The Wall Street Caddy: Pebble Beach Is Not a True Links Course

Embed from Getty Images

By Mark Vigil

Guest contributor Mark Vigil is The Wall Street Caddy.

THE MUCH ANTICIPATED 119TH U.S. OPEN is underway. The golf world is filled with anticipation: Tiger Woods continues his pursuit of another major victory; Phil Mickelson will try to complete his grand slam; Brooks Koepka will try to be the second golfer to win three consecutive U.S. Open titles. (More than a hundred years ago, Willie Anderson was the first.)

The host venue is the fabled Pebble Beach Golf Links. Pebble Beach is rated the top public golf course in America; however, I would argue this honor goes to Bethpage Black. But that is a subject for another day.

Pebble Beach Golf Links has lived in the imagination of golfers and non-golfers since Bing Crosby’s clambake was first televised in the early 1960s. It was forever branded into golfers’ brains as they watched telecasts of U.S. Opens in 1972, 1982, 1992, 2000 and 2010. And for those golfers who have played a round at Pebble Beach, the experience is unique.

The layout tucks itself comfortably into the Carmel Bay, like one’s head on a soft cool pillow on a sultry summer night. It was designed by Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, two amateur golfers.  (Neville won the inaugural California State Amateur and Grant would move to England where he assumed captain duties at Royal St. George.) 

Jack Nicklaus famously remarked that if he had one round to play, “I’d play Pebble Beach.” Nicklaus would also argue that the approach shot to the 8th green over the chasm is the best second shot in all of golf. It is hard to argue with Jack on his latter comment.

Pebble Beach’s beauty resides on the eight seaside holes which begin with the approach shot to the 3rd green and last until the tee shot away from the sea at the 11th hole. The walk along these holes makes one wonder if these holes would have been espied by Adam in the Garden of Eden.

The glory of Carmel Bay remains in the golfer’s vision as he plays the inward nine holes on top of the plateau overlooking Carmel Bay. Mother Nature’s full beauty re-emerges for the golfer as he departs the 16th green and walks west to the famed 17th tee box.

Embed from Getty Images

In 1972, it was on the 17th tee box where Jack Nicklaus knifed a 1-iron to kick in range to secure his second U.S. Open victory. A decade later Tom Watson would chip in on the famed hour-glass green to defeat Jack Nicklaus by 2 strokes, winning his only U.S. Open.

The 18th hole was originally a 379 yard par 4. In 1921 William Fowler redesigned the 18th hole, transforming it into the best finishing hole in golf. The 18th tee box juts out into Carmel Bay and on most days the waves crash up onto the teeing area spraying golfers with the bay’s holy water. 

Frankly, the tee shot is a tribute to the famed first tee shot at Mcahhanarish Golf Club designed by Old Tom Morris and considered to be the best opening hole in golf.

To be sure, Pebble Beach Golf Links deserves its iconic status and it truly represents one of golf’s “hallowed grounds.”  However, I must inform everyone that Pebble Beach is not a true links golf course. In fact, the only true links golf in the western United States is located on the Oregon coast at Bandon Dunes.

Nope, the only similarities between Pebble Beach and a true links golf course are the unpredictable weather and the natural beauty.

The word “links” is from the old English word “hlic,” which means rising ridge or an area of coastal sand dunes. Links topography rests on a raised beach or on a marine platform which rises no more than 50 feet above the sea. Links topography resembles lunar landscapes due to centuries of howling winds racing across these plateaus creating dune ridges and land valleys, and protective nooks and crannies, known today as bunkers, which in earlier times provided the sheep herder and his flock a small hovel of protection from the raging storms.

The sandy soil on these raised beaches allows for superb drainage and it is ideally suited for vegetation of long wispy natural grasses like fescue and heather, beloved by sheep; and of prickly gorse bushes, which bloom spectacularly in spring and which provide a safe haven for birds and other small animals from various predators.

The turf is a good source of food for sheep, small rodents and scurrying leporidaes, and totally useless for any other agricultural purpose.

Thankfully, the bored ancient sheep herders tried to get a round object into an old rabbit hole using crooked sticks.

I encourage all golfers to closely watch the U.S. Open on a good HDTV so the true glory of Pebble Beach can be enjoyed. Just remember, it is a seaside course and not a true links course.

Mark Vigil is founder of Class 5 Advisors LLC, an advisory firm. He is a master caddy, and he is also a passionate links golf enthusiast who has traveled extensively throughout Scotland seeking out links courses. He is currently writing a book entitled, Searching for the Spirit of Old Tom Morris. You can follow Mark on Instagram at #golfbyrails

Photo of author
Neil Sagebiel

2 thoughts on “The Wall Street Caddy: Pebble Beach Is Not a True Links Course”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.