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WESTERN TRAVEL | SPLURGE

Links to sports history at Pebble Beach

October 30, 2005|James Gilden | Special to The Times

PERCHED where pines meet sea (and Woods meets Singh), Pebble Beach Golf Links in Monterey occupies not only prime California coastal real estate but also a sweet spot in the hearts and imagination of golfers.

There are, arguably, courses that are more scenic or challenging. But few compare with the dramatic landscape, legend and lore of Pebble Beach. And those of us with average means and the willingness to splurge can play in the shadows of Palmer and Nicklaus, Mickelson and Woods, even Crosby and Hope.

A round of golf at Pebble Beach doesn't come cheap. Greens fees alone are $425, and there is a "hotel stay requirement": To score a tee time, you must stay at one of the resort's three hotels, where rates start at $505 a night. That's a lot of money anyway you slice it for, as Twain dubbed the sport, "a good walk spoiled."

My golf claim to fame is that I played competitively in high school against Corey Pavin (now a pro and the 1995 U.S. Open winner). A lesser claim is that I started my dad on the game. So when my bank account was particularly flush a couple of years ago, his Father's Day gift was a round of golf at Pebble Beach.

Getting a tee time took patience. We stood on the first tee nearly nine months after Father's Day. I used the time to get my game up to snuff -- I was as rusty as my high school clubs. My goal was to become proficient enough to avoid looking like a total fool on the first tee.

That I accomplished. My first shot at Pebble Beach was a four-wood straight down the middle of the fairway. Dad, whose primary occupation in retirement is golf, followed with a brilliant drive.

As we rounded the third fairway, the ocean came into view. It was nearly impossible not to be distracted by the beauty of the manicured lawn flowing to the edge of the green-blue ocean. Sea otters lolled on the waves, oblivious to the game above, though just out of reach of any errant balls. Like mine.

Between thick rough and the world's largest water hazard, I lost six balls on the first nine holes. Because I had proved myself adequately on the first tee, I relaxed and decided just to have fun.

But Dad was serious. When we rolled up to the last hole, he still was using the same Titleist ball he had started with. The 18th hole at Pebble Beach is a 543-yard, par-5 dogleg left next to the ocean. It is one of the most beautiful finishing holes in golf.

Dad hooked his driver left along the bluff. It hung in the air a moment and looked as though it would make it to safe territory before it fell short and bounced onto the rocky beach. Dad was prepared to take a lost-ball penalty and get on with the hole. Not me.

I climbed down the bluff and searched among the rocks and flotsam and retrieved that Titleist from a nest of kelp and threw it on the fairway. Dad completed the hole and the round with the same ball he had started with.

It was a triumphal finish to a great walk in the cleat prints of golfing immortals, a stroll up Olympus to tread, if only for a moment, where mere mortals dare not, through scenery unspoiled by worries of scores, neither kept nor now remembered.

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