PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Whenever I'm asked about my favorite golf courses, I change the subject to my favorite golf experiences.
And playing Pebble Beach Golf Links gets mentioned almost instantly. It's perhaps the most complete combination of course scenery, strategy, tournament history, service, conditioning and exclusivity in golf. Justifying the $495 price tag isn't easy for anybody, especially when it takes a two-night stay at Pebble Beach Resorts just to secure an advanced tee time.
For those golfers who are ready to make that financial commitment, here's a beginner's guide to staying at the resort:
Getting to Pebble Beach Resorts
Getting to California's world-famous Monterey Peninsula isn't all that difficult from just about anywhere in the country. Direct flights into the San Francisco International Airport set up a two-hour drive (111 miles) south to one of golf's greatest meccas.
Travelers who can should fly into the Mineta San Jose International Airport. It's an even better option, because they miss all of the San Francisco traffic and are 35 miles closer.
The weather at Pebble Beach Resorts
A mild, temperate climate keeps Pebble Beach playable year-round. Microclimates make weather in northern California, especially on the peninsula, a bit unpredictable, though. I've been blessed with sunny days playing Pebble Beach in June and December. During a visit with my family last October, it was sunny and beautiful at Pebble Beach, while a heavy marine layer cast a gloomy darkness over the Links at Spanish Bay just a mile away.
According to Pebblebeach.com, the wettest months come during winter -- January, February, March, December and November, in order from wettest to least. The average monthly temperature doesn't deviate much, from 60 degrees to 65 degrees from November-May. Summer might sound ideal with averages in the 70s, but the warmer weather can stir up more misty marine layers. I'd recommend booking a mid-morning tee time whenever you come. Mornings are too brisk for golf in winter and bring fog delays into play the rest of the year.
Video: Matt Ginella on the history of Pebble Beach
The Inn at Spanish Bay and the Lodge at Pebble Beach
Pebble Beach essentially consists of two luxurious campuses, the Inn at Spanish Bay and the Lodge at Pebble Beach. Each has their selling points. Both have pools and tennis clubs for guests to use and shops to peruse. Many rooms and suites at the lodge and the inn feature their own fireplaces and balconies.
The 269 rooms and suites of the Inn at Spanish Bay cost less than the Lodge, ranging from $650 and up. Families with children can feel right at home at Spanish Bay. A new Pebble Beach Explorers program that launched in fall 2014 includes free meals and activities for children. Every night, a bagpiper plays at dusk while walking from the Sticks restaurant in the clubhouse of the Links at Spanish Bay to the outdoor fire pits behind the lobby of the inn. Many guests like to relax by the fire pits at happy hour to listen to the bagpipes before heading to dinner for Hawaiian-fusion entrees at Roy's or Italian favorites at Peppoli.
Guests at the 161-room Lodge pay $765 and up to soak up the views of Stillwater Cove and Pebble Beach Golf Links. The Tap Room, a wood-paneled bar decorated with priceless golf memorabilia, serves as a hangout hub from lunch until closing time. The Bench restaurant (wood-roasted specialties) and the Stillwater Bar & Grill (seafood) serve up great scenery in addition to their menus. The Beach Club Dining Room is open to all resort guests for lunch and Sunday brunch.
People who are lucky in life can stay at Casa Palmera, a 24-room mansion that overlooks the first and second fairways of Pebble Beach. Rooms and suites range from $900 to $2,895.
Golf courses at Pebble Beach Resorts
Securing a tee time on Pebble Beach usually requires booking months in advance, although GolfAdvisor's Mike Bailey reported anybody can book a tee time a day out without staying at the resort if there's availability.
Pebble Beach has been ranked no. 1 among Golf Digest's 100 Greatest Public courses ever since the list debuted in 2003. Nine gorgeous holes -- 4-10 and 17-18 -- play directly along the Pacific Ocean. The par-3 seventh, par-4 eighth and par-5 18th holes will always be among my favorite holes in golf. I don't mind that rounds can extend beyond five hours. It's a great walk, even without a caddie (which costs $80 per bag plus tips).
Spyglass Hill Golf Course (ranked 11th nationally by Golf Digest) reveals its best holes right away. The opening five holes frolic among the coastal sand dunes before the layout disappears into the Del Monte Forest. Spyglass Hill ($385) humbles PGA Tour pros and high handicaps alike, playing long and difficult.
The Links at Spanish Bay -- the work of Robert Trent Jones Jr., Tom Watson and "Sandy" Tatum -- debuted in 1987 as one of America's best tributes to links golf, even though six of the final seven holes require forced carries over environmental hazards. Spanish Bay (49th nationally by Golf Digest) costs significantly less at $270 per round.
A fourth choice, the 6,365-yard Del Monte Golf Course ($110 plus cart), opened in 1887, operating as the oldest course in continuous operation west of the Mississippi River.
Resort guests get free access to the practice facilities at the Pebble Beach Golf Academy, which opened in January 2014, but the the Peter Hay Course, a nine-hole par 3, requires an additional green fee.
Special events at Pebble Beach Resorts
Pebble Beach hosts a dozen or more special events throughout the year, so study the calendar carefully to know when might be best to visit.
The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am attracts celebrities, corporate bigwigs and athletes to play alongside PGA Tour pros every February. The Champions Tour's Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach and the Callaway Pebble Beach Invitational Presented by EMC -- which attracts players from the PGA, LPGA, Champions and Web.com Tours -- are held every fall. Don't forget the U.S. Amateur returns to Pebble Beach in 2018, followed by the 2019 U.S. Open in conjunction with the course's 100th anniversary.
Want to compete like the pros do at Pebble Beach? Anybody can play in big charity/pro-am tournaments such as the Pebble Beach Pro-Amateur Invitational, a best-ball tournament for a PGA Professional and a member; the Fairway & Greene Pro-Member Invitational at Pebble Beach, a four-person competition; and the Clay Walker Charity Classic, a four-person best-ball tournament that raises money for Walker's charity, Band Against Multiple Sclerosis (BAMS).
Foodies and car enthusiasts might be interested in the dates of the Pebble Beach Food & Wine festival, set for April 2015, and the 65th Annual Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, a fancy car show scheduled in August.
To-do list at Pebble Beach Resorts
Since 99.5 percent of us can't get on the ultra-private Cypress Point Club, let's ditch that dream. Playing golf at Pebble Beach, Spanish Bay and Spyglass Hill are musts when visiting the resort. So is touring 17-Mile Drive, stopping at various points for photographs and sightseeing. Spending an evening dining in trendy Carmel-by-the-Sea is worthwhile. If the family is along, the children will love the Monterey Bay Aquarium, coupled with lunch along Cannery Row in Monterey.
Anything else -- a treatment at the Spa at Pebble Beach, a lesson at the Pebble Beach Golf Academy, a horseback ride on the beach through the resort's equestrian center -- should be considered a bonus. Guests always run out of time before they run out of things to do at Pebble Beach.