Choking down a day at Pebble Beach

pearlpbLiterally, I was choking down my Pebble Beach experience.  My big chance to play one of the iconic golf courses in the country and the sport, and an hour-and-a-half before our tee-time my Anxiety-O-Meter was shutting down my internal organs!  I had NEVER felt like this before playing a round of golf.  As much as I tried to relax; to take in the surroundings; to enjoy my Eggs Benedict, I was very, very close to a Critical Mass Event!

There were several possible reasons.

  • We had left Mission Ranch, where we had stayed the night before with the woman folk, at 0-it’s-still-so-freakin’-dark hundred hours, so it felt like we were sneaking onto the most famous golf resort in America like a pair of illegals.  I half expected the immaculately uniformed attendants and valets to lay hands upon us and eject us from the premises!
  • Everything about this place is intimidating when you allow the mystique of Pebble Beach and the potential heights of its golf experience to get a stranglehold on your emotions.
  • And of course, every golfer can appreciate the phenomena of First Tee Jitters.  Now just multiply that by several orders of magnitude and suddenly those Eggs Benedict are like trying to swallow a chunk of fairway turf.  My biggest fear was cleaving a foot-sized divot from the first tee and seeing my golf ball mocking me from its perch, untouched by my TaylorMade!

Yes, that would explain a lot!  But eventually it passed, though I’m not sure exactly when or how.  After a ride out to the range and a bucket of balls, it was time to face the legacy of Pebble Beach and those golf legends that had played there before us.

Of course I had to make a few adjustments to my golf-playing expectations, given my surroundings, the difficulty of some of the holes we would play, and the fact that I was still battling the flight side of my fight-or-flight survival instincts.

  1. I knew – or at least expected – that unless I morphed into my Tiger Woods PGA Tour video game icon, the quality of my golf game was going to be a distant second to the overall aura of playing Pebble Beach.
  2. I was going to enjoy the atmosphere, scenery and uniqueness of what could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, regardless of how well or poorly I played.
  3. I wasn’t about to permit the demons of my sporadic golf game to ruin such a monumental day!  But – may Johnny Miller forgive me – if I did chunk up a big piece of Pebble Beach fairway, it might just be ground-under-repair for a few months; because THAT hunk of turf would be heading back East with me if I had to wear it as a hair hat the rest of the trip!

And then we were on the first tee!  I think that the overload of panic I felt earlier that morning somehow mitigated the horrendous crush of first-tee jitters I had anticipated.  The first tee area wasn’t nearly as crowded as I had anticipated for our 9:00 a.m. tee time, which I’m sure helped.  And all the ancillary distractions of meeting our caddy, Josh (another first for me!), our playing partners, and even the relatively tame layout of the first hole allowed me to swing my driver without hurting anyone.

Of course, that dreaded high fade didn’t help.  But I wasn’t the only one who needed to hit a provisional ball off the 1st tee.  The second drive was much better; and I played the first two holes pretty well, including a bogie on the par 5 #2 hole.  On Hole #3 you get your first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.  It’s just a teaser for what’s to follow; but it’s enough to make your putter take notice!

First glimpse of ocean at #3

At #4 my dastardly fade cost me my first ball on the first true ocean hole.  (I would only lose 6-8 for the day, which was far better than I expected!)  Then the REAL FUN began.  #5 is a par 3 that runs along the ocean cliffs; and I didn’t play that hole too badly, given the difficulty of finding my pulled tee shot after it bounded down the cart path.  My brother, Pat, deposited his tee shot off a tree and into what was purportedly Charles Schwab’s backyard!

Little bro, Pat putting on #4

Holes #6, 7 and 8 are three of the most beautiful holes in golf.  And I would say that #8 is indeed one of the greatest holes I’ve ever played!

The second shot up the hill to the second fairway and green of #6 is the first of those grip-grinding moments you face at Pebble, at least if you’re a short hitter like me and it looks like you have to clear a 8-story building to reach the upper portion of the fairway.  You have to marvel at those strong and brave enough to play right-to-left over the most dangerous portion of the sea cliff.

The par 3 #7 was the setting for my closest encounter with Pebble Beach greatness!  #7 is not particularly long at 106 yards; but the backdrop gives you much pause.  Golf jail here is in the form of a high, steep ocean cliff surrounding the green.  No one in our foursome found the green most likely due to an overabundance of caution.  Once I travelled down to the putting surface, I found my tee shot in the green-side bunker left of the pin.  In a classic “ugly but effective” moment, my semi-crisp sandwedge barely cleared the lip; was slowed by the thick grass lining the top of the trap; and tracked right at the hole.  (My cinematographer has the video evidence!)  Despite shouts of encouragement (“It’s right at the hole!”), the ball struck the edge of the cup and rolled away.  Of course I missed the comeback putt, but that couldn’t diminish the thrill of almost holing out from the sand of #7!

My “almost” sand shot position can be seen just pin high in the sand!

When we arrived on the tee of #8, Josh – our caddy for the day, warned us not to hit anything further than 200 yards off the tee.  His advice was timely given the amazing challenge awaiting us.  All four of us hit perfect tee shots to within 20 feet of the edge of the fairway, only to look down at one of the most awe-inspiring approach shots in golf.

The approach shot on the magnificent #8 at Pebble Beach

Two balls later, I had just missed clearing the yawning sea chasm.  My playing partners were more successful; but that was the kind of day it was for me.  Regardless, I was pumped at having played the kind of golf shot I might never see again!  The fascinating part of #8 is that there is no protection whatsoever – aside from politely placed signs warning of a steep drop – to keep an unsuspecting golfer (as difficult as that might be to imagine) from taking a slip ‘n slide dive into the most hazardous hazard known to the sport!

The above photo and those following show the dramatic changes in fog conditions we encountered resulting from the cool ocean layer.  Shortly before playing #8 in bright, clear sunshine, this was the view down #6 (below).  The fairway lies just left of the bunkers.

The fog was a minor nuisance.  But it did curtail the number of dramatic photo-ops we encountered, especially on those holes along the cliffs and lower shoreline (#17 & 18).

Infamous #18 along the beach from the green

This is what #18 looked like from the green down the fairway (left). You can make out the well-known seawall and sand trap that line the craggy shoreline that is death for any stray shots.  Off in the distance you can see the form of the two trees that mark the aiming point for drives off the tee.  My lone disappointment was not being able to appreciate the full incredible vista of #18 from the tee box.

It was just that kind of day on the Monterey peninsula!

The rest of our round from #10 through #16 – though devoid of spectacular vistas – was full of excellent golf holes and mind-boggling putts.  My one recommendation for anyone looking to experience Pebble Beach (or Spyglass Hill which will be posted later) is to spend the extra cash and arrange for a caddy to accompany you.  You cannot ride a cart up to your ball at Pebble as carts are always restricted to the cart paths; so the caddy (hauling both our bags) is advisable for getting the most out of your round.

In addition, the putts alone on some of the greens REQUIRE an experienced guide.  I could have easily 4 or 5-putted a number of greens without the assistance of Josh.  The first few times your caddy tries to give a read on some of the greens, your brain won’t allow you to follow his advice.  Your mind simply can’t overcome the difference between what the eye sees and what you’re being told to do.  After just one or two bad misses though, you learn to listen to your caddy and tell your brain to shut up, sit down, and enjoy the ride!

On #14, which we were told is shaved like cue ball for tournaments, I faced what looked like a severe uphill 20-foot putt.  Not so fast, counseled Josh.  It’s actually a DOWN HILL putt!  (Putting so near the ocean turns everything upside down.  Downhill can be “up”; and uphill “down” depending on your orientation to the sea.  The physics of which I cannot comprehend!)  Josh points to a spot barely 3-4 feet away from my ball and a good 8 feet – directionally – AWAY from the flag!  “Trust me.”, he says.  “Hit it here and gravity will do the rest!”  So I hit it where I’m told, then watch in disbelief as the putt breaks not once, not twice, but three times as the ball meanders UP the 8-inch slope.  The putt finishing just inches away from the hole!

Trust me, take a caddy!

3 thoughts on “Choking down a day at Pebble Beach

  1. As an eyewitness I can attest to the rather accurate account Cranky Man provides about his Pebble Beach experience for I was his playing partner. Crank stays true to his aptly named nature in his gripping account of his golf Holy Grail assault. Specific Crankiness points will be noted later in my comments.

    I remember during breakfast overlooking the slightly foggy early morning first tee box at Pebble, that the Crankster, for some reason, was having difficulty swallowing his eggs benedict, it was as if he was suffering from strep throat. From reading the Cranksters myopic blog I learned he was suffering PTSD (Pre-round Pebble Traumatic Stress Disorder).

    Cranky and I had decided in cross country phone calls and the pre-round drive to Pebble that we were just going to enjoy the experience and not fret about the high scores we would book that day. I think it was a good approach. I did not think I was anxious to play Pebble until half way through the first hole after I looked up on at least 3 shots, part of this I blame on concern about following my shots in the lightly foggy sky. I settled down by the third hole as I grooved my drive directly at the target idenitifed by our caddy, Josh. I had set two lofty and somewhat secret goals for this once-in-a-lifetime round of golf: par a hole at Pebble and not hit a ball into the actual Pacific Ocean (alright Monterey Bay). Parring a hole should be doable because after all is said and done, Pebble is a public course.

    The Crankinator mentions the first tee environment being quieter than expected and suffering having common first tee jitters. I agree the tee was quiet and jitters abide there but they were not very crushing for us, or at least Cranky Man. Crank had two pretty good starting holes so I guess he just built up pressure on himself for no reason. As an aside, on the day following our Pebble round, I watched a group of players, all well outfitted with impressive equipment and golf attire, as I watched two of the players “drove” their balls about 30 -40 yards, so jitters are common at Pebble Beach.

    Hole #6 is a challenging hole at Pebble where you must hit an accurate drive on a lower fairway then a second shot onto an elevated second fairway and a hidden green. This hole is one of the classics at Pebble. I did not do well off the tee here and came close to not making my goal of not hitting a ball into the Pacfiic Ocean. This was sort of a win for me with a near miss of the largest ocean on the globe.

    I would like to talk about Crank Palmer’s domination of the famous three par #7 hole that he recalls in his bloggage. I can attest to this because I have evidence, I considerately realized Cranky would want video footage of this famous hole for his personal archives. I steadily taped and professionally commentated on his tee shot which arched high into a kind of foggy, well Cranky anyhow, sky to settle pin high in a sand trap. The video captures the beautiful breaking waves, manicured turf and brilliant white bunker sand etc., it is a great rendition of an iconic golfing scene. As our group approached the green on #7 I likewise took video of the Athletic Crank Palmer as he blasted from the sand trap and rolled his ball just past the cup for an “almost” spectacular birdie on one of the greatest holes in the United States.

    Many may ask, since this comment is authored by me, what was my experience on #7 at Pebble. Well after Cranky B. DeMille hit his tee shot I handed him an easy to operate IPhone to video my effort, I gave complete operating instruction to said IPhone which is known for ease of operation. It was not until after my shot upon viewing Crank D DeMille’s footage that I learned Cranky Man should also be known as Technology Inept Cranky Smart Phone User. I know for years that I will treasure this footage from my Pebble experience. Cranky Camerman’s footage of his shoes, grass, a stone wall, more grass and extreme closeups of his pant legs will surely take me back to the rugged shoreline links of Pebble Beach. Cranky DeMille was kind enough however, to take significant #7 tee footage of a playing partner who happened to not be his brother and also happened to be a Canadian National, his name is Ter. By the way my tee shot on #7 was just off the green, I bogeyed the hole. I was pleased with a decent effort at a great golf hole. THIS IS THE FIRST CRANKY POINT OF MY STORY.

    The next hole was #8 whose length is cut in the middle by an unseen yawning chasm, whose floor is the Pacific Ocean and over which you must hit a second shot of over 180 yards to hit the green. WIth instruction from Josh, our caddy, we learned that this hole is Jack Nicklaus’ favorite golf hole in the world. Josh then told us – as we listened like first time solo parachutists getting final instructions from the jump master in the aircraft doorway – of the unseen dangers associated with tee shots here. Our whole group, including the Canucks hit drives as far as safely possible leaving us perched atop a virtual cliff looking down onto the green. Cranky Golfer and I both felt a thrill of golf adequacy as we stood over our perfect tee shots. I hit a respectable second shot into a sand trap green side and really enjoyed one of my most favorite holes on the course even though I double bogeyed. I loved this hole and it looks even more golf scary as you look back from the green into the cliff face you just hit your second shot from, great terrain there.

    I must mention that I achieved one of my goals when I parred the par four #10 hole thanks to a long but wayward drive followed by a solid second shot. Amazing how even a poor golfer can have sound results with consecutive good shots. Unexpectedly I also parred the par four #16, so I am way ahead at this point goal-wise.

    We stumbled through the rest of the holes loving the experience of playing this great course and sadly arrived at the vaunted and scary par five #18 which is bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the left. After quick keepsake pictures on the foggy tee, Cranky Hacker and I gripped it and sort of ripped it. Our goal, the 18th green was shrouded in several hundred yards of fog. Two famous trees sit in the 18th fairway, we aimed at them but really, we both were no closer than 30 yards from these targets. Once again I unselfishly stopped during play on famous #18 to professionally video Cranky Sandman’s play a long bunker shot. The famous seaside bunker on 18 has absorbed slightly more sea water than golfer’s tears, even PGA golfer’s tears. Cranky Shot Yanker hit a long high sand shot into a second bunker on 18. Cranky had a second wonderful video keepsake courtesy of me. I enjoyed the 18th hole and almost stuck my 145 yard third shot on the green but 318 at Pebble is notoriously hard to hold.

    Cranky and I both three putted 18, usually a three putt ending is depressing, but playing Pebble Beach with my brother could not be dampened by a three putt finish. We had a great day, and at least for Cranky Man he will be able to relive the experience by watching his IPhone video, that is if Cranky Non Nerdy Tech Man can figure out how to operate the device.

    I, sadly, must conclude my recounting of this story with a specific Crankiness point: When trying to explain Cranky Indigestion the blogger relates the following as a possible cause: “We had left where we had stayed the night before with the woman folk, at 0-it’s-still-so-freakin’-dark hundred hours, so it felt like we were sneaking onto the most famous golf resort in America like a pair of illegals. I half expected the immaculately uniformed attendants and valets to lay hands upon us and eject us from the premises!” I ASK THE PUBLIC: WHO, BUT AN INCREDIBLY CRANKY MAN, COMPLAINS ABOUT GETTING UP REASONABLY EARLY FOR BREAKFAST AND A 9:00 A.M. TEE TIME? AN WHO, BUT AN IMMEASURABLE BY ADVANCED SCIENTIFIC INSTRUMENT LEVEL OUT OF THIS WORLD CRANKY MAN, COMPLAINS ABOUT GETTING UP EARLY TO PLAY GOLF AT THE BEST GOLF COURSE THEY HAVE OR MAY EVER PLAY?

    Based on the comment above I will move that the blog masthead be changed to show a title something like Ubber Cranky Man’s Lawn.


    • a) Geez … Start your own blog!
      b) I wasn’t “complaining” about getting up early (maybe a little). I was simply trying to explain my bout of dyspepsia.
      c) Normally, if expecting someone – especially one who doesn’t own an iPhone – to use your fancy, shmancy phone/doggie-photo-taking/web-surfing/video contraption with any kind of proficiency, one MIGHT expect at least a primer on how the confounded thing operates; as opposed to simply handing it over with the always helpful advise of “Here take a video of me snap-hooking this drive into the cabbage patch. It’s REALLY EASY to operate.” Yeah, that was so so helpful!!

      But all in all, it was a great day! Wish I had played better. Wish I hadn’t over-dressed. (It was warmer than I anticipated.) Wish your video turned out. But at least you have something (else) to bust my cajones over from here to Eternity. So it wasn’t a total loss!

      I’m thinking of copywriting the Cranky brand. I could have made a fortune just on this exchange!

      Thanks again for the great time!
      (scars and all)
      – Mike


      • Two great things to add to your response to my cogent comments:

        1) it was a great day all said and done and;

        2) own your Crankiness, quit minimizing and blaming others.


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