Golf and Grapes, Monterey Style
Golfing at Pacific Grove. Photo by Darrell Scattergood
Golfing at Pacific Grove. Photo by Darrell Scattergood
PGGL 18th Hole from Behind Green. Photo by Darrell Scattergood
PGGL 17th Hole From Behind Green. Photo by Darrell Scattergood
PGGL 13th Hole From Above Green at Dusk. Photo by Darrell Scattergood
Sun worshippers don’t mince words when they say Monterey is not Palm Springs. But for a golfer like me, that’s a plus. I have often noted that while Palm Springs is a snowbird’s haven that just happens to have some good golf courses randomly placed, the opposite is the case in Monterey.
Within a half-hour cruise of neighboring Carmel’s renowned 17-mile drive are more than two dozen public courses. More extraordinary is the assortment of course designs.
In a week, you can tee it up at four Scottish-links-style courses, three old-school major-championship venues and even an Augusta twin. Take that, Palm Springs.
Direct air service from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix and Denver makes this destination easy to each.
It’s okay if you thought of the northern coast of California as a singular course destination rather than a spot for a week-long golf trip. That’s because until just a few years ago, even Monterey courses struggled to appreciate the visitors they could attract if they marketed together. Recently, the 18 golf resorts that belong to the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.seemonterey.com) began a campaign to attract duffers. It was challenged briefly by economy, but the recovery is complete, and the association is making a big push to lure players, including custom packages based on the size and needs of each group. It’s not quite as organized as, say, the Southern California Golf Association, but the Monterey group is quickly learning to compete with its competitors to the south, using a grouping of good golf, luxury accommodations and simplicity of use.
If you go, put the famous Pacific Grove Golf Links at the top of your playlist. Situated on the tip of the scenic Monterey Peninsula, overlooking Point Pinos and the Pacific Ocean, Pacific Grove Golf Links is a distinguished, 18-hole golf course featuring both parkland and links-style nines. Its back nine holes frolic among the sand dunes offers great ocean views. The course is regarded by many in the San Francisco Bay Area to be the best golf value in the Carmel, Monterey, Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach areas. A great day trip for business travelers staying in San Jose or the Silicon Valley, it is only a scenic one hour drive away.
Figurative links to the past seem to be a trend in Monterey. It’s hard to spend time here and not think about wine, Okies and John Steinbeck. Nor does it seem out of place to tee it up on a course that pays homage to golf’s roots. Any trip to Monterey should include a round at Pebble Beach Golf Links. It’s the area’s priciest course ($495), but the experience is worth it. After a round, I did not question its top ranking on Golf Digest’s 2011 America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses list. It was an exciting and tricky round, and I believed I entered a golf museum in the clubhouse, with remnants of the club’s hosting of the 1929, ‘47, ’61 and ‘99 U.S. Amateurs and the ’72, ’82, ’92, 2000 and 2010 U.S. Open Championships.
Everything from the wood lockers to the spike marks on Pebble Beach’s clubhouse steps reminded me that I was witnessing a piece of golf’s past as well as its celebrated present: the course hosts the annual Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament. The future is also looking good, with the recent announcement that the site will future venue of the 2019 U.S. Open.
If you prefer modern layouts and affordable fees, venture inland to Salinas Fairways Golf Course, designed by famed course architect Jack Fleming. Nestled in the fertile Salinas Valley and surrounded by the Gabilan Hills, this municipal club was redesigned and renovated in 1998. Don’t bother sampling the local agriculture at this stop: when eaten whole, those Zinfandel grapes are full of wrath. (Don’t ask me how I know this.)
To relax that golf swing after a round, check in at Portola Hotel and Spa in Monterey and try the signature coconut balm massage. You can eat at any number of big-chain restaurants on the outskirts of town, but for a real experience, head out to Pèppoli at The Inn at Spanish Bay. The seafood is fresh and local, and the people-watching is worth any wait for a table (think Caddyshack).
If you have a love for the literary, stop by the National Steinbeck Center. Its interactive exhibits, interposed with John Steinbeck’s words, vividly narrate the region’s gritty and unique past. Afterward, if you want a literal taste of the time, head to the Steinbeck House for lunch. The restaurant’s carte du jour, featuring local sourced, fresh produce, is not to be missed.
After experiencing Steinbeck’s accounts of local agricultural history, you’re almost certainly contemplating a taste or twelve of the California wine from the many tasting rooms in the area. Well, let’s just say that even if you’ve sampled the best from Tuscany and Bordeaux, the prestige of drinking California wine is worth the expense, for the envy factor alone. In fact, that’s the real allure of a golf trip to Monterey: the bragging rights. I’m not going to wax Steinbeck on you, but Monterey is a nod to Americana. From the famed Cannery Row, to the spectacular coastline, to Clint Eastwood, the famous former mayor of neighboring Carmel, there are few golf destinations that offer the allure, fascination and opulence of Monterey.
For more information about golf, accommodations or dining in Monterey, visit the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau website www.seemonterey.com.
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