When you get the chance to play golf at Pebble Beach, you play there for the incredible scenery, for the amazing golf holes, and for the historic golf moments that have occurred there. But once you have played the headline course, another great golf opportunity awaits at Spyglass Hill (SGH)!
Pebble Beach, especially the first time you play it, can be ”golf overload” for many a golfer for the reasons cited above. (Trust me on that one!) On the other hand, Spyglass Hill tends to be a more relaxing, golf-enjoyable day. SGH offers a limited amount of the spectacular ocean scenery found at Pebble. The visual background is nowhere near as dramatic; and once you get past the first five holes at SGH, you lose all view of the ocean. Playing Spyglass is simply a more traditional, picture-perfect, immaculately manicured day of golf.
So the day after I almost choked over Pebble Beach, my brother and I set off for Round 2 at Spyglass Hill. The weather started out very similar to the previous day at PB … cool, foggy, damp. As we hit balls at the practice tee, the ocean layer fog and mist condensed on the trees overhead and dripped down like rain. As the day progressed the fog eased. Though there was little sun, the day was comfortable, dry, almost perfect.
We met our caddy, Doug on the first tee and were paired with two of the friendliest golfers, Pete and Tom; two gentlemen who maintained my perfect record of NEVER being paired with a jerk on a golf course! Pete’s wife, Joanne, was our fifth and the groups’ unofficial photographer. Yet another first … someone who walked through 18 holes of golf simply for the scenery and photo ops!
Your first impression of Spyglass Hill is how lush and wooded it is in contrast to the wide open ocean landscapes of its more famous neighbor. The lushness of the course makes for better overall golf conditions. At times Pebble suffers from the effects of too much sun and not enough rain. When we played there, some Pebble Beach fairways had recently gone through hair-plug-type treatments to remedy “pattern baldness” caused by a hot, dry summer. No such issues were found at Spyglass.
The first five holes at SGH are the most dramatic – scenery wise – on the circuit, with panoramic views of lush forest green against sandy waste areas and the ocean beyond. After #5 the course moves inland and upwards into the Del Monte Forest. It’s easy to see how Spyglass differs from Pebble in these first 5 holes.
#2 is a short (349 yards) uphill par 4 that requires precision to avoid trouble surrounding the fairway. Once you get the green at #2, you get your first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean – Spyglass style, which is less dramatic than Pebble but just as beautiful. The tee shot for the par 3 - 3rd hole (The Black Spot) is one of two Par 3s (#3 & #5) at Spyglass that play directly towards the ocean, although the Pacific is not in play on either hole.
Spyglass Hill was designed by Robert Trent Jones in the 1960s; and the 345-yard (from the whites) par-4 fourth hole (Blind Pew) is said to have been his favorite. And it’s easy to see why. The hole is neither long or treacherous; but the green is unique and requires precision to set up and execute the best approach. The green is an estimated 20 feet wide on the back-end, and is as narrow as 8-10 feet on the front side. But the green is also about 60-75 feet long! The green quite literally snakes between several dunes and hillocks. So not only is it an easy green to miss; if you hit it in the wrong spot, you could be looking at a meandering, incredibly long putt, assuming you even have line-of-sight to the hole. This was easily my favorite hole as it played that day with the hole at the green’s narrowest spot – the front. Caddy Doug made his first “stroke saving” contribution here by coaching me through a delicate and tricky chip shot that had to land well off the green to stay on the green!
I hit one of my more memorable shots to the green at the par-3 #5 (Bird Rock) after chunking my tee shot into the sandy waste area short and left. Caddy Doug, talked me into an almost effortless recovery shot that resulted in a much appreciated - in light of my tee shot – bogey 4.
Part of my enjoyment for our round at Spyglass Hill was the fact that I was playing very well from the tees with driver in hand. Out of 14 holes requiring driver or 3-wood off the tee, I hit 12 fairways; and one of those was a technical near-miss. With woods all around, you need to be straight off the tees or frustration will reign! My brother, Pat struggled a bit with his golf demon – the snap hook; but for the most part he was able to keep up with me. Caddy Doug kept our heads in the game – especially on the back nine – by constantly hustling to position himself as a mid-fairway lawn-jockey-type target. I took some pride in almost plunking him several times as he had dared us to try!
Many approach shots (more my undoing than those off the tees) have one – if not more – challenging aspects, be they an overabundance of sand or sentry duty performed by perniciously placed ponds. That being said, I lost but a single ball to “water envelopment”, which for me was a nice accomplishment! The greens are not full of the crazy, sea-driven breaks and bends found at Pebble Beach; but they present enough of a challenge that investing in a caddy can make a difference. With that in mind, I highly recommend the services of our caddy, Douglas Allen Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) should you go to either Pebble or Spyglass. Doug is a real hustler; a great source of course information; and works hard to keep your head in the game. His only drawback is that he’s a stinkin’ Yankees fan!
Other golf highlights of the day were my stiff approach to the flag on the number one handicap hole, the par-4 #8 (Signal Hill), though I missed the par putt. And brother, Pat thrilled the gallery (left) with a pitch-in birdie on #13 (Tom Morgan).
The deer population is a cute diversion from the “pressures” of golf at Spyglass. The wildlife is neither frightened or especially put off their feeding by the presence of humans with their long shiny golf weapons. It is possible to get quite close to the deer; if you take it slow and easy. They are wary, but obviously used to humans playing stupid games in their midst! They’ll let you know when you get too close by simply moving away.
The last real drama of the day occurred at another par 3, the 15th (Jim Hawkins). The shortest hole at Spyglass; it plays to just 98 yards and downhill at that. (See Pat’s picture above for a look at the shot to #15.) I was hitting fourth in recognition of my superb snowman on the previous hole. One of our partners, Tom, preceded me and promptly stuck the ball two feet from the hole; spun it back directly over the hole; ending up about 8 feet below the flag. I followed that near ace by chosing my trusty 9-iron and stuck my tee shot just two feet past Bill’s quite visible ball mark on the green; but my ball simply trickled down the slope towards the hole, ending up; 4 feet from the hole. And of course, I missed the birdie putt!
From there on out, and aside from pars by both Pat and I at the 17th (Ben Gunn), our Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill experiences were coming to an end. All kidding aside, Patrick played better than me both times; posting a 97 at SGH that included two pars to go along with his stunning pitch-in birdie on #13. Overall, I loved playing both courses. Who wouldn’t?!? But the experience at each course is quite different from the other. Pebble is a must-do for any golfer who prizes the ultra golf experiences that come only at the sport’s premiere venues. Spyglass Hill however, is simply golf at its purest, without the thrills and chills of crazy, sea-cliff golf. Play Pebble Beach because you must. Play Spyglass Hill simply because you LOVE golf!
More pics from Spyglass Hill: