Decades of golf history haunt the Monterey Peninsula and rolling foothills that surround one of America’s most storied courses. While the mystery of Cypress Point and majesty of Pebble Beach get the most attention — especially as the PGA Tour descends each year and the USGA every 10 years or so — the locals will suggest you head inland to get a true sense of the area’s golfing life where the weather is warmer and tourists are fewer. Among the golf destinations you’ll find nestled into the sunnier Carmel Valley is Quail Lodge, built by Robert Muir Graves back in 1964. As was the case with many mid-century courses, golf’s “Tiger boom” of the 2000s highlighted the need for a restoration, so architect Todd Eckenrode and Origins Design were brought in to provide both a strategic and cosmetic facelift as well as introduce new playability into the layout.
And that work leading up to the 2015 re-opening should stand the test of time. Despite somewhat limited land inside an upscale residential community, Quail Lodge has pretty much everything else we love about recreational golf — the course is built on both sides of a river that runs through the valley; it’s a relatively easy walk (although many older visitors take carts); the greens are subtle yet interesting and fun to putt; many holes offer memorable approaches (especially the 3-pars and the tricky-short par-4 No. 6); losing golf balls usually requires especially poor shots; and your dog can walk alongside for the round (a rarity in the United States these days).
Steep hillsides frame the fairways in spots, adding to the visual challenge, while other holes have a wide-open feel that fuels a golfer’s aggression. But Quail also doesn’t shy away from that little bit of whismy players either love or hate — like the obstacle trees on No. 9 and No. 10 that play with your mind and require shots designed to make you uncomfortable, especially when it comes to the draw you’ll need to find the fairway after making the turn.
But Quail Lodge is about much more than golf. And it needs to be — because hardcore golf travelers might not venture out into the Carmel Valley and off their bucket-list path for just 18 holes of golf, no matter how much better the weather might be. And that is where the story of Quail Lodge becomes more of a classic novel than just a friendly quick-read.
The Quail Lodge resort, literally in walking distance from the course and clubhouse, is what elevates the development to true golf-getaway status. The hotel and facilities have always worked hard to keep pace with advances in the hospitality industry (the rooms renovations over the years have been particularly well-designed). But now owned by Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Limited (which also operates the Peninsula Hotels chain), Quail Lodge offers a one-stop stay-play setting that caters to every need with comfortable, well-appointed rooms (many just steps from the golf course, pond and pool area); diverse food-and-beverage options at both the hotel and clubhouse (and off-property just across the road as well); and Wellness Center services that will help keep you fit and relaxed.
And if you’re into high-end vehicles, there might not be a better place on the planet. Land Rover bases one of its “Experience Centers” at Quail Lodge (right next to the first tee) so you can test luxury four-wheel-drive machines in the surrounding Santa Lucia mountain range. And the resort for years has hosted “The Quail: A Motorsports Gathering” each August with all sorts of collectable cars. The 2019 theme includes “100 Years of Bentley Motors” and the “25th Anniversary of the McLaren F1.”
This love of motorsports drives the resort decor as well. At the Waypoint Bar + Kitchen, local artist Molly McCall’s work adorns the walls. Also at the Waypoint, guests can get quick breakfast items and enjoy quick snacks the rest of the day (try the Duck Fat Fries or the “Flying Dutchman” chicken, waffle and maple butter) on the outdoor deck overlooking the resort’s central water feature. (There’s also a cool little putting course that works its way through the resort, and the flagsticks are neon-lighted at night.) Inside, there’s a great little gathering area with pool table, darts and other games by the fireplace. Indoor or outdoors, Waypoint is a perfect spot for a shot of 16-year-old Aberlour whisky as you wind down after a day on the golf course or exploring the Monterey Peninsula.
But the food and beverage only begins at Waypoint. Up at the clubhouse, Edgar’s has been a mainstay of Carmel dining for many years, and Executive Chef Brian Kearns works with fresh ingredients and a farm-to-table philosophy that satisfies, entertains and inspires diners. Start with the Herb & Cheddar Biscuits and go from there — you’ll find mouthwatering Braised Beef Short Ribs and Kurobuta Pork Chops plus such classic California (and coastal) cuisine as Creamy Clam Chowder and Monterey Bay Sand Dabs. Oh, and if you’re “just in the mood for a burger,” the Truffle Burger with brie cheese and crispy shallots on a brioche bun will probably do the trick.
In short, everything about Quail Lodge is designed to help visitors unwind and relax — from the simple wood-carved front desk to the bicycles available outside the resort entrance to rooms that open up onto beautiful spaces throughout the property.
“You can get away from a little bit of the craziness,” says April Morris, the resort’s communications manager. “It’s very serene. It’s very quaint. But it’s also family-friendly with our nine-hole putting course that goes through the property. And then we have the addition of the tennis courts, the pool. You know we have a little bit of everything for everybody here.”
And that’s exactly why my wife and I (and our dog, Ragsy) keep coming back.