When players tee off for this year’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the golf world will focus on the coastal cliffs and cypress-lined fairways of Pebble Beach Golf Links. Pebble Beach Company founder Samuel Finley Brown Morse commissioned the storied course in 1916, back when he managed Monterey Peninsula Properties for the Pacific Improvement Company. At the time, Morse was more interested in attracting buyers than establishing a legendary golf destination.
“His goal was liquidation,” says course historian and Pebble Beach Company Director of Licensing and Special Projects Neal Hotelling. “He was trying to sell properties and he was trying to make what was known as the Del Monte Unit more attractive.”
By the time Pebble Beach Golf Links opened in 1919, Morse’s intentions had changed. He purchased the land himself, forming Del Monte Properties Company (the precursor to Pebble Beach Company) five days after the first guests teed off. Over the next four decades, the amateur designers that Morse chose for these now world-renowned fairways continued to shape other Monterey Peninsula courses—including the Pacific Grove Golf Links, an affordable, under-theradar gem that’s been named one of the nation’s top 50 courses under $50 by Golf Magazine.
Though Pacific Improvement Company board members gave Morse the go-ahead to construct a Pebble Beach course in 1916, he didn’t have the budget for a top designer. Instead, he turned to two players: Jack Neville and Douglas Grant. Grant was a California native and accomplished golfer who spent some time in England studying business and British links courses. Neville, who won the California State Amateur Championship five times between 1912 and 1929, was well known in golfing circles and well versed in western courses. Because Morse planned to sell what the pair built in Pebble Beach, they came up with what Hotelling calls, “a well designed, but not well constructed” course.
“The original plan, because they were in liquidation mode, was to maintain the course with sheep. A few rocks in the fairways didn’t create a problem for those mowers, so Neville and Grant didn’t take all the rocks out of the fairway,” he says.
That proved unpopular with players, as did the hoof prints left behind by the herd. “Sheep weren’t very good for the greens,” adds Hotelling, “and their fertilizer delivery system left something to be desired.” After Morse purchased the Pebble Beach Golf Links, he brought people in to improve and maintain turf conditions. With the exception of a few changes (the original par-four 18th was lengthened to a par five in 1922; various holes were reconfigured in advance of the 1929 U.S. Amateur Championship; and the fifth hole was later moved to the coastline), the course layout stays mostly true to Neville and Grant’s original design.
That 1929 U.S. Amateur Championship was the tournament’s first presentation west of St. Louis, and organizers brought in H. Chandler Egan and Robert Hunter to prepare Pebble Beach Golf Links for play. Hunter, who lived near the course’s second hole at the time, was also working with British course architect Alister Mackenzie at Cypress Point and at other California courses. Hotelling believes that all three designers contributed to those late 1920s improvements at Pebble Beach, which included upgrades to all 18 holes.
“They added a lot of sand and made it look more like a links course, instead of a meadowland golf course on the bluff. They moved a few tees and rebuilt a few greens, but the bunkers are what really stand out,” Hotelling says.
Shortly after the 1929 U.S. Amateur Championship, Egan was selected for a new local project. Morse’s company owned land near the Point Pinos Lighthouse, and he again wanted to craft a golf course that would attract buyers for the surrounding parcels. The Pacific Grove community got behind the project, and Egan’s nine-hole course opened in 1932. The routing of his figure eight, out and back design was changed a few decades later, when the clubhouse was moved to its current location. In 1960, original Pebble Beach Golf Links co-architect Jack Neville expanded the Pacific Grove course with nine new waterfront holes constructed on land owned by the U.S. Coast Guard. The military officially deeded the property to the city of Pacific Grove in 2006.
Inspired by traditional links designs, Neville’s nine holes cross gently rolling dunes, catch challenging breezes and offer sweeping views of the ocean.
“The two nines are vastly different,” says Kurt Vogel, Pacific Grove Golf Links general manager and director of golf. “The brilliance is that this golf course was designed in two periods of time that were not quite as driven by most of today’s modern technology…What we’re left with is fun for the average golfer, plenty of challenges for the accomplished player and a course that’s so natural in so many areas. With such a dramatic contrast between the two nines, it really leaves you satisfied about your round of golf.”
In recent months, Vogel and his team have spent nearly $100,000 on course-wide capital improvements, reconstructing bunkers, refining turf conditions and refreshing tee boxes. As upgrades continue, Vogel is committed to keeping prices reasonable. Tee times in Pacific Grove top out at $68 during prime weekend periods, and most time slots cost even less.
“What makes us successful is our affordability and our location,” Vogel says, ticking off the courses tucked between the Pacific Grove Golf Links and Pebble Beach Golf Links— including the Links at Spanish Bay, Monterey Peninsula Country Club, Cypress Point Golf Club and Spyglass Hill Golf Course. “If you worked your way from here to there and you were fortunate enough to play all of them, it would be the experience of a lifetime,” he says.