Golf’s Golden Coast: The Monterey Bay Peninsula February 14, 2015

Golf’s Golden Coast: The Monterey Bay Peninsula

Monterey Peninsula Country Club, established in 1925, is one of the many gems in the area.
(USGA Museum)

As a lead-up to the U.S. Open, which Pebble Beach Golf Links will be hosting June 17-20, the USGA kicks off its coverage of the championship. For the month of January, we'll take a look at the beginnings of golf on the Monterey Peninsula, the creation of Pebble Beach and other ancillary storylines related to the area and the competition.

By Catherine Lewis

No region in America is arguably more beautiful or picturesque than the Monterey Bay Peninsula in central California, where golfers can enjoy a temperate climate, unique natural beauty and some of the most distinctive and memorable courses in the world. Certainly Pebble Beach Golf Links draws the most public acclaim due to the number of competitions held at the resort, including the U.S. Open, but several other majestic and challenging layouts make this area a haven for golf lovers worldwide.


History Of Monterey Peninsula Golf Photo Gallery  
 This June, the U.S. Open is heading to Pebble Beach for a fifth time, the first since 2000. It’s little surprise that this storied course -- sometimes called the St. Andrews of American golf -- would so regularly host the USGA’s premier championship and one of the most important events on the golf calendar. 

Pebble Beach Golf Links’ success can be connected to a series of events that can be traced as far back as 468 years ago when the Monterey Bay Peninsula was discovered by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo. He was the first European explorer to discover the bay on Nov. 16, 1542. However, it  wouldn’t be named until 1602 when Sebastian Vizcaino charted the coast and called it Monterrie after an area in Spain’s Galicia region. The city of Monterey would eventually become the Spanish and Mexican capital of California. On July 7, 1846, during the Mexican-American War, Commodore John D. Sloat raised the stars and stripes for the first time over the Monterey Custom House, thus claiming the state of California for the United States.

In the 1870s, developers such as Charles Crocker envisioned the peninsula as a resort area, and soon the Hotel Del Monte opened to appeal to the growing moneyed classes seeking outdoor diversions. Golf would soon arrive, though there were few courses in the west at the end of the 19th century.

Of the four golf designs that comprise today’s Pebble Beach Resorts, the Del Monte Golf Course is the oldest. Designed by Charlie Maud, it opened in 1897 and has hosted several amateur tournaments, including the first California Amateur Championship and the 1916 Western Amateur.

Established by Samuel Finley Brown Morse, a cousin of the inventor of the telegraph, the Pebble Beach Company began in 1919 as the Del Monte Properties Company. That same year, Morse opened the Pebble Beach Golf Links and the Lodge. Ten years later on the eve of the Great Depression, the USGA selected Pebble Beach as the host site for the U.S. Amateur. Only 10 years old, the course, originally designed by Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, hosted its first national championship after extensive renovations by golf course architect H. Chandler Egan, who advanced to the semifinals of that year’s Amateur. Harrison Johnston defeated Oscar F. Willing, 4 and 3, in an event that had twice previously been won by Bob Jones. Jones, himself, was surprisingly eliminated in the first round by Johnny Goodman.

The U.S. Open, however, would not come to Pebble Beach until 1972, an event appropriately won by Jack Nicklaus who once said: “If I had only one more round to play, I would choose to play it at Pebble Beach. I loved this course the first time I saw it. It is probably the best in the world.”

Nicklaus had long had good reason to be fond of Pebble Beach: he won his second of two U.S. Amateur titles on the course in 1961, some 42 years after it had officially opened at the resort that was under Morse’s ownership.

Del Monte Golf Course and Pebble Beach Golf Links would regularly host annual championships (the Del Monte Championships and the Pebble Beach Championship for men and women), and in 1920, the California State Championship first used both courses. It was won by Dr. Paul Hunter and would be played again the next year at the same site with the same result.

A walk through history brings to mind some of the giants of the game who played there during golf’s Golden Age, including Jones, Goodman, Francis Ouimet, Chick Evans, Glenna Collett and Cyril Tolley.

In the 1940s, both the U.S. Amateur for women (1940 and 1948) and men (1942 and 1947) were played at Pebble Beach. The Bing Crosby National Pro-Am now regularly keeps Pebble Beach on the minds of golf fans everywhere. And U.S. Open champions at Pebble Beach are some of the modern era’s finest: Nicklaus (1972), Tom Watson (1982), Tom Kite (1992) and Tiger Woods (2000). In 1977, Lanny Wadkins defeated Gene Littler at Pebble Beach for the PGA Championship.

When not hosting tournaments or the nearly 50,000 golf enthusiasts who play annually, the Pebble Beach courses have been the backdrop to many Hollywood films, including National Velvet (1945), Follow the Sun (1951) and The Parent Trap (1961).

Two other courses complete the Pebble Beach Resorts. The first has an intriguing literary connection. Spyglass Hill Golf Course is named after Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, Treasure Island. Local folklore holds that the Scottish author wandered the area while writing his novel and each hole draws its name from the now-famous book. The course consistently is ranked among the best public-access venues in the U.S.


The Hotel Del Monte opened in the late 1800s to appeal
to the growing moneyed classes seeking outdoor
diversions. (USGA Museum)
 Designed by Robert Trent Jones, who worked on the course for six years, Spyglass Hill opened on March 11, 1966, and is a regular part of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (formerly the Bing Crosby Invitational) rotation.

In 1999, Spyglass Hill served as one of the two courses for the U.S. Amateur’s stroke-play qualifying rounds; Pebble Beach was the main site.

The fourth course, the Links at Spanish Bay, is modeled on Scottish links that both Watson and former USGA President Sandy Tatum so loved. They were invited to assist Robert Trent Jones II in the design of the course that opened in 1987.

Pebble Beach may be the jewel in the crown of the Monterey Bay courses, but it is surrounded by a number of other equally valuable gems. Morse, then president of the Del Monte Properties Company, helped create Cypress Point and Monterey Peninsula Country Club, two of the most exclusive and prestigious private courses in America.

Dr. Alister MacKenzie, well known today for his design of Augusta National Golf Club with Jones, took over the design of both Monterey courses after designer Seth Raynor died.

Cypress Point is famous for its breathtaking trio of holes (15, 16 and 17) that take a scenic tour overlooking the Pacific Ocean and is consistently ranked among the top-10 courses in the world. It was the site of the 1956 four-ball match between Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward competing against Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson that is the subject of Mark Frost’s book The Match. It also was a longtime venue for the AT&T National Pro-Am before the PGA Tour switched to nearby Poppy Hills in 1991. Monterey Peninsula Country Club was established in 1925, and Raynor designed the Dunes course with Charlie Banks that same year.

For 18 years, the Bing Crosby Pro-Am (now the AT&T pro-Am) included some play here, before moving to the Shore Course (opened in 1961) and then to Spyglass Hill Golf Course. The AT&T will once again include the Monterey Peninsula Shore Course among its venues in 2010. Originally designed by Bob E. Baldock and Jack Neville, the course was completely redesigned by Mike Strantz in 2004.

“I wanted to shape the course to sweep with the natural terrain – the rocks, the trees and grasses, the ocean,” said Strantz. “I dreamed that the course would appear to dance among the cypress trees on this coastline forever.”

To this extraordinary list of courses, golfers can also enjoy Carmel Valley Ranch Golf Course (designed by Pete Dye); the Monterey Pines Golf Course (formerly the U.S. Navy Course); the Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Links (sometimes called “The Poor Man’s Pebble Beach”); Poppy Hills Golf Course (designed by Robert Trent Jones II and opened in 1986); Rancho Cañada Golf Club (featuring two 18-hole courses); Quail Lodge Resort and Country Club (home to the California Women’s Amateur); Pasadera Country Club (designed by Jack Nicklaus); Laguna Seca Golf Club (opened in 1970 and designed by Robert Trent Jones II); and Tehama Golf Club (a Scottish design by Jay Morrish).

For fans and players alike, it’s little wonder that Monterey Bay Peninsula is a golfer’s haven. Its natural beauty, coupled with a long-standing history that is ultimately defined by championship-caliber golf, oftentimes leaves first-timers slack-jawed. And in the case of this year’s U.S. Open champion, after successfully handling Pebble Beach, it’s not a stretch to say he’ll have the same reaction.

Catherine Lewis is an Atlanta-based freelance writer.