When the PGA Tour descends upon the Monterey Peninsula at the beginning of each golf season for the celebrity-studded AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the glamour courses get all the attention. Of course they do. Pebble Beach itself is the star of all stars for the week, the perfect seaside stage on which the game’s best players and many iconic figures of sports and pop culture can compete for a different degree of fame and fortune. And this year, golf fans will get even more Pebble Beach when it hosts the 2019 U.S. Open — the sixth time America’s national championship of golf will have been contested inside 17-Mile Drive.
And although Spyglass Hill, perhaps one of Robert Trent Jones’ finest creations with its much-heralded opening stretch of holes, plays second fiddle to Pebble, that designation is often minimal in many golfers’ minds, much in the way future Hall of Famer Klay Thompson has played second fiddle to all-time great Stephen Curry just up the road in the Bay Area for all these years.
Even the third course in the Pro-Am rotation has its own mystique. The Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club was the final work of maverick architect Mike Strantz, whose redesign was completed not long before his untimely death from cancer at age 50. And the private course is the only one of the three that requires an invite for golfers to play, which adds to the allure of seeing it on television during pro-am week.
But for guests visiting Pebble Beach the rest of the time, during non-tournament weeks, one of the more interesting — and certainly beautiful — rounds of golf at the resort is the Links at Spanish Bay, captured in these photos above from photographer Brian Oar. Spanish Bay was a labor of love (and a battle against environmental regulations) by architect Robert Trent Jones Jr., PGA Tour legend Tom Watson and the late Sandy Tatum, who for many years was instrumental in the United States Golf Association and a member at hallowed Cypress Point.
Even though Spanish Bay lacks the history of its better-known siblings, I know many golfers who choose it over Spyglass Hill. And looking back at the hurdles faced by the architectural team to build this golf course on the site of a former sand quarry operation, it’s amazing to think that Spanish Bay could have been even better. Not long after Bandon Dunes opened along the Oregon coast to links-golf accolades, I was on the phone with Watson, who told me he believed Spanish Bay could have achieved similar fame had it not been for the environmental restraints placed upon the project. And the comparison makes sense. Spanish Bay hints at Scottish golf, even if it doesn’t fully deliver the true links experience that has made the Bandon courses famous among golfing purists.
Nonetheless, Jones Jr., Watson and Tatum did the best they could with the sand-swept hand they were dealt. And the result is golf that is worthy of Pebble Beach Resorts, which is arguably at the top of most bucket lists when it comes to dream golf vacations. Working its way toward the water and back into the Del Monte Forest and out to the Pacific once again, Spanish Bay is a routing that entertains a golfer’s senses as much as it challenges his or her swing and strategy. Gentle dunes frame fairways, waves crash near the oceanfront greens, deer roam the grounds and dog-walkers stroll past on public boardwalks. Spanish Bay is an experience — a good walk full of interesting golf shots, quirky at times and certainly less stout than Pebble and Spyglass. And for many golfers, that’s a good thing. And it’s also why Spanish Bay has a fan club, of which I am a member.
Plus, there might not be a better place anywhere in the United States than watching the day end over the Pacific while the resident bagpiper plays a familiar tune, starting on the first tee and marching down the opening fairway. It’s a magical spectacle, and one that I’ll never forget. And all of this is why I play Spanish Bay every chance I get. And I hope the rest of you will do the same.
Words by Darin Bunch • Pictures by Brian Oar