Pacific Grove

Pacific Grove GL, Pacific Grove. Chandler Egan (1932) and Jack Neville (1960).

The back nine here is a must-play in American golf. The front nine not so much.

I had hoped that, despite being inland that the front would be a quirky collection of classic holes in a cool setting. I suppose there is some quirk in starting with two par 3s (the product of relocating the clubhouse when Neville added the second nine in the dunes, Egan’s original nine started and ended at the far east end so the current sixth was the first).

The first and and second also play along a cemetery, but it’s not very visible from the course, which dilutes some of the quirk factor. There are back-to-back short par 5s and small greens. You want to believe this is something worth seeing. But really, it’s not. There are worse nines in the country, but you come to Pacific Grove for the back nine. No one’s going to judge you if you just play nine here.

The fun really starts at the 11th, a par 4 that’s just 300 yards from a tee set back by the road to a green set into a dune. This is a good preview of how much of the back nine plays. Get out on the back nine on a calm morning and these holes are relatively defenseless. All of the par 4s are under 400 yards and the fairways are wide. The greens are small—like, make Pebble Beach’s greens look big they’re so small—but with wedges on a calm day they’re totally reasonable targets.

The green at #11 is benched into this dune

But get out there in the afternoon with the wind up and it’s an entirely different proposition. The dunes are suddenly potentially in play for tee shots. Depending on wind direction, some holes may actually play long (others may play very short). The already small greens become absolutely miniature. And it’s an absolute blast and the best possible conditions to play the course under.

The 12th is the ultimate postcard hole, a par 5 bending right with nothing but Ocean View Blvd between you and the beach. Of course it all depends on the wind, but the decision is whether to challenge the dunes at the corner to try to get home in two. Even with a great drive, though, the green is again small and set up on another dune.

The tee shot on #12

The next four holes are par 4s that play back and forth but that description belies how differently these holes in the dunes play. The 13th is the shortest at 316 yards and the green is tucked behind a dune to the left.

The view from the tee on #13 gives a sense of the intimate back nine with holes playing back and forth among the dunes

The 14th is 356 but plays straight away and slightly downhill on the approach while the 15th heads back up the hill playing slightly left-to-right and at 397 yards it is the longest par 4 on the back.

The 16th tee is the closest point to the Point Pinos lighthouse, which is the basis for the course’s logo. Essentially straightaway and downhill the entire way with Monterey Bay as a backdrop this is one of the most attractive holes but the green, which runs away from the player in the same way the rest of the hole does, highlights how links golf is often as much about getting the ball to stop as hitting it high or far.

Looking up #15 toward Point Pinos Lighthouse

The last two holes move out of the dunes but still have great views and an amount of quirk that makes them feel somewhat of a piece with the back nine. The 17th a 153-yard par 3 and again all that separates you from the coast is Ocean View Blvd. Unlike with the 12th, however, once you turn away from the view the hole loses some of its sense of place as its just a short iron over a pond.

The 18th is a short par 4, just 298 yards, tempting you to try to hit driver up by the green, while a line of trees right and a road to the left discourage the move. The green is again set up onto a dune (this one grass covered), meaning trouble is as in play on this short hole as much as birdies are.

It’s a fitting finish for this quirky course, where you may look at the card and see par 70 and barely 5,700 yards and think you’ll be putting up great numbers, but the test is more than you expect.

Even if you only play the back.

California 4th Quintile [2019]

#18 is short but plays uphill with trouble left (you can see the road) and right (the trees guard the driving range) to yet another green set into a dune