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Destination: California

Bogeys on a Budget

Passing up Pebble Beach to play some rhinestones in the rough in the Monterey area

June 21, 1998|JOEL GREENBERG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CARMEL — Surfers have their North Shore of Oahu. Mountain climbers have their Everest. And golfers have their Monterey Peninsula.

Before you start firing off angry letters touting your own golfing meccas, let me stop you. There is no contest. Hawaii has its lava-lined fairways, Palm Springs is desert golf at its finest and Scotland is the hallowed birthplace of the game.

But it is here, where the lush coastal region meets the Pacific in a rugged, breathtaking union, where I and countless others like me would gladly spend the rest of our natural lives. Specifically, we want to be on a golf course in this magical area.

There is a problem, though, and most of you who have played the courses here might guess what it is: money.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 28, 1998 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 6 Travel Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Monterey golf--Due to a reporting error, Ft. Ord was incorrectly described as a former Marine military base in the story "Bogeys on a Budget" (June 21). Ft. Ord was a U.S. Army training base.

Such is the case at Pebble Beach Golf Links, perhaps the most famous of all golf courses and home of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am tournament, which pairs the pros with amateur players--mainly corporate executives, actors and musicians. Formerly known as "The Crosby," it will forever be associated with Der Bingle himself, strolling up the magnificent, Pacific-hugging 18th fairway at Pebble Beach, puffing on his pipe and waving to the unwashed masses. Since Bing Crosby's death, the tournament and the course have further cemented their ties with the rich and famous.

Oh, you and I could play Pebble Beach--for a mere $295 per round. For a bit less, we could play one of its sister courses along the Monterey Peninsula's scenic 17-Mile Drive, Spyglass Hill, also used in the Pebble Beach tournament. Another, newer pearl, Spanish Bay, is in the $210 range, including cart.

So where does all this leave the rest of us who can't afford to trade the Mercedes at its first oil change?

Few people realize that the Monterey Peninsula, and its neighboring environs, both north and south along the Pacific Coast, is home to dozens of lesser known--and lesser priced--public golf courses. A number of these diamonds in the rough rival their more glamorous counterparts for the challenge and the views they offer.

On a couple of recent trips north, I sampled several courses for a fraction of the cost of Pebble and Spyglass. Combined with relatively cheap lodging, one can carve out a reasonable, yet breathtaking, golfing sojourn to Central California.

My base of operation was the Village Inn, a modest but charming motel at the top of Carmel Village, a six-hour drive from Los Angeles. The rooms are clean and comfortable, everything in Carmel is within easy walking distance and the rates are reasonable. After checking in, I proceeded to Bruno's market across the street for French bread, some brie and a quart of orange juice. (Football analyst John Madden apparently has the same routine; he was ahead of me in the checkout line on a recent visit.) Then I get into the mood by flipping on the golf channel.

The next morning, fueled by the inn's complimentary danish, coffee and juice, I got ready for a few wonderful days of golf.

Here are some of the courses I played:

* Half Moon Bay Golf Links. A bit of a drive north from Carmel--90 minutes or so--but well worth the greens fee of $95 to $135 (including cart). For years a well-kept secret to many golfers, Half Moon Bay has become more popular with the recent opening of its second course: a Scottish-style links layout that dares you to overcome the howling ocean winds and keep the ball near the fairways and greens. On my latest trip, I hooked up with a golfing buddy who had just moved from Washington, D.C., to the San Francisco Bay area. We met at the clubhouse, which sits hard by the Pacific surf.

It was a spectacular spring day--crisp, clear and windy. Standing on the first tee with the wind at your back, one gets a preview of many of the next 17 holes: flat, sprawling fairways, bordered by deceivingly dense rough, clinging to the contours of the coastline. Perched on a rugged chunk of beachfront, this course does not pretend to be Pebble Beach; what it lacks in Pebble's grace it tries to make up for in sheer muscle.

The results are mixed. The front nine is a fair, somewhat tepid, test of golf.

*

The back nine is Golfzilla. Most of the holes are close enough to the Pacific that the wind is either in your face or blowing diagonally across the fairway. Often, you must force yourself to aim at the ocean itself in order to have the wind blow the ball back to the fairway. If you aimed directly at the hole, the ball could be blown out of bounds.

On the par-three, 165-yard 17th hole, for example, I started the ball over the ocean, 25 yards to the left of the small green. Nevertheless, the wind blew my four-iron shot back to the right, across the green, skittering into the dense vegetation atop a small hill. I was lucky to chip within six feet and sink the putt for a par.

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