Is Pebble Beach lacking? Experts weigh in

Some believe America's top-rated public course could be even better

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Is Pebble Beach a sacred cow of golf course design?

That's the question fans and thought leaders alike are confronting this week as the U.S. Open is played at one of the world's most iconic golf courses.

Per Geoff Shackelford, who has considerable expertise on architecture - especially in California - in the video above, the answer is no. The Pebble Beach Golf Links of 2019 is an inferior product to that of 1929, when architect H. Chandler Egan redesigned the original, circa-1919 Jack Neville/Douglas Grant course into what it is today.

Well, sort of.

If you've seen the photos, you know that Egan's Pebble Beach had larger greens, less formal rough and sand that looked more like a beach than the formal though tokenly gnarly-edged bunkers the public and pros have been navigating in recent decades.

The juxtaposition of car-hood-sized greens with the majesty of the Pacific Ocean does present some odd scale issues, and there's a reason Egan designed them to meld with the seaside scenery a bit more than they do now.

So what happened?

Golf courses are constantly changing, evolving organisms. Dozens of thousands of feet gently depress the spaces where footsteps congregate - the centers of greens and common walk-off paths. Hundreds of thousands of bunker shots splash sand outside the borders and onto edges of greens, so slopes develop, lips rise and greens shrink. Mowers miss an eighth of an inch per trip here, half an inch per trip there - especially around Egan's interesting, irregular original corners - and greens shrink further.

Popular golfing values changed over time, too. Even a space as singular as Pebble Beach can be thought to have taken on "Augusta Syndrome" over the years, whereby lushness and green-no-matter-when become the ideal pursued by maintenance, because golfers paying a premium (now well over $500) are thought to require it. A steady diet of events like the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur make challenging the elite player a priority, so fairways pinch in.

All these factors conspire, in the minds of Shackelford and others, to rob Pebble Beach of some of its original intent and greatness. The coastal cliffs are unchanged, but the golfscape on top of them has lost a bit of its luster.

Count architect Jay Blasi as one of the golf minds who believes in Pebble's potential.

Blasi came to prominence as the lead architect under Robert Trent Jones II during the construction of 2015 U.S. Open host Chambers Bay. Now operating independently, Blasi called for a reversal of holes 9 through 12, aiming to retire some of the course's weaker holes and have the ocean confront players on both sides. Currently, the Pacific is on the right from hole 4 through 10. This routing change would provide more variety on that score, giving the right-handed slicer a reprieve where today there is none.

Architect Brett Hochstein, who has worked as a shaper with Tom Doak and other big names, has some suggestions of his own, mostly related to updating mowing lines and the general texture of the course.

Blasi's and Hochstein's propositions met practically no resistance on Twitter, but one question looms:

Is it worth it?

However many of us would like to see a Pebble Beach renovation or restoration, it is a hard sell to pitch ownership on some sort of months-long course closure. After all, the tee sheet is as booked-solid as it gets in the golf world; why give up that revenue if there is not significant upside on a rounds-per-year basis? Would a plan like this require raising green fees to, say, $650 or $750 to compensate for the cost of the work? Is that warranted?

A throwback restoration of Pebble Beach would be a potentially transformative step in the evolution of golf course architecture throughout America, private and public alike. A return to scruffier aesthetics and more classic values - namely: more ground game, less aerial golf - would reverberate through thousands of courses that vex their core, older, higher-handicap clienteles, making the rank-and-file game more fun. But is it incumbent upon Pebble Beach's overseers to do the game that service? Much as I'd like to shout "Yes!" I'm in no position to do so.

However affirmative an answer we might have to the question, "Could Pebble Beach be better?", the reality is complicated. Kinda like a U.S. Open setup.

Would you like to see Pebble Beach renovated? Share your opinions with us below!

5 Min Read
June 9, 2019
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Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for GolfPass. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
12 Comments
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Played Pebble many times.....why screw up something so beautiful and time tested?

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As in most cases, it is not the course where the problem lies - it is the combination of having modern golfers, with modern equipment playing a great course that was designed over 50 years ago. Pebble Beach is a great course, so very few(if any) changes could be made that would make it better for tournament play - instead maybe we need to start looking at equipment regulations. Sorry, golfers today are not that much better - there was a time when a drive of 250 yds was huge - now most pros can hit it that far with a 4 iron. It is time for the PGA to demand excellence in play and to stop with the macho approach to the game - big drives, computer designed balls, greens play book, manicured grass everywhere - none of this makes for a great game or competitive contests. Just something to think about???

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Where has all this nostalgia for retro-fitting golf courses to their "original" configuration? Would these people like to use the clubs from 1929 in order to play it "as it was originally" - I don't think so.

I thoroughly enjoyed playing PB: marvelous outlook; fantastic condition. A challenge for the pros and playable for the amateur - a rare beast these days. LEAVE IT BE!

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If Pebble Beach is not Good enough then what is?
Have you people lost your fricking minds?
Lets see What would you rather play Pebble or Beth Page , do you even have a hesitation in your brain

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Played Pebble Beach years ago. Great play, very challenging. Highly recommend caddy. Love to play again.

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I certainly understand the sentiment behind renovating this gem. However as a once a year visitor I would hate to see the repercussions to the locals and many who depend on this course for their livelihood. In any event why mess with perfection. As Nicklaus said if he had only one last round to play, Pebble would be it. Enough said.

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I personally am not interested in listening to an architect that had anything to do with Chambers Bay. Pebble needs no major changes. It is heaven to play there. I am watching the YS open it it looks like a pretty good test. If the wi d comes up it will all they can handle. Please leave it alone.

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Don't touch Pebble!! I've played Pebble four times (for reference, I've also played Pine Valley, Royal Portrush, Lahinch, well, you get the picture). Except for the minor detail of an unaffordable green fee, I'd play Pebble every day, it's that good. For that matter, if you haven't played Pebble (or it is on that ridiculous "bucket list") what are you waiting for? I know it's outrageously expensive, but you will never, ever regret spending the money.

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Well said

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I love Pebble Beach the way it is and I think the course is gorgeous. I also like it that you don't have to be a bomber to score there. Small greens require accuracy and that's what the game should focus on with a course like Pebble. They can make this course plenty tough, I quit watching when par is a good score. What are you trying to prove when you make "great" golfers shoot par. It's fun to watch golf when they play well and there's a dynamite finish. I don't like to see them play bad.

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I have played Pebble a total of 4 times, one of the most if not the most beautiful venues in golf. Pebble a great and fair test for the pros. Tees can be moved back, rough overgrown etc. My wife and I love the place, Pebble, Carmel, PG, Monterey all great.

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Is Pebble Beach lacking? Experts weigh in