole on the other end.

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.

Check out more pictures under the Global Gallery tab!

From the hills of San Francisco to beaches of Carmel-by-the-Sea

One would need weeks to take in all there is to see in California. But my husband and I had one week, so we concentrated our efforts in Northern California. We started the week in San Francisco. Walking the hills to the Pier from our hotel in Nob Hill, and back – a great workout for the heart and the calves. Walking the flats of Golden Gate Park, through the Japanese Botanical Garden and along the parkway canal, was calming.

Marina at the San Francisco Pier

Marina at the San Francisco Pier

Japanese Botanical Garden, Golden Gate State Park, San Francisco

Japanese Botanical Garden, Golden Gate State Park, San Francisco

We were up early the next day to take the 3 hour drive from San Francisco to Carmel, via Santa Cruz and part of Highway 1 aka the Pacific Coast Highway. The ocean views were breathtaking, the sand dunes monstrous, and the fields of veggies and fruit were plentiful.

Just the name, Carmel-by-the-Sea evokes visions to attract anyone’s attention. The creatively named 17-mile Drive is bookended by Carmel and Pacific Grove. It is along these points my husband and I spent the next three days.

Upon arriving in Carmel, my husband and I headed straight to the sea to take a walk on the beach. It was a perfect fall day, ripe for a wardrobe of jeans, a big comfy sweater and bare feet. The sun was shining, but the breeze off the bay was cool. We strolled down the beaches admiring some of the most photographed golf holes in the world, perched atop sheer cliffs – Pebble Beach. We set our eyes on a home we decided would be a great retirement retreat – until we later learned it was listed for $79,000,000. California dreaming – maybe in another lifetime!

View of Pebble Beach from the beaches at Carmel-by-the-Sea

View of Pebble Beach from the beaches at Carmel-by-the-Sea (overhanging smoke from a nearby controlled burn)

The streets of Carmel consist of galleries, boutique shops, galleries, restaurants, did I say galleries, and boutique hotels. I would have loved to spend more time perusing the shops of Carmel, but it was time to head to our ultimate destination to the afore-mentioned Pebble Beach.

There are no less than seven golf courses on this small track of land making it one of the most sought after golf destinations in the world. Pebble Beach, at $495 a round, is not a cheap date, but the walk through golf history and a natural beauty that has not been replicated anywhere in the world, is priceless.

Walking down the 9th hole at Pebble Beach

Walking down the 9th hole at Pebble Beach

The course was designed to be walked. The space between greens and tee boxes is very short. So walk we did – with a caddy named Pat. Caddies at Pebble generally double bag to make as much money as they can in as short amount of time as possible. Pat caddies to pay the bills, so in his off time he can focus on his passions of writing a novel, writing poetry and painting.

We stayed at The Lodge, and our room looked out at the 18th green. For a died in the wool golfer it does not get any better than this. Listening to the waves crashing against the rocks along the 18th Fairway to lull you to sleep every night. Walking the hallowed grounds and think of the golf royalty, political royalty, royal royalty and too many athletic and entertainment celebrities to mention having walked these same grounds, was surreal.

The Lodge at Pebble Beach

The Lodge at Pebble Beach

Monterey Peninsula is a golfer’s destination, and I am an avid golfer, but the drive along 17-mile drive is eye candy for anybody. The Lone Cypress sitting precariously on an outcropping jutting out into Carmel Bay. Bird rock, that is so covered with seals, sea lions and fowl that from afar it looks like the rock is moving. The sounds of the barking seals can be heard far inland. The waves crashing along the craggy rocky coast. The white sand dunes incorporated into the golf courses lining the sea shore.

Lone Cypress, Carmel-by-the Sea. Patented trademark for all facilities on the Monterey Peninsula

The 250-year-old Lone Cypress, Carmel-by-the Sea. Trademarked by Pebble Beach as it’s logo.

Seal Rock, Carmel-by-the-Sea

Bird Rock, Carmel-by-the-Sea – covered by more seals than birds

Further along the picturesque 17-mile drive, sits Spyglass Hill Golf Course. Where Pebble Beach is built along the natural lines of the coastline of Carmel Bay, Spyglass Hill is cut through the heavily forested inland, offering vistas from one of the higher points on the peninsula, looking out at the Pacific Ocean. The walk is more challenging through this hilly course, and golf is equally if not more challenging with it’s tight fairways than even Pebble Beach. Two very different golf experiences.

View from Spyglass Hill Golf Club

View from Spyglass Hill Golf Club

What to do: Golf, golf, golf! Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Spanish Bay and Del Monte for public options – $100-495 including cart. Cypress Point and Monterey Peninsula if you know somebody. Drive 17-mile drive – free. Walk the streets and beaches of Carmel-by-the-Sea – free, unless you find a piece of artwork you can’t live without!

Where to stay: The Lodge at Pebble Beach – $725+. The Inn at Spanish Bay – $635+. Or numerous boutique hotels in Carmel covering all kinds of budgets.

Where to eat: Peppoli’s at Pebble Beach (which is actually located at The Inn at Spanish Bay) for great Northern Italian cuisine. Stillwater Bar and Grill for contemporary seafood – ask for Anthony, a great attentive server. Grasing’s in Carmel – the chef uses locally grown ingredients in all of his dishes.

Check out more pictures under the Global Gallery tab!

Next stop: Napa Valley.