Monterey Peninsula, California

Reviewed by Jim Lee,

The Monterey Peninsula is best known for its iconic course, Pebble Beach. This course has long been at the top of most serious golfers bucket list and deservedly so. The sweeping vistas along the Pacific and the drama of many of the holes perched on the edge make it a dream to walk along, let alone play. The clubhouse and resort are steeped in an aura of class, wealth and achievement and can be intimidating to even the most sophisticated traveler. Nevertheless, make sure you have a visit, if only just to say you have.

However, there are four other golf courses on the Pebble Beach property including the less renowned, but equally scenic Links at Spanish Bay. This resort is just a few miles north of Pebble Beach, and is much newer. The setting is quite different from Pebble Beach, with the course set mostly among the dunes, right at beach level. The roar of the surf can be seen and heard from the clubhouse and when the winds blow, as they are likely to do, the course becomes a very challenging test. In order to maintain the dune structure and environment, natural vegetation acts as a hazard on many holes and areas are set aside as environmental zones. The design team of Robert Trent Jones Jr., Tom Watson and Sandy Tatum have created a very realistic Scottish links course, albeit with mostly warmer weather. You are on the Pacific Ocean though, and marine fog and clouds are to be expected.

Green fees are in the range of $260 plus cart, unless you are staying in the resort. Rooms start at $650 per night.

Just up the road, Poppy Hills is the home of the Northern California Golf Association. Formerly one of the courses in the Pebble Beach Pro Am rotation, the course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr, It winds through the Del Monte forest, making use of the terrain sloping down towards the ocean. With a green fee of $200, its more accessible than the better known courses.

Packages including two nights at the Links at Spanish Bay and a round at each of Pebble Beach and Spanish Bay start at $1995. Click here for more info.

There are numerous courses outside the Pebble Beach enclave (if you’re not staying or playing there, there is a $15 entrance fee to browse, but well worth it) and one of the nicest is Quail Lodge. A few minutes south of Monterey on the road into the Carmel Valley – the sunny side as the locals say – is set in wine country. Designed as a members country club by Robert Muir Graves, the course winds through treed areas and forests and makes use of 10 lakes along the way. Keep you eyes open for Max, Head Dog at the course who’s there to greet golfers. Rounds start at $150 and the golf experience is well worth it.

Most visitors will want to spend some time visiting local wineries. Most of these can be found in the Carmel Valley. One of the first you come to, and the best that we visited, was Chateau Julien. The grounds are fabulous and well worth the visit to view the gardens, particularly the rose garden by the front entrance. The best we sampled were Black Nova ( a blend of Cab and Merlot), the 2009 Private Reserve Chardonnay and the 2007 La Conviviance (a blend of Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon). All are in the $50 range.

Monterey is a tourist town, as you would expect, but the overall experience is still a pleasant one. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is well worth a visit, as is Fisherman’s Wharf. Good shopping can be found at the Del Monte Shopping Center. There is plentiful accommodation with a range of prices, and its not necessary to stay at Pebble Beach to enjoy the region. It will take 2 – 3 hours to reach Monterey from San Francisco, and make sure that part of the trip includes taking Highway 1 along the coast.

More information on the region is available at