Say the words “Monterey Peninsula” to any golfer and watch the look on their face.
You’ll get a mixture of a dream type stare along with a smile that says, “Yep, that’s where I want to play.”
For me, I have been lucky and fortunate enough to play Pebble Beach, Spanish Bay, Pacific Grove Golf Links, Bayonet, Black Horse, Poppy Hills and Del Monte. In other words, I had the public course market covered.
That is of course except for Spyglass.
Check that box off and count me among the legion of golfers that put the course either near or at the top of the best course they have played – anywhere.
The Robert Trent Jones, Sr. designed course has all the holes themed with names and locations from the legendary novel Treasure Island, penned by famous Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson.
It’s one of those rare instances in life where the reality goes well beyond the high expectations you have for something. I played the week after Christmas and ran into a Chamber of Commerce type of day- 65 degrees, little wind and not a cloud in the sky.
There is no easing into the round as the day starts with Treasure Island, a 564-yard, par 5 that sweeps downhill and to the left. The vistas from the tee box are stunning, as you have views of the Santa Cruz mountains as well as the Monterey Bay.
I had no choice but to make it a three-shot hole as the green is well guarded by a series of bunkers. Standing in the fairway, the green is framed by the water in the back – a tremendous way to start your round.
Perhaps the quirkiest hole awaits at No. 2 (Billy Bones), a 321-yard, par 4 that plays uphill and has trouble throughout the hole. Driving out of a chute, an iron may be the more prudent shot. It might be enticing to hit the driver, but if you do, be prepared to accept the punishment for anything but a perfect tee shot, as there is sand and ice plant waiting to eat up any errant shots.
The third hole was probably my favorite hole on the course and that’s saying a lot on course full of nothing but one sensational hole after the next.
The 150-yard, par 3 (The Black Spot) plays from an elevated tee box, with the Pacific Ocean serving as a picture window backdrop. It is very easy to get caught up in the beauty of the moment.
Next up is Blind Pews, a 358-yard par 4 that features the most photographed green on the course. The long and narrow putting surface is no more than eight paces across at some points.
No. 5 (Bird Rock) is a 169-yard, par 3 that is the last hole by the ocean. The green is surrounded by bunkers. Plenty of green to work with, but it can be visually daunting from the tee.
My initial feeling leaving the 5th green was a bit of a bummer, but my two playing partners insisted the rest of the course was equally spectacular and they split the fairway with that opinion.
Sports Illustrated once dubbed Spyglass as “Pine Valley-by-the-Sea meets Augusta National.”
It’s easy to see why.
The course begins to change from a seaside-track to one that winds through the Del Monte Forest with the beginning of the sixth hole. Israel Hands is a 413-yard par 4 that plays slightly uphill, but the prevailing wind is usually at your back.
One of the better chances for birdie comes at the par 5, No. 7. Indian Village does play 513 yards, but you tee off an elevated tee box, making reaching in two a viable option.
Enjoy the 7th, because No. 8 (Signal Hill) is as tough a par 4 as there is on the course and plays to the No. 1 handicap and all this at only 375 yards. The uphill tee shot is followed by an even more uphill approach to an elevated, crowned green.
The opening nine wraps up with Captain Smollett, another uphill par 4, with this one playing 414 yards. The green is the second largest on the course but is guarded by deep bunkers.
There is a bit of breather on No. 10, as the 377-yard, par 4 plays downhill off an elevated tee. But once again, the green is guarded by deep bunkers.
A 491-yard, par 5 follows next at No. 11 (Admiral Benbow). The hole plays to a dogleg right with a series of bunkers protecting the right side of the green.
I got a real full feel of Augusta at 160-yard, par 3 No. 12. Known as Skeleton Island, the downhill hole has an amphitheater feeling to the right of the green and a pond guarding the left side. The tee shot is a visually stunning and daunting all at once.
Following the 13th (Tom Morgan) – a tough 435-yard, par 4 that features an elevated green, be ready to be transported back to August for No. 14.
The 525-yard, par 5 (Long John Silver) features a double dogleg, with another pond guarding the right front. There is a bunker on each side of the green, as well as behind the green. A beautiful hole, but a very sinister one as well.
The 15th (Jim Hawkins) is the shortest hole on the course as the downhill par 3 plays only 120 yards and is rated as the easiest hole on the course, but trust me, it is one tough little hole.
There is a pond front and right, with traps taking over behind the green. Another wonderful golf hole – that is the theme throughout the course – but another that can take your breath away.
At 454 yards, the par 4 16th (Black Dog) kicks off the three-hole closing stretch. The hole play s as the No. 2 handicap hole and has a dogleg right, meaning a drive has the potential to run through the fairway. There is the thought to cut the corner, but there is a tree that is not visible from the tee that can cause problems.
At 312-yards, No. 17 (Ben Gunn) does not seem like the toughest par 4 when looking at the scorecard but looks are indeed deceiving. There are nine bunkers on the hole that features a blind tee shot, followed by blind approach.
The closing hole (Spyglass) is straight forward and at 387 yards is a somewhat refreshing hole, at least off the tee. The approach is to an elevated green with bunkers surrounding the hole and trouble all around the putting surface.
From standing on the first tee to putting out on No. 18, playing Spyglass is a surrealistic feeling. The beauty of the course is challenged only by the enormity of playing one of the bucket list courses for golfers from all over the world.
For more information go to www.pebblebeach.com.
By Dennis Miller