IN THE PUBLIC EYE: Pacific Grove Golf Links in Pacific Grove, Calif.
THE LAYOUT: Known as the "Poor Man's Pebble Beach," Pacific Grove Muni is not nearly as famous as its high-priced neighbors on the Monterey Peninsula but definitely is more fun for your money.
"Pacific Grove is one of those sleeper courses," said Howard Kihune, former director of golf at Makena Golf Resort on the island of Maui in Hawaii. "It's one of the best muni courses in the world.
"When I go to the Monterey Peninsula, I play Pebble Beach and all of the high-end courses, but I always make sure that I get in a round at Pacific Grove, too."
The front nine was designed by Chandler Egan, who won the U.S. Amateur in 1904 and 1905, and the course opened in 1932. The back nine was the creation of Jack Neville, who designed perhaps the best seaside golf course in the world, Pebble Beach, right down the road.
Pacific Grove Muni measures only 5,732 yards through landscape that mirrors Pebble and the Links at Spanish Bay -- with sand dunes, cypress trees and ice plant -- making it one of the best walking courses anywhere.
A par-70 layout, it plays to a USGA rating of 67.7 and a slope of 119.
HEAD PROFESSIONAL: Joe Riekena.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: This is one of those layouts that actually is two courses in one. The front nine winds through the pines and cypress on a hill at the edge of the Del Monte Forest in the old English rural style, affording the golfer spectacular views of Monterey Bay.
The back nine provides classic seaside links golf, playing through the sand dunes and ice plant along the beach.
The Point Pinos Lighthouse in Pacific Grove opened in 1855 and is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast. The lighthouse is located at the end of the 355-yard 16th hole, giving Pacific Grove a touch of the great Scottish seaside courses.
The 153-yard par-3 17th is the most photographed hole on the course, with the tee located on the ocean near the lighthouse and requiring a shot across Crespi Pond (named for Father Juan Crespi, chief subordinate of Father Junipero Serra, founder of the California missions) to a green surrounded by a grove of Monterey Cypress.
Best hole on the course probably is the dogleg right, 513-yard par-5 12th, which plays right along the ocean.
Highlighting the front nine are back-to-back par-5s, the 520-yard fifth and 533-yard sixth.
Before or after, stop for a bite to eat in the acclaimed Point Pinos Grill, centerpiece of the $3.5 million clubhouse that opened in 2006.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: The Monterey Peninsula and surrounding area offer a smorgasbord guaranteed to satisfy the appetite of any golfer.
Everyone knows Pebble Beach and its neighbors Spanish Bay, Spyglass Hill and Poppy Hills, but there is much, much more.
Nearby are the Bayonet and Black Horse courses in Seaside, Laguna Seca Golf Ranch in Monterey, Rancho Canada Golf Course in Carmel Valley and Del Monte Golf Course in Monterey -- which opened in 1897 and is the oldest course in continuous operation west of the Mississippi River.
Only a short drive away are other acclaimed courses such as the Half Moon Bay Golf Links and two in Santa Cruz -- DeLaveaga Golf Club and Pasatiempo Golf Club, the latter designed by the great Alister MacKenzie and where he lived in a house near the sixth hole for several years until his death in 1934.
WHERE TO STAY: If the Lodge at Pebble Beach and the Inn at Spanish Bay are too rich for your blood, there is ample lodging to fit any golfer's pocketbook. Included are the Green Gables Inn in Pacific Grove, Casa Munras Hotel in Monterey, Carmel Valley Lodge, the Carmel Mission Inn, Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa, the Pacific Grove Inn, the Monterey Bay Inn, the Adobe Inn in Carmel and the Highlands Inn -- which is perched on a hillside across Highway 1 from the Pacific Ocean a little south of Carmel.
ON THE WEB: www.pggolflinks.com.
THE LAST RESORT: The Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, Calif.
THE LAYOUT: When the Pebble Beach Co. was planning to build a links course to complement Pebble Beach Golf Links, one of the greatest courses in the world, it assembled the perfect design team.
Along with the renowned architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Sandy Tatum, former president of the United States Golf Association, Pebble Beach enlisted Tom Watson, who knows his way around a links course as well as any American -- having won the British Open five times.
Watson said of the property: "Spanish Bay is so much like Scotland, you can almost hear the bagpipes."
Well, actually you can, because a kilted Scotsman strides the across the links at sunset to signal the end of the day with his bagpipes.
The classic links course, which wraps around the Inn at Spanish Bay, meanders through the sand dunes and into the Del Monte Forest on the famed 17-mile drive. It plays to a par of 72 and measures 6,821 yards.
Spanish Bay is rated at 74.1 with a slope of 146 by the Northern California Golf Association, but it is resort-friendly with five sets of tees.
HEAD PROFESSIONAL: Rich Cosand.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Spanish Bay is a delight to the golfer right from the start, the 500-yard par-5 first hole, which plays downhill to a green perched above the breakers on the Pacific Ocean. The green is guarded by two traps on the left and a marsh to the right, and shots that go long might land on the beach.
No. 5 is a 451-yard monster of a par 4, rated as the most difficult hole on the card, with three pot bunkers waiting in the right-center of the fairway. Take the long way around to the left or play risk-reward down the shorter, narrow right side. Second shots, again toward the ocean, that hug the right side will kick toward the green.
The eighth hole is a gorgeous par 3, 158 yards from an elevated tee, across a large seaside lake to a narrow green. Club selection is key with the wind coming off the ocean to the right.
No. 10 is the first of three par 5s on the back nine, a double dogleg that plays uphill through a chute of trees in the forest with a demanding tee shot required over a protruding sand dune. The left side of the fairway is the riskiest for the second shot but will reward the golfer with a shorter approach to the multi-tiered green.
Perhaps the best hole on the hill above the dunes is No. 12, a narrow, 432-yard par 4 that requires a long approach or a prudent lay-up shot to avoid a deep gully 30 yards short of the green. Be careful even if you have a wedge shot to the wide, shallow green because you don't want to wind up on the slope above the hole.
The 200-yard 16th is a deceptive par 3 that runs parallel to the beach, where the tee is protected from the offshore breezes that push shots toward three bunkers on the right.
Save something for the big finish, a 547-yard par 5 that plays uphill to a green protected by a large patch of gorse and other native grasses. Try to stay to the right side of the fairway on the first two shots to set up a better angle for the approach to a green guarded by two bunkers on the right.
Get a feel for the speed on the practice green because the greens are slick all the way around, and avoid the temptation to feed the deer that share the course with the golfers.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Pebble Beach owns three other championship golf courses, all remarkable in their own right, in addition to the par-3 Peter Hay Golf Course.
Pebble Beach Golf Links, designed by Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, is the host course of the PGA Tour's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (still The Crosby to purists). It has been recognized as one of the greatest courses in the world since it opened in 1919.
Spyglass Hill Golf Course, which takes its name from a location in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel "Treasure Island," is a unique challenge designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones Sr. that opened in 1966. It's also in the AT&T rotation.
Old Del Monte Golf Course, located on the grounds of the Hyatt Regency Monterey, was designed by Charles Maud and is the oldest continuously operating course west of the Mississippi River, having challenged golfers since 1897.
There might be more exceptional golf courses in this region on the Central Coast of California than any similar area in the world.
Also nearby are Poppy Hills Golf Course (Robert Trent Jones Jr.) in Pebble Beach; Pacific Grove Golf Links (Chandler Egan and Jack Neville); Bayonet and Black Horse Golf Courses (Gen. Robert McClure) in Seaside; Laguna Seca Golf Ranch (Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Jr.) in Monterey; Carmel Valley Ranch Resort (Pete Dye); Quail Lodge Resort (Robert Muir Graves) in Carmel Valley; San Juan Oaks Golf Club in Hollister (Gene Bates and Fred Couples); Pasatiempo Golf Course (Alister MacKenzie) in Santa Cruz; Half Moon Bay Golf Links (Arnold Palmer and Arthur Hills), and DeLaveaga Golf and Lodge (Bert Stamps) in Santa Cruz.
WHERE TO STAY: The award-winning Inn at Spanish Bay has 253 guest rooms and 17 suites. Guests can enjoy eight plexi-paved tennis courts, a health and fitness center with a swimming pool, a weight room, saunas, steam bath, an aerobic studio and massage rooms.
For dinner, don't miss Roy's, which specializes in Asian-Pacific cuisine, or try Peppoli at Pebble Beach for Tuscan-style seafood, pasta and country-style grilled meats.
The exclusive Lodge at Pebble Beach has been welcoming guests since 1919. There are 161 guest rooms and suites, meeting spaces, four restaurants and lounges, a promenade of shops and boutiques, a post office and a bank.
The Pebble Beach Co. acquired Casa Palmero, a 75-year-old Mediterranean estate, in 1994, and it opened for guests in 1999 after an extensive renovation. The 24 exquisitely appointed rooms, adjacent to the first fairway of Pebble Beach Golf Links, include fireplaces and outdoor patios with hot tubs.
The 22,000-square-foot Spa at Pebble Beach, nestled in the heart of the Del Monte Forest, can be enjoyed by guests at any of the resorts. It offers an array of massages, body scrubs and wraps, water treatments, skin care, nail care and hair care.
There also are plenty of boutique hotels and charming bed-and-breakfasts in the area, including the Stonehouse Inn in Carmel, the Old Monterey Inn, the Green Gables Inn in Pacific Grove, the Highlands Inn/Park Hyatt a few miles south of Carmel, the Grand View Inn in Pacific Grove, the Jabberwock Inn in Monterey, the Tickle Pink Inn in Carmel, the Pacific Grove Inn, the Pine Inn in Carmel and the Seven Gables Inn in Pacific Grove.
ON THE WEB: www.pebblebeach.com/accommodations/the-inn-at-spanish-bay; www.pebblebeach.com/golf/the-links-at-spanish-bay