Golf In The Real World
Bring the U.S. Open to Bayonet.
Thursday, June 13, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunnell
Many of us hang out in loose-knit groups of 20 or 30 golfers who enjoy playing together every weekend. We call ourselves things like The Salinas Hackers, The Seaside Chili-Dippers, Pacific Grove Chop Suey and so forth. A group of media flacks I know calls themselves The Creative Type-Os. We play at cheap courses, and pay $20-$30 for a round of golf. Our home courses get the bulk of our play, but we like to move around some for variation.
The United States Golf Association (USGA), which puts golfers in various categories, calls us "Member Clubs Without Real Estate." And the funny thing is, we are permitted, under USGA rules, to apply to host a U.S. Open. All we need is the consent of our home course, and voila, we''re on our way to hosting the most prestigious tournament in the land.
Not to say that the USGA would immediately grant our application-but we have the right to dream, don''t we? I say let''s host the 2008 U.S. Open (that''s the first opening in the schedule) at Bayonet Golf Course on the old Fort Ord. And why not? The USGA wants to hold the Open at more public facilities, as evidenced by this year''s choice of Bethpage Black, an everygolfer''s paradise. And venerable old Bayonet has been used as an Open qualifier course already.
Haven''t we had our fill of Winged Foot, Shinnecock Hills, Oakmont and the like? Private courses that most of us 26 million golfers in the U.S. couldn''t get on if our rich uncle were a member?
I say hooray to the USGA for holding the 2002 U.S. Open at Hackers'' Corner, USA. I say let''s hold more at courses exactly like that.
Bethpage Black is owned by the state of New York. It is swamped every weekend by a representative array of golfers. Foursomes get in the "car line" to try to get tee times up to 24 hours in advance to secure one of the six foursome slots. It''s fun, and feels more like the parking lot at Candlestick than a country club. Car line parties feature tailgate barbecues, too much beer, and folks who whoop it up and sleep in their cars.
The next morning, tee time tickets are handed out at 5 a.m. Tee times are between 8 and 9 a.m., giving these stiff, cold warriors a chance to guzzle some coffee, wash their faces, maybe get some breakfast. Then they go out and attempt to play well on one of the most challenging courses they''ll ever play.
A sign near the first tee even warns them to turn back if they are not experienced. But by then it''s like getting to the base of Mt. Everest and deciding to turn back because a sign says that people die up there. What do you think, we came here for high tea? Of course people die up here, otherwise we''d be doing something else.
No, instead, you tighten the Velcro on your golf glove, tie your Footjoys a little more securely and head toward your golfing demise with determination.
It may take one hole, it may take three, but Bethpage Black will conquer you, just as surely as you rise in the morning and brush the fur off your teeth.
Now I''m not advocating that the pros go through what we go through to get a tee time at a popular public facility, although it might be funny to see them chauffeured from their private jets in a Geo Metro in which they have to sleep.
No, what I''m advocating is a continuation of the USGA''s bravery in taking the Open to public facilities. Several positive things happen. First, the course in question receives the best attention: the grass improves, the putting surfaces improve and probably the clubhouse, too.
But the more important element is that a course on which you and I can play anytime we so desire gets tested by the world''s best players. We can relate to their successes and miseries.
We know what happens when you come up short here or go right there. We''ve tried to hit over that tree or reach that par-five in two. We may not know what it''s like to shoot in the 60s for four days, but we sure can un- derstand what a superior player must do to achieve it on our home course.
The logistics may not support our request for a U.S. Open. For example, where would 55,000 people per day, hospi- tality tents, merchandise tents, concession stands and the like go at Pacific Grove Golf Course? (Designed by Jack Neville, whose other design on the Peninsula is Pebble Beach Golf Links.)
But Bayonet is perfect. The course is already more than 7,100 yards long. Black Horse, next door, can handle parking, merchandise tents, etc. And there''s a large driving range and plenty of room for hospitality tents. Most of all, it is a good test of golf, and that, after all, is what the Open is all about.
So dream on, hackers of the world. Next time the U.S. Open comes back to the Peninsula, perhaps it won''t be at Pebble Beach for the hundredth time. Perhaps it will be on the Seaside Chili-Dippers home course. At least we can dream.
You cannot play Cypress Point Club. Forget it. It can''t be done. Make other plans. I know, I know-it''s the Sistine Chapel of Golf. It''s the best course in the nation. It''s Alister MacKenzie''s masterwork, his Beethoven''s Ninth, his Brandenburg Concertos, the one course on which he truly collaborated with divinity. Damn shame you can''t get on.
But before you throw your golf bag into the Pacific and take up tiddlywinks in despair over this fact, consider that while you are visiting, you can play quite a few other excellent courses, inside and outside the Del Monte Forest.
Inside the forest gates there''s Pebble Beach (difficult to get a tee time, but not impossible), Spyglass Hill, Spanish Bay and Poppy Hills. Some pretty good choices to start with, eh?
Pebble Beach Golf Links may not be what it once was because of the volume of play and the overpricing of tee times ($350 and headed up), but it is still a masterful layout. Jack Nicklaus has said, "If I had only one more round to play, I would choose to play it at Pebble Beach."
He should like it. He won three Crosbys here (1967, ''72 and ''73), as well as the 1961 U.S. Amateur the very first time he came to Pebble, causing Arnold Palmer to remark, "The first time Jack Nicklaus came to the Forest he shot Robin Hood."
Like the Pacific Ocean it is built adjacent to, Pebble can be benign or monstrous, depending on the weather. Witness the famous par-3 seventh, a short hole of only 107 yards from the back tees. When the wind comes from the water, it can play as many as five clubs longer.
Tom Watson likes The Links at Spanish Bay. Given the fact that he was one of the triumvirate who designed the course, I should hope so. He says, "Spanish Bay is so much like Scotland, you can almost hear the bagpipes." Tom, those are bagpipes, emanating from a piper at the Inn at Spanish Bay every day at dusk.
The other Scottish elements to which Watson refers are the dunes, some blind fairways and greens, the seaside location, and the natural look of the rough areas. The only difference is that in Scotland you can hike into the gorse and hack at your ball until the sheep fall asleep; at Spanish Bay, you take a drop and a penalty stroke and be on your merry way.
Of all the courses in the Forest you can and want to play, Spyglass Hill Golf Course must be near the top of the list. It is one of Robert Trent Jones'' best designs, nested into the deep trees above the coast.
It is a beast of a course, a beautiful, nasty test of golf. Frank Thacker, who was the head professional from the day the course opened in 1966 through 1976, remembered the first time the Crosby was played on it, less than a year after it opened.
"You talk about a rough, raw, tough course-that was it," Thacker said. "I don''t think a course has ever been more cursed than that one was. After that tournament, they remodeled six greens because the slope was so severe. Palmer four-putted the eighth green, even putted off the green once! And Nicklaus putted into the water on 14! You want to get some people screaming, that''s all you need. But I''ll tell you this, too: The more difficult the course was by reputation, the more people wanted to come give it a shot."
They are still coming, more than three decades later. Golfers, like gunslingers of the Old West, are always trying to be king of the hill-in this case, Spyglass Hill.
Outside the Forest gates, too, there are plenty of fine golfing choices. Pacific Grove Municipal has been called the "poor man''s Pebble Beach" more than once because of its location next to the Pacific, just a mile or two north of Pebble. It is a wonderful setting, but the comparison stops there. Still, for a low green fee, it''s a fun course to play.
In Carmel Valley, the courses you can play include the always-enjoyable Quail Lodge and Carmel Valley Ranch layouts. Quail is relaxed and friendly, with gnarled oak and lovely willow trees gracing many holes. There is a river running through it, and enough water to beautify but not make penal the course. You can normally score well here.
Carmel Valley Ranch asked architect Pete Dye to come back and repair his design after a previous ownership group decided they knew better than the master and fouled several holes. Dye did return several years ago, and the course you will play today is better for his attention. It still has a couple of holes as squirrely as the bushy tailed animals jumping through the many oak trees on site, but the setting is warm, the valley views are wide and the accommodations are superior.
And maybe best of all is Bayonet, which, along with Black Horse, was impossible to play when it was behind the military gates of Fort Ord.
Designed by an Army general named "Bourbon Bob" McClure and opened in 1954, Bayonet is a classically-designed course. It''s no Cypress Point, but it''s good enough for you, and good enough for the Open.
Beginnings. That''s what golf is all about. No matter how well or poorly you played the last hole, you get a fresh start 18 times a round. That''s double the lives of Morris the Cat.
Of course golf is also about middles and endings, how well we hold up under pressure, how we react when we get a good break we didn''t deserve, or a bad break we didn''t deserve. As author Rick Reilly once pointed out, "Like bike pants, golf tells you a lot about a person."
Do you crack at frustration and fly off the edge of the world? Remember, golf spelled backward is "flog." Or do you take poorly struck shots in stride, calmly chase your ball and hit it again with a smile on your face? I''ve done both, but the latter is so much more satisfying than the former. And better for your blood pressure.
I have a friend, quite an inept golfer named Bob, who once got so mad and frustrated at his game that he wrapped his 8-iron around a tree. He played out his round with only 13 clubs and a frown.
When we got back to the pro shop, Bob asked the pro if he could re-shaft the 8-iron. The pro, who knew Bob well from his weekly game at the course, asked what had happened and Bob told him. The pro said, "But Bob, you''re not good enough to get mad."
We both had a good laugh, and Bob and I both changed our perspectives on the game from that day forth.
Indeed, what is accomplished by a mad hack? If anything at all, it''s still on the south side of nothing.
That''s what makes the beginnings so precious, the chance to redeem all that has come before, to make a fresh start. Were you a ninny on the last hole? Not when you start the next hole-now you''re a champion again!
No sport has had as much written about it as has golf, from John Updike and Herb Warren Wind to Mark Twain and Winston Churchill. No other sport can pair a 90-year-old man with a seven-year-old girl and have them play with parity. No other sport asks the participant to call penalties on themselves, or to play their own foul balls.
Another sage pointed out that people don''t travel thousands of miles to play old tennis courts. But they will go halfway around the world to play golf at St. Andrews, Royal Melbourne and Titiranga. And this speaks to beginnings, as well. The opportunity to play a new course is as powerful a lure as there is in the world of sports, and we dream of what we did and will do next time for months thereafter.
Presidents, kings, rock stars, actors and the common man all meet on this playing field. How beautiful is that? You can pay $5 and play all day at some courses, or you can pay $200,000 and join a country club. It''s your choice.
Right here in our own backyard, we have several of the best golf courses in the world. I''ve played Augusta National, Royal County Down, Cypress Point and Pebble Beach. To me, Cypress Point is the best.
Up the coast in Santa Cruz, Pasatiempo is another Mackenzie design, one which he continued to toy with and improve until the day he died.
You can go halfway around the world to play new courses, and others are coming from halfway round the world to play here. Makes you feel like singing Will the Circle be Unbroken?
Golf is a game of circles. As we finish one hole we begin the next. In the end is the beginning. The Buddha smiles.
George Fuller has nine books to his credit, the two most recent being California Golf-The Complete Guide (Avalon Travel Publishing) and Discover Hawaii''s Best Golf (Island Heritage Publishing). Beginning this week, he will write a column for the Weekly. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.