Pebble Beach Resorts' new "Explorers" program highlights family fun and golf

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- To be honest, I'd never thought of Pebble Beach Resorts as a family destination.

Golfers like me daydream of bucket lists and buddies trips, playing Pebble Beach Golf Links , Spyglass Hill and the Links of Spanish Bay in one epic weekend to remember. Family can create a few great memories, too, without seeing its holy trinity of courses.

A new program called "Pebble Beach Explorers" has launched just in time for the holidays. Packages costing $495 per night include complimentary activities and meals for children with a paying adult and accommodations at the posh Inn at Spanish Bay.

My children -- Carter, 12, and Kendall, 10 -- got the chance to explore the package's offerings earlier this fall. The fun starts at a cute children's "Explorers" desk just off the main lobby, where youngsters receive a scavenger hunt map and wristbands signaling their V.I.P. status. (Special treats show up in the room as well.)

Family vacations at our house require a "divide-and-conquer" strategy: The boys head one way; the girls the other. In this case, it proved to be a perfect way to sample the package's recreational opportunities.

My wife, Tonja, and daughter shuttled to the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center, where all of the horses are rescue animals. They raved about their 50-minute Family Horseback Ride ($65 per adult) through the dunes and crooked trees draped with Spanish Moss in the scenic Del Monte Forest. My daughter is already planning her return when she turns 12, the age riders get access to the beach. I even became a bit jealous upon finding out the trail overlooks the ultra-private Cypress Point Club .

The views of Stillwater Cove my son and I experienced weren't so bad, either, playing the par-3 Peter Hay Golf Course . It was the perfect facility for us. None of the holes play longer than 104 yards, but small greens, bunkers, trees, wind and subtle elevation changes still provide challenges for seasoned players like me. I made a birdie. Carter, who hadn't played all summer, made a par. We both left satisfied.

Who says golf is dead? It sure didn't look that way that day at Peter Hay, the only short course on the peninsula. I saw a foursome of buddies locked in a birdie shootout; an older man passing on his love of the game to, I assume, his grandchildren; a guy by himself hitting two balls to work on his short game; a couple and a family of four who drove in from Danville, Calif., to play golf together for the first time.

"This is heaven," said Bob Fulton, who played with his wife, Tamara, and two children, Claire and Connor. "It doesn't get any better than this."

Resort guests who play at Peter Hay ($30 green fee for the adult) have access to the new Pebble Beach Golf Academy and Practice Facility, which opened in January right across the street. My son and I walked over after our round, hitting drivers next to several talented guys who had swings like golf pros. This beautiful oasis of golf -- complete with three indoor instruction bays and a massive short-game area for chipping and putting -- is twice the size as the previous range.

After golf, my family reunited for lunch at Sticks, a casual restaurant next to the Links at Spanish Bay. Children's meals are complimentary at Sticks or Roy's.

Re-energized, we played tennis for more than an hour -- a record for my kids -- at the Spanish Bay Club next door (which costs $20 per adult per hour). It didn't take long to complete the scavenger hunt around Spanish Bay late that afternoon. Children who find all the answers return to the Explorers desk to pick out a prize from a treasure chest.

Finally, it was adult time, the chance to relax with a drink and appetizers by the outdoor fire pits behind the Inn. These seats go fast around happy hour, so arrive early. The foggy marine layer that lingered throughout the day set the stage for the serene serenade of a bagpiper, a daily resort ritual that starts at Sticks and ends at the Inn at dusk. The haunting refrain of "Amazing Grace" by bagpipe gives me tingles every time.

Our day was done, but families who stay longer can do so much more: Walk along the scenic shore to see the seals on Bird Rock, tour 17-Mile Drive by car or hike the Point Lobos State Reserve. Additional activities outside the package include family golf on the Links of Spanish Bay, two-day passes (for the price of one) to the interactive Monterey Bay Aquarium, kayaking Stillwater Cove or a family golf lesson at the golf academy. For more, visit pebblebeach.com/families.

Video: Matt Ginella's travel tips for Monterey, Pebble Beach

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Pebble Beach Resorts' new "Explorers" program highlights family fun and golf
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