(CBS SF) — Pebble Beach Golf Links is the top public course in the country, and for good reason. It’s a championship-quality track in one of the most scenic and visually stunning settings found anywhere on the PGA Tour. Pebble Beach is one of the three courses that typically hosts the annual AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. (The others are Spyglass Hill Golf Course and the Shore Course at Monterey Hills Country Club.) It’s also hosted its fair share of majors, most recently the U.S. Open in 2019.
“History is certainly a big part [of what makes Pebble Beach a special course],” says CBS Sports golf analyst Frank Nobilo. “Pebble Beach, sitting on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. It’s so picturesque. And yet, it’s been attached to so many famous victories, from Jack Nicklaus in his amateur days to some of the great U.S. Opens that have been held there — Tiger Woods in 2000.”
The course is nestled along the rocky central California coastline hugging the shores of Carmel Bay. It’s breathtaking views off the south side of Monterey Peninsula stretch beyond the Bay to the Pacific Ocean. A par-72 that measures 7,051 yards, Pebble Beach is one of the shorter courses on the Tour. It also has some of the smallest greens to challenge even the world’s best.
This historic course has hosted the Pro-Am since 1947, 10 years after the event’s inception. But Pebble Beach Golf Links dates back decades before that. The course opened in 1919 on land formerly owned by David Jacks. Jacks was a dairy rancher, known for Monterey Jack cheese, though he didn’t actually invent it.
By the early 1900s, the area was a popular getaway for the well-to-do. Samuel F.B. Morse, a distant relative of the Samuel F.B. Morse who invented the telegraph and Morse Code, ran the company that managed the property. He was eventually tasked with selling off the land, but instead pulled together the money to buy it himself.
Morse had envisioned a golf course on the land, and soon contracted Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, a couple of champion amateur golfers, to design it. The pair agreed, but did it for free, so as not to ruin their amateur status. In those days, paid architects were treated the like professional golfers. When the course debuted, the opening of the rebuilt lodge attracted more attention.
The course hosted multiple events, state and national tournaments in its early years. But not until the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am came to town did the venue have its own annual event. As the name suggests, the tournament was founded by its original namesake, one of the most popular performers of the 20th Century, as way to bring golfers together in a social setting. Professional golfers teamed up with amateurs known from other sports and the world of entertainment. Big names to grace the greens over the years have included Tom Brady, Joe DiMaggio, Julius Erving, Bob Hope, Bill Murray and Frank Sinatra. Though the name has changed to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the tournament has become the second-longest-running PGA Tour event at a single venue.
Pebble Beach retains its original routing from the day it opened. But the course has undergone some significant changes over its 100-plus years. Long gone are the sheep that kept the grass short in the early days. Soon after opening, the course was lengthened and five greens were redesigned. A few years later, the 18th hole was extended by over 150 yards, and from a par-4 to a challenging par-5. In 1929, all the greens and bunkers were updated, and a few holes revised. In the mid-1990s, the course acquired the one parcel of coastal land that was not part of the original design and incorporated it to add a new fifth hole. And in the leadup to the 2010 U.S. Open, multiple greens and bunkers were updated and the course length again extended.
As Jack Nicklaus described the course, “if I had only one more round to play, I would choose to play it at Pebble Beach. I’ve loved this course from the first time I saw it. It’s possibly the best in the world.”
Some of the more spectacular holes — the memorable par-3 No. 7 and the stunning par-4 No. 8 among them — are the stuff dreams are made of. But perhaps the best example of what awaits players is Pebble Beach’s eighth, ninth and 10th holes. This series of strong par-4s along the water can set up players for a strong finish or ruin a contender’s chances.
The instantly recognizable eighth hole, which extends only 424 yards, “…has arguably the greatest second shot in golf,” in the opinion of CBS Sports golf anchor Jim Nantz. “Your second shot must fly over this giant chasm, with Carmel Beach down below, to a tiny putting surface. And you’re coming in there with a medium iron. It’s a long-ish shot by today’s standards.”
The ninth, at 477 yards, may be the course’s hardest hole. The fairway tilts toward the coast, making approaches difficult to judge. “Nine is just a long, difficult test,” Nantz stresses, “impossible to get close and to. Pars are hard-earned.”
Ten is 454 yards long and wraps up this famous stretch of holes. “…You’re really jutting out over Carmel Bay and Carmel Beach,” Nantz points out. “And if you’re able to stay focused for long enough and not lose concentration by being completely awestruck by the beauty of it, then 10 is a little bit easier than eight and nine. But it’s not a simple task.”
“I think eight, nine and 10 are, collectively, the best three par-4s in the world in a row,” Nobilo affirms. “Not only is it a fine piece of property, it’s just three beautiful par-4s in a row that are very different, and yet they just blend in so beautifully together.”
Watch the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Saturday, February 13, 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. ET and Sunday, February 14, 3:00 – 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS.