CARMEL VALLEY RANCH
1 Old Ranch Road, Carmel; 831-625-9500, cvrgolf.com. Yardage: 6,234. Par: 70. Slope: 138. Architect: Pete Dye, 1981. Greens Fees: $90-$180. T+L GOLF Rating: ***1/2
Dye originally designed this course back when he considered curses to be compliments. It featured such trademarked elements (or silliness) as a six-tiered green on the fourteenth hole that Greg Norman legendarily six-putted—then swore he'd never play here again. In 1995, Dye was rehired (at the cost of one dollar) to soften the layout, and what remains is an exquisitely maintained resort course that demands smart placement. It's not the longest, hardest march on the peninsula, but its well-contoured greens and penal bunkering still offer a heady challenge. The front nine, meandering near the homes that line the valley floor, is a mere prelude to the back, whose climb into the steep hills provides a type of up-and-down joyride unique to the area. Indeed, standing on the tee at the 438-yard par-four eleventh, surveying the sixty-five-foot drop to the fairway below, you could almost be excused for yelling, "I'm king of the valley!" Excused, that is, except by your playing partners.
DEL MONTE GOLF COURSE
1300 Sylvan Road, Monterey; 831-373-2700, delmontegolf.com. Yardage: 6,357. Par: 72. Slope: 123. Architect: Charles Maud, 1897. Greens Fee: $95. T+L GOLF Rating: ***1/2
The oldest course in continuous operation west of the Mississippi, it's hard to believe this pleasant little track was once held in higher regard than its younger sister, Pebble Beach. But there are subtle pleasures to be found here. Typical of their time, the smallish greens are pitched back to front, making distance control a must. And the well-bunkered par threes, averaging almost 190 yards, are all surprisingly stern. Most interesting is the par-three fourteenth, a historical artifact boasting the course's last original push-up green. The layout's tight routing makes four-hour rounds common. And its location near the Monterey airport suggests it's a (relatively) fog-free zone. Those seeking a reprieve from the area's marquee grinds will consider this an afternoon well spent.
GOLF CLUB AT QUAIL LODGE
8205 Valley Greens Drive, Carmel; 831-620-8808, quaillodge.com. Yardage: 6,449. Par: 71. Slope: 128. Architect: Robert Muir Graves, 1964. Greens Fees: $120-$180. T+L GOLF Rating: ***1/2
It's not a knock on Quail to call it the area's great warm-up course. Indeed, it boasts all the elements crucial to a work-out-the-kinks round: The fairways are plush, delivering consistently cushy lies. The pristine bent-grass greens deliver the truest rolls in Monterey. With a veritable arboretum of trees (pines, oaks, willows, elms, sycamores), it plays like a walk in the park. Best of all, it's free from perhaps the greatest downside of Pebble Beach golf: the often dreary weather that plagues the coastal courses. The Carmel Valley—where Quail Lodge, Carmel Valley Ranch and Rancho Cañada reside—is far enough inland to be free from all that fog. If this doesn't get your game grooved for Pebble, it's possible you have no groove.
THE LINKS AT SPANISH BAY
2700 17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach; 831-647-7500, pebblebeach.com. Yardage: 6,821. Par: 72. Slope: 146. Architects: Robert Trent Jones Jr., Tom Watson and Sandy Tatum, 1987. Greens Fee: $215. T+L GOLF Rating: ***1/2
Some complain this "linksland" feels manufactured. ("It's no links," said a British playing partner. "It's far too manicured and pretty, and you can't have haggis afterward.") Others argue that the tight fairways, mounded greens and more than twenty protected native areas are simply too brutal. ("You lose a dozen balls, shoot a million," said a local scratch golfer, "and then wait a few years before you play it again.") Still, if given a choice between this impeccably maintained course and the old sandpit that once occupied the land, we'll take the course. What's more, when the fog is down, its ocean views rival Pebble's, and when the wind is down, it feels more tricky than tricked-out. Indeed, there is much to love at Spanish Bay—when you're on your game.
PACIFIC GROVE GOLF LINKS
77 Asilomar Boulevard, Pacific Grove; 831-648-5777, ci.pacific-grove.ca.us. Yardage: 5,732. Par: 70. Slope: 117. Architects: Jack Neville and H. Chandler Egan, 1932 (front); Neville, 1960 (back). Greens Fees: $32-$38. T+L GOLF Rating: ***1/2
It's referred to so often as "the poor man's Pebble" that one almost expects to see derelicts roaming its fairways. But a glance at the course designers reveals the history behind this hype. Neville (who probably receives too much credit for Pebble Beach) and Egan (who receives far too little) joined forces in 1932 to produce this front nine, a tight parkland that winds through homes and dense packs of cypress trees. Twenty-eight years later Neville completed the back, a links-style assemblage that runs dramatically out to the Pacific at Point Pinos and draws all those comparisons to Pebble. Its sandy fairways play to tiny dune-flanked greens, providing perhaps the truest links on the peninsula (Spanish Bay be damned). Granted, one feels a tad silly getting effusive about a track that tips out shorter than most ladies' tees. But on a dollar-per-vista basis, this one's tough to beat.
LAGUNA SECA GOLF RANCH
10520 York Road, Monterey; 888-524-8629, lagunasecagolf.com. Yardage: 6,161. Par: 71. Slope: 127. Architects: Robert Trent Jones Sr. and RTJ Jr., 1970. Greens Fee: $65. T+L GOLF Rating: ***
Laguna Seca offers hillside golf that is unrelenting in its ups and downs: raised tees, precipitous drops, elevated greens, sloping fairways. If you're standing on a flat lie here, it probably means you've hit your ball onto the adjacent Route 68. The terrain, however, isn't all that's notable: The course was also the first joint design of Jones père and Jones fils, and one can almost sense father and son feeling their way through the collaboration. The front nine is unremarkable, but the Joneses hit their stride on the back, with a series of dramatic holes that reaches a crescendo at the par-five fifteenth. A perfect downhill drive at this 548-yarder presents the option of a heroic 220-yard all-water carry—just the kind of foolish play of which great golf holes are made.
BEST OF THE REST
Rancho Cañada Golf Club, West ($80; 800-536-9459), a worthy muni nestled in the Carmel Valley at the foot of the Santa Lucia Mountains, is a tree-lined track that looks like Poppy, plays like Del Monte—and, in case you're counting, costs less than either. The Peter Hay Golf Course ($20; 831-625-8518) is a par-three layout just a few three-irons from the Pebble Beach course. It presents a wide-open warm-up for your wedges. In nearby Hollister you'll find the Fred Couples-designed San Juan Oaks Golf Club ($55-$80; 800-453-8337), a superb 7,133-yard layout whose many oaks and streams play to a slope of 145—but whose five tees on every hole make it playable for all.
Cypress Point Club, Pebble Beach. Is Alister MacKenzie's self-proclaimed masterpiece all it's made out to be?It is indeed—all that and more. The stretch of ocean holes, fifteen through seventeen, is one of the greatest the world has ever seen—or at least that part of the world that's well-connected enough to see it.
Monterey Peninsula Country Club, Pebble Beach. The club's Dunes course was remodeled by Rees Jones in 1998, but eyebrows were raised when the proudly untraditional Mike Strantz was hired to rework its Shore course. An inspired choice or an insipid one?Members will know this summer, when his work is revealed.
Pasadera Country Club, Monterey. This 2000 Jack Nicklaus Signature design blends seamlessly into the hills above Monterey. At 6,801 yards (with six par threes) it hardly wears out drivers, but it does wear out its share of necks, as they crane to appreciate the course's 375 feet of elevation change.
The Preserve Golf Club, Carmel Valley. When it debuted in 2000, this Tom Fazio layout made quite the splash, touting a membership teeming with Silicon Valley tycoons. They joined to play this jaw-dropping, naturalistic gem, sprawled lustily across 365 acres in the remotest reaches of the valley.
Salinas Golf & Country Club, Salinas. Built in 1925 and remodeled by Stephen Halsey in the early nineties, Salinas is still a mere 6,102 yards. But this beautifully manicured track is a tight little bugger that pleases its old-school members.
TehÀma Golf Club, Carmel Valley. Clint Eastwood owns this club, where he and his Carmel cronies bask in the spectacular views on the 1999 Jay Morrish design. A tricky routing through foothill slopes, it's legendary for its remarkable conditioning.