Spyglass Hill: Pebble Beach’s better half?

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!

Pebble Beach’s main attraction can be “golf overload” for many a golfer the first time they play there. (Trust me on that one.)  Spyglass Hill tends to be a more relaxing golf day.

Spyglass 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, 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 Pebble … cool, foggy, damp.

As we hit balls at the practice tee, the ocean layer fog and mist condensed on the trees overhead and dripped like rain.  As the day progressed the fog eased.  Though there was little sun, the day was comfortable, dry … perfect!

We met our caddy, Doug on the first tee and were paired with two friendly golfers, Pete and Tom, 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 lush surroundings makes for better overall golf conditions.

At times Pebble Beach 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.

Fairway on par 5 #1 (Treasure Island)  (Photo: J.Jarocewicz)

The first five holes at Spyglass are the most dramatic – scenery wise – of 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.

Looking down #2 (Billy Bones) from the green.

Number 2 is a 349-yard 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 (White tees) 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; but is as narrow as 8-10 feet on the front side.  The putting surface stretches about 60-75 feet, and quite literally snakes between several dunes and hillocks.

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 pin located 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!

The back – or “wide” – end of 4th green at Spyglass. Note the thinner lower end trails off to left. (Photo: J.Jarocewicz)

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 bogey 4.

Spyglass Hill #5 (Bird Rock)

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 fore caddy.

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 minor 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 (dmiller52@live.com) 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!

The gallery on #13 grazes on Pat’s pitch-in birdie!

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.

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 Spy Glass 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:

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4 thoughts on “Spyglass Hill: Pebble Beach’s better half?

  1. Yes, the shot on 15 of me is a good one.

    None of these shots, or even the ones taken by the camera savvy Joann, can compare to your video of my tee shot on #7 at Pebble. The jerking glimpses of dirt, grass, a wall, incredible detailed footage of the fabric of your pants, more grass and your shoes, will always take me back to our day of golf at Pebble.

  2. Great commentary on Spyglass, Mike. I thought the fourth of our group was Tom not Bill, I could be wrong. Either way the foursome was casual and a fun group. I did like Pete’s caddy’s name though, Barney, great caddy handle. I thought our caddy Doug was great especially in putting up with such duffers as us. I thought he clubbed us properly for the situations we faced and gave us good putting lines.

    I usually always think of Pebble Beach when I play in damp and overcast conditions here in Ca., even before having played there. Now, however, I will have experiences at both Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill to happily recall when the weather is suggestive of our rounds there. I am very glad we could play those courses together, it made it much more special.

    • You may be right about Tom vs. Bill. I think I’ll edit it.
      It was a great day all around.

      BTW … LOVE that picture of you launching that tee shot at 15. Probably the best one I took the whole trip! See what one can do without all the fancy, shmancy iPhone crap!!! Just focus and snap it!

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