Inside the new Pebble Beach: The Official Golf History by Neal Hotelling.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
In the years since a plucky Bostonian named Mike Brady first fought his way through irregular, construction zone course conditions to win the unofficial Opening Day Tournament in April, 1918, Pebble Beach has hosted over 400 golf tournaments, including four U.S. Open Championships.
Yet as sluggish as that seminal event must have been for its participants, it’s a safe bet that Brady, and every tournament golfer at Pebble since, has spent less time actually playing in their respective tournaments than Monterey resident, author, and Pebble Beach historian Neal Hotelling has spent studying each of them.
Hotelling has devoted much of the past two decades investigating, archiving and publishing the dense history of what many consider the world’s most beautiful, and challenging, golfing locations. For his third book, the recently released Pebble Beach: The Official Golf History (Triumph Books), he spent four years digging into and interpreting the minutia of each of Pebble’s golf events, many that had been lost in the overgrown rough of history before Hotelling unearthed them.
Hotelling calls them “Aha!” moments.
In his capacity as the director of licensing and third party usage of trademarked images for the Pebble Beach Company, where he has worked for 19 years, Hotelling has access to a cache of over 40,000 historic negatives, many never publicly seen before – a tremendous resource that has been given new life in the gorgeously designed book.
Those images often came to Hotelling without any accompanying information, leaving it up to the author to figure out the subjects, and then to place the images into historical context (Aha!), such as when he identified the relatively tiny image of H. Dudley Wysong striking a blind, cross-course shot from the 6th fairway at Pebble Beach up onto the 8th green, within 25 feet of the cup to save par in the 1961 U.S. Amateur – considered in course lore to be one of the greatest single shots ever made in competition at Pebble.
“The photos didn’t come with IDs,” Hostelling says. “Wysong had blown his tee shot to the left, gotten himself into trouble and wound up off course. I happened to notice which hole it was by the orientation of the cliffs behind him, and by the strange direction of his aim, figured out that it had to be the legendary shot.”
The author enlisted an impressive cadre of colleagues to contribute to his work. Seeding the book with vivid landscape photographs is Carmel-based photographer Joanne Dost, an Ansel Adam’s trained artist whose own legend is rapidly growing.
Arnold Palmer writes the foreword and tells of his legendary 1967 quadruple bogey, when he cursed, in all ways, a tree that stymied his attempt to keep up with Jack Nicklaus – that very same tree which Arney had hit with his ball not once, but twice earlier in the day – fell down in a furious storm during the night.
Pebble Beach: The Official Golf History builds upon Pebble Beach Golf Links: The Official History, which Hotelling wrote a decade prior. This new edition is notable for its inclusion of the hitherto undocumented, complete tournament history of Pebble Beach. Equally important, the book updates a history that is unfolding every year.
In the decade since his first book was published, the course has hosted a fourth U.S. Open, famously won in 2000 by Tiger Woods, who dominated the field in winning by 15 strokes. “When the course is set up for championship play,” says Hotelling, “it can be a very, very hard course. They [course designers] really put the teeth into it. The fairways are pinched in, the rough gets rougher. Tiger was 12 under, but his nearest competitor was three over. The entire field, other than Woods, was over par. That’s how hard this course can be. It stands the test of time to take on the best golfers of the world.”
Interestingly, Hotelling isn’t even certain that Woods’ win in 2000 was the best performance in the history of U.S. Opens at Pebble. That honor, says Hotelling, probably belongs to Tom Kite and the final round of his 1992 victory.
“We’ve had such great Open champions. Nicklaus, Watson, Kite, Woods,” says Hotelling, his convivial face lighting up in the mentioning of that hallowed group. “Jack [Nicklaus] won both the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open here. And then there is Tiger. But Kite was playing in impossible conditions, on rock hard greens, in 40 mph winds, and under incredible pressure. Colin Montgomerie had already signed his card, and was three strokes behind Kite, but with the conditions deteriorating on the course, Jack Nicklaus, who was on TV as an announcer, conceded that the course was unplayable and congratulated Monty early for winning his first U.S. Open.
“Kite was the all-time money leader at that point, but was major-less, and was thought not to be able to handle the pressure that it took in winning a major. Of the last players on the course with Kite, the average score turned in was 80,” he says, pausing to let the number sink in.
“The best in the world. Eighty. Kite shot a 72 and won his major,” says Hotelling, smiling as he looks out over Pebble’s magnificent 18th hole from the terrace above.
His eyes fall on the cup. When the winning putt of the 2010 U.S. Open falls firmly in that hole, this historian’s work will begin anew.