Set on the Monterey Peninsula where the Del Monte Forest meets the Pacific Ocean, Pebble Beach is one of the most idyllic retreats I know. It is a place of sweeping beaches and aquamarine waters, of sea lions draped on jagged rocks, sea otters floating peacefully on their backs, pods of migrating whales, and low-flying pelicans scanning the water for anchovies and squid. And the cool Pacific air keeps temperatures so delightfully moderate that golfers can wear slacks and sweater vests all year long.
The Pebble Beach Company was founded in 1919 and today owns three sumptuous resorts. The Lodge at Pebble Beach offers glorious views of Carmel Bay and the 18th green of the famed Pebble Beach Golf Links. Low-rise annexes contain 161 guest rooms and suites, most of which have fireplaces and outdoor patios or balconies. Five restaurants, a huge 22,000-square-foot spa complex, 12 tennis courts, a beach club and riding stables complement the incomparable golf facilities. Four miles to the north, The Inn at Spanish Bay is set among the Monterey pine groves of the Del Monte Forest and is fronted by Scottish-inspired golf links and the Pacific Ocean. The rambling lodge contains 269 guest rooms with marble baths and gas-burning fireplaces. Guests enjoy complimentary access to facilities at the private Spanish Bay Club, including a fitness center, a 75-foot heated outdoor pool, a tennis pavilion with eight Plexipave courts, and a full-service spa.
Casa Palmero will appeal to those who prefer smaller hotels and who are in search of calm and seclusion.
On my recent trip, however, I opted to stay at the third property, Casa Palmero at Pebble Beach, a 24-room hideaway within a former mansion. Situated next to The Spa at Pebble Beach and overlooking the first and second fairways of the Golf Links, its cinnabar tile roofs and ochre-colored walls give the impression of a grand Mediterranean villa, as do the trellised walkways, shaded courtyards and gurgling fountains. Inside, we discovered an atmospheric living room, a billiard room and a library with rustic beams, hardwood floors and well-chosen artwork. Most of the property’s unusually spacious rooms boast fireplaces and private patios with Jacuzzis, while the lavish baths feature radiant-heat floors and a wide selection of toiletries from The Spa next door. Cocktails are offered in a cozy bar each evening as part of the regular room rate, and there is a secluded swimming pool. Breakfast is served in the guest rooms, but other meals must be taken elsewhere, though given the variety of options, this is scarcely an inconvenience. Overall, Casa Palmero will appeal to those who prefer smaller hotels and who are in search of calm and seclusion. I cannot recommend this lovely place too highly.
Of course, most visitors to Pebble Beach come because it boasts perhaps the finest collection of golf courses in one zip code in America. The Pebble Beach Company owns several of those layouts, and the centerpiece is the venerable Pebble Beach Golf Links, a nearly century-old track that is regularly ranked among the top courses in the world. In 1916, as manager of the Pacific Improvement Company, Samuel F. B. Morse, a distant relative of the man who invented the telegraph, convinced the board to build the Pebble Beach Golf Links on a prime parcel of real estate that included seven miles of oceanfront property. The track opened in 1919. Nearly five decades later, near the end of his long life, Morse added the Spyglass Hill Golf Course on land where author Robert Louis Stevenson used to stroll while writing “Treasure Island.” In 1987, the resort built The Links at Spanish Bay.
If you are a golfer, you must plan to play those three main courses: the Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill and The Links at Spanish Bay.
Pebble Beach’s stature as a golf destination grew exponentially after entertainer Bing Crosby began holding his annual pro-am golf tournament here in 1947. Known as the “Clambake,” it attracted the top touring professionals of the day, as well as many of Crosby’s Hollywood friends. Crosby ran it until his death in 1977, at which point his family took over. Today, it is called the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and it remains one of the best-attended competitions on the PGA Tour. In the early 1970s, the United States Golf Association burnished the resort’s already considerable reputation as a golf getaway when it started bringing the U.S. Open to Pebble on occasion. To date, the national championship has been held here five times, and this is slated to be the site of the 2019 Open, when Pebble Beach celebrates its centennial.
If you are a golfer, you must plan to play those three main courses: the Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill and The Links at Spanish Bay. For many, a round on the Golf Links is akin to a religious experience. The stretch of holes from six through 10 offers some of the most exciting shots in the game, such as the downhill wedge most people hit to a brilliantly bunkered green backed by the Pacific on the short, par-3 seventh; and the breathtaking approach to the eighth, which forces most golfers to muscle a long iron over a gaping chasm to a cliffside green guarded by a trio of bunkers.
The Spyglass Hill Golf Course, designed by celebrated architect Robert Trent Jones, opened for play in 1966. Though it is not nearly as spectacular as the Golf Links, it is still a very fine test of golf that is regularly ranked among the top 100 layouts in America. A round there begins on an elevated tee in the midst of the Del Monte Forest, then quickly leads players toward the ocean and a quartet of holes routed through a series of sand dunes. The course then returns to the woods and a succession of rather formidable 3-, 4- and 5-pars.
The Del Monte Golf Course is the sporting equivalent of a restaurant frequented by locals, a very strong indicator that it is worth patronizing.
As for The Links at Spanish Bay, it is a charming, Old World-style layout designed in part by Trent Jones’ son Bobby and five-time British Open winner Tom Watson. The course came on line in 1987 on dunes land overlooking the scenic loop known as 17-Mile Drive and a beach where Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portolá arrived in 1769. It puts a premium on accuracy.
A visiting golfer would be remiss if he or she did not also visit the fourth piece of the Pebble Beach portfolio, the Del Monte Golf Course. Founded in 1897, it is the oldest continuously operating course west of the Mississippi, and perhaps the most compelling argument for including it on a golf itinerary is that many of the caddies at the Pebble Beach Company play their golf here. It’s the sporting equivalent of a restaurant frequented by locals, a very strong indicator that it is worth patronizing.
Pebble Beach has a robust caddie program at its courses. The best of the bunch is Casey Boyns — and yes, you can request him ahead of time. He grew up on the Monterey Peninsula and has caddied for Pebble Beach for more than 30 years. He knows every blade of grass on the Golf Links, and he is also a terrific player, having won two California State Amateur Championships and qualified for more than a dozen United States Golf Association Championships. (One note about the caddies at Pebble Beach: They are very particular about the size and weight of the bags they carry, and they will not hesitate to “change out” a player, in other words, put his or her clubs in a lighter and more convenient carry bag from the resort. Those playing any of the Pebble Beach courses would be wise to strip down their bags as much as possible before a round. Dump the rain gear if it is sunny — and the umbrella, too. And forget about carrying two dozen balls when a dozen will do just fine.
Of course, Pebble Beach also caters to non-golfers. They can embark on half-day trail rides from the Pebble Beach stables, surf, kayak, fish, sail and cycle. All the activity can wear out even the heartiest soul, which is why my final recommendation for the ultimate Pebble Beach experience is to treat oneself to at least a couple of visits to the magnificent spa. While there is much to choose from on the treatment menu, I have a particular affection for the golfer’s massage, in no small part because shortly after enjoying one some years ago, I proceeded to birdie the first two holes of the Golf Links!
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: The oceanside setting and sweeping views of the Pacific.
DISLIKE: Although the lodge has only 161 rooms and suites, the public areas can feel busy on occasion.
GOOD TO KNOW: The magnificent Deluxe Ocean View Suites overlook the iconic 18th hole and boast panoramic views of Stillwater Cove and the Pacific Ocean.
The Lodge at Pebble Beach 97 Ocean View Room, $1,030; Suite, $2,130. 1700 17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach. Tel. (831) 647-7500.
LIKE: The short game practice area outside the hotel, which is a wonderful place to work on your chipping and putting as the sun drops into the Pacific Ocean.
DISLIKE: As comfortable and accommodating as it may be, there is nothing remarkable about the building, inside or out.
GOOD TO KNOW: Efficient shuttle service makes it easy to commute between the hotel and the lodge, as well as the various golf courses.
The Inn at Spanish Bay 91 Garden View Room, $650; Ocean View Room, $965. 2700 17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach. Tel. (831) 647-7500.
LIKE: The quiet and privacy of this intimate retreat.
DISLIKE: The property does not have the water views that one can enjoy at the other Pebble Beach hotels.
GOOD TO KNOW: The hotel adjoins the 22,000-square-foot Spa at Pebble Beach, which means it is a quick and easy walk to the superb facility.
Casa Palmero at Pebble Beach 98 Estate Room, $945; Spa Room, $1,200. 1518 Cypress Drive, Pebble Beach. Tel. (831) 622-6666.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of the February 2015 Hideaway Report under the title "Pebble Beach: Revisiting a Classic Golf Retreat."