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History in the Monterey Peninsula

Fifty years have passed; so have both my grandfather and father. But whenever I walk around the course at Cypress Point, I still see them at play in what they were pleased to imagine as the fields of the lord, my grandfather, wearing a red sweater and checked plus fours, so eager to swing at the ball that he sometimes turned through a circle of nearly 360 degrees, my father the more subtle figure in gray corduroy and a tweed cap, so deft in his touch around the greens that from any distance less than seventy yards he was nearly always down in two.

At irregular intervals during the same fifty years, I've returned fairly often to the course at Cypress Point, also to the ones at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill, and I've done enough reading about the Monterey Peninsula, its history and topography, to know that the notion of an earthly paradise was by no means original to my ancestors. The Spanish grandees who arrived from Mexico in the 1770s divided the land into large haciendas of several thousand acres, and for the next seventy years devoted themselves to the love of horses, a delight in luxury and fancy dress and a talent for extortion. The port at Monterey served as the capital of what they knew as Alta California, and from every ship trading anywhere on the coast, the caballeros required a generous bribe before its goods could be rowed ashore. The town fell to the possession of the United States as a consequence of the Mexican-American War, in 1846, but the gold rush of 1849 emptied the streets of most of the inhabitants. The fulcrum of California's commerce moved north to San Francisco, the capitol to Sacramento, and the Monterey Peninsula disappeared into the fog banks of pastoral romance. Robert Louis Stevenson thought the scenery picturesque when he came briefly to California in 1879 in pursuit of the woman whom he subsequently married. Their courtship lasted six months, Stevenson spending a good many afternoons wandering over the hillsides, watching the waves burst "with a surprising uproar that runs, waxing and waning, up and down the long keyboard of the beach." On being told about the planned construction of a grand hotel on Monterey Bay, he was moved to a feeling of pity: "Alas for the little town! It is not strong enough to resist the influence of the flaunting caravanserai, and thepoor, quaint, penniless native gentlemen of Monterey must perish, like a lower race, before the millionaire vulgarians of the Big Bonanza."

The author of Treasure Island took a too romantic view of the little town. The citizens of Monterey welcomed the opening of the Hotel Del Monte in June 1880 with fireworks and a parade, happy to receive as many "millionaire vulgarians" as might care to flaunt their diamonds and their feathered hats. The old photographs show a wooden palace in the gothic manner promoted as "The Most Charming Winter and Summer Resort in the World." The phrase originated with Charles Crocker, the railroad tycoon who conceived and built the hotel as a West Coast variation on the theme of extravagance popular with the Vanderbilts at Newport. Crocker was one of the "big four," who together with his equally wealthy partners owned the Southern Pacific Railroad as well as a good part of the state of California. As an additional attraction for those of his guests wishing to see something of the coast, Crocker bought (for $35,000) a seven-thousand-acre forest to the south of Monterey Bay (then the Rancho el Pescadero, now Pebble Beach) through which the railroad's workmen constructed a seventeen-mile carriage drive. President Teddy Roosevelt galloped around the path in 1903 on a splendid little horse equipped, "as is usually the case here" with "a great deal of silver on the bridle."

The Hotel Del Monte glittered in the social limelight for nearly thirty years, but by 1915 the ballrooms were empty of music, the gardens no longer frequented by European royalty, and the heirs of the founders of the Southern Pacific were selling the railroad's extraneous real estate. Fortunately for the game of golf, the task of liquidation was assigned to Samuel F. B. Morse, a young man who had come to California in 1906 at the invitation of one of the Crocker heirs with whom he had played football at Yale. A distant relative of the inventor of Morse code, by nature both generous and autocratic, Morse proposed to sell houses for important money, and he figured that an impressive golf course would attract buyers committed, like the caballeros from Old Castile, to a life of privilege and ease. Prior to Morse's arrival, the railroad's property managers had drawn up plans subdividing the land along the bluffs on Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove into narrow residential lots, fifty by one hundred feet, meant for niggling lawyers and prosperous accountants. Morse burned the plans. Guessing that a better class of customer would prefer bigger houses farther up the hillside (overlooking both a golf course and an ocean), he prevailed upon two amateur golfers, Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, to design what is now the masterwork at Pebble Beach.

Construction began in 1916, the lots on the bluffs changed into the incomparable series of holes from number four through number ten, Neville saying, many years later, "It was all there in plain sight." Neither golfer asked for even so much as a consulting fee, and in 1918 Morse built an opulent lodge to replace a log cabin that had served as a rustic curiosity for the travelers on the carriage drive.

By 1919, Morse had become so fond of his improvements to what he called the "circle of enchantment" that he completed the railroad's liquidation by acquiring, for his own account, all of its remaining interests on the Monterey Peninsula. He formed a new company, Del Monte Properties, and with the sum of $1.3 million he bought the two hotels, the seven-thousand-acre forest between Carmel and Pacific Grove, the two golf courses at Pebble Beach, the San Clemente Dam, a sand mine and eleven thousand acres in the Carmel valley.

He was fortunate in his timing. At the end of the war in Europe, America turned to the project of having a good time; the excitements of the roaring twenties bid up the market not only for Wall Street stocks but also for golf balls and views of the Pacific Ocean. The Hotel Del Monte burned to the ground in 1924, but Morse rebuilt it in two years, employing the Spanish style of architecture then in vogue in Palm Beach and Beverly Hills. The new arrangement of luxury attracted the first generation of film stars, among them Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Thinking to enhance further the appearance of the coast, Morse in 1925 commissioned the building of the Monterey Peninsula Country Club and sold (for $150,000) 160 acres of "desirable terrain" to a foursome of investors undertaking to establish a private course at Cypress Point. My grandfather served as chairman of the committee that drummed up 250 subscribers agreeing to pay $2,000 for a membership. As a vice president of the USGA in 1927, he also sponsored Morse's campaign to bring the 1929 amateur championship to Pebble Beach. A few days prior to the first set of matches, Bobby Jones asked to play a practice round at Cypress Point, which was how it came to pass that my father showed him the course, and why I still have the putter (wooden shaft, goose neck, very heavy in the head) that Jones borrowed from him on the eleventh green.


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