MONTEREY, Calif. -- News flash: Golfers visiting the Monterey Peninsula have options other than Pebble Beach Resorts.
Just follow the lead of Kelly Hunt, a northern California resident who stayed at the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa with his son, Cooper, on a recent weekend. They were in town for a junior tournament at the adjacent Del Monte Golf Course. Del Monte, the oldest course in continuous operation west of the Mississippi, is actually owned by the Pebble Beach Company, but the Hyatt also offers its own stay-and-play packages.
"It's the best," Kelly Hunt says of the Hyatt Regency Monterey. "It's on the course. You have all the amenities. You do have an ocean view from a couple of holes. It's always in good shape. It's (the hotel) probably a fifth of the price of (staying at) Pebble Beach. And it's got a great sports bar."
The Hyatt Regency certainly can't compare to the luxury and coastal setting of The Lodge at Pebble Beach or the Inn at Spanish Bay. Staying at the Hyatt Regency, the largest hotel on the Monterey Peninsula, makes a lot of sense for most budgets, however. And there's plenty to like about the place besides the price.
The Hyatt Regency Monterey
Such large properties -- the Hyatt Regency Monterey is home to 550 rooms, including 32 suites -- must cater to a diverse clientele to thrive. Color me impressed after witnessing the two distinctly different ambiances and audiences of several spaces just steps apart -- the Knuckles Sports Bar and the Fireplace Lounge.
In Knuckles, named the best sports bar on the Peninsula by the local paper, there were families like mine dining together in a casual setting and sports fans hanging out, drinking beer and watching the TVs tuned to a dozen or more basketball and football games.
Back in the lounge off the hotel lobby, music from a live jazz band filled the air. Couples were dressed up, sipping local wines and tapping their toes to the beat. Some people might have been waiting for a table at the TusCA Ristorante, the hotel's signature farm-to-table restaurant. Others were just there for the fun. It was quite the scene.
The hotel is great for families, too. My suite in one of the outer buildings a short walk from the main entrance had multiple flat-screen TVs and rain showers, coupled with plush Hyatt beds and plenty of space. My kids swam in both of the heated outdoor pools. Daily temperatures on the peninsula hover in the 60s almost year round, even in winter. There's an outdoor game area with shuffleboard and Pingpong. The tennis courts and bike rentals aren't affiliated with the resort, so they cost extra.
One afternoon, we took a nice walk down to the beach and ultimately ended up on the Old Fisherman's Wharf to shop for candy and souvenirs and watch Barking California Sea Lions frolic in the waters of the marina. That night, we cooked up S'mores at the outdoor fire pit near our room.
My wife and daughter spent another morning in the Marilyn Monroe Spa at the hotel. My daughter got her first manicure-pedicure, while my wife was decompressing with a massage. The spa's personality mirrors Marilyn's -- vibrant and glamorous. Both can't wait to go back.
The hotel partners with the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row and is just a short drive from Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, home to the most amazing oceanfront hike. Exploring art galleries and eateries in downtown Carmel, lounging on the sandy beach below Pebble Beach Golf Links or wine tasting in the lush Carmel Valley are other nearby adventures waiting to happen.
For those who don't want to venture out, the menu selections at Knuckles (mostly comfort food like burgers, pizza and wings) and TusCA Ristorante (California meets Italian, all fused together in an open kitchen) are quite good. Don't miss the breakfast buffet inside TusCA and lunch on the patio overlooking the golf course, either.
The Hyatt's Golf Connections
While Del Monte is a fun course, it's best used as a warm-up to bigger things. The lack of yardage (6,365 yards) is offset by small greens and subtle elevation changes.
For those players looking for more of a challenge, the hotel concierge can secure preferred pricing at Bayonet and Black Horse, the stout 36-hole complex in nearby Seaside, or the Nicklaus Club - Monterey, a private course that is the centerpiece of a 565-acre master-planned gated community.
Choosing where to play on the peninsula is never easy. Golf Channel travel guru Matt Ginella recently named Bayonet 48th on his list of the Top 50 Public Courses in the U.S., although it's tough to pass up the chance to get inside the gates of a private club that offers no access otherwise. The Nicklaus Club - Monterey opened in 2000 as the Pasadera Country Club but was rebranded in 2013. The 38,000-square-foot clubhouse, built to reflect a Spanish heritage, is the centerpiece of the community as well as the club.
Golfers aiming for the ultimate prize -- a round at Pebble Beach Golf Links -- can only make a tee time 24 hours in advance since they're not staying at the Lodge at Pebble Beach or the Inn at Spanish Bay. The odds of a single getting on are pretty good. Even if you don't get on, you probably won't regret your decision to stay at the Hyatt Regency. Hunt didn't.
"A lot of people don't talk about old Del Monte (and the Hyatt Regency) as a destination. We love it," he said. "You can taxi out to the other courses. You can walk to the Wharf. It's nice."