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Trees Vs. Tees : PEBBLE BEACH IS A GOLFER'S PARADISE--SEVEN COURSES, OCEAN VIEWS AND THE SHELTER OF MONTEREY PINES. IT'S THE LAST THAT'S CAUSED TROUBLE IN PARADISE--FOR THE FIRST TIME, THE PEBBLE BEACH ANTHEM IS NO MORE GOLF.

November 26, 1995|John Horn | John Horn is entertainment writer for the Associated Press in Los Angeles

The tee for what will be the 11th hole of Pebble Beach's Forest Course, a 380-yard par-4, is set high atop a ridge overlooking a thick stand of Monterey pine. Golfers standing on the elevated launch pad will have one way to play the hole correctly--down the middle of the fairway, favoring the left side--and many ways to play it wrong. They can try to cut the dogleg too sharply left and lose the ball in the trees, push their drive right, through the fairway and into a cavernous bunker, or skull it short, so that their brand new Titleists, Ultras and Top-Flites will be swallowed by a gully often churning with storm runoff.

Standing anywhere near the boundaries for this spectacular hole in the middle of the Del Monte Forest, it's easy to imagine a lot of things going wrong. Some shots might go right, too. Imagine it any way you want--that's the only way to play the course right now: with your mind, not your clubs. The 11th hole, as well as the 17 other Forest Course holes, the clubhouse, driving range, maintenance yard and parking lot, are presently covered with trees, some 38,000 Monterey pine, Bishop pine and California live oak in all. Below the fragrant canopy of evergreens and oaks sits a thick undergrowth of huckleberry, shaggy-barked manzanita, California maidenhair, poison oak, grass and duff. A Cooper's hawk may occasionally fly above the small pockets of coyote thistle, star tulip and sun cups.

Depending on distinctly different viewpoints, it's either a pristine woodland that should remain untouched or the perfect location for a world-class golf course.

As part of the Pebble Beach Company's ambitious development plans, chain saws and earthmovers could descend on the thousands of Monterey pines, many nearly a century old and some more than 80 feet tall, in early 1997. About 142 acres of native timber and flora would be swept aside to make room for the course, with 92 acres left alone. Bulldozers, tractors and dump trucks would rearrange about 300,000 cubic yards of the sandy soil, sculpting the hilly terrain into immaculate trees, rolling fairways and slick greens.

Designed by renowned architect Tom Fazio (he made Newport's Pelican Hill Golf Club), the Forest Course could become one of the must-play courses in the Monterey peninsula, already the nation's golf capital with seven 18-hole layouts, including the championship sites Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Cypress Point, Spanish Bay and Poppy Hills. It's a safe bet, too, that the Forest Course will become part of the AT&T Pebble Beach pro-am tournament, among the most distinguished stops on the PGA tour.

"The golf course will add another perspective to the area," says Ted Horton, the vice president of resource management for the Pebble Beach Company. "Pebble Beach is a links course on the ocean. This is a pure forest course. It will be a real manly golf course, a great place to play."

Like other optimistic Pebble Beach Company executives, Horton may be totaling his score card before he's sunk a tricky 20-foot downhill putt. In an unusual display of environmentalism, several Pebble Beach residents--including some living near golf courses and some very good golfers themselves--have joined forces to block the course's construction.

Friends of the Forest, a home-grown amalgam of some 50 ecology-come-lately millionaires and longtime middle-class conservationists, are arguing that for all the green, golf courses actually leave the local ecosystem in the red. Never too far from the drone of golf carts and cursing hackers, these opponents are collectively expressing something never heard before on 17 Mile Drive: No more golf.

*

Although its name is synonymous with golf, Pebble Beach is far more than the most famous American course open to the public. It's a municipality of about 6,000 residents, a 5,300-acre gated forest sprinkled with million-dollar estates, many family homes costing $500,000 and less, and hundreds of blacktailed deer. Green is the predominant color of the landscape, white of the inhabitants.

While many residents commute to Carmel and Monterey, most are rich and retired--a busy day is golf in the morning and cocktails in the afternoon. Bordered by Pacific Grove to the north, Monterey to the East and Carmel to the South, Pebble Beach is a civic anomaly: a privately managed town. The Pebble Beach Company maintains the roads, develops and sells real estate, approves home-building plans and paint schemes and even prunes the trees. It also runs two resort hotels--the Lodge at Pebble Beach and the Inn at Spanish Bay--two restaurants, 11 stores, a pitch-and-putt and three other top-flight golf courses, The Links at Spanish Bay, Spyglass Hill and Monterey's Old Del Monte.

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