PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Jordan Spieth was standing at the edge of the ankle-deep rough along the right side of the ninth hole on Friday. To his left, across the fairway, a crowd of thousands, three- and four-deep along the rope line, watched him and playing partner Tiger Woods prep their final strokes of the day. To his right, sailboats and yachts anchored in Carmel Bay bobbed in the gentle waves.
And down below him, just a few paces away, half a dozen beachgoers had scrambled up onto a little oceanside plateau for a free look at the world’s best golfers.
“They haven’t done anything yet,” a course volunteer nearby said of the freeloaders, “but we’re watching them.”
You’ve seen them on wide shots of the golf this week at the U.S. Open, beachgoers and dogs — so, so many cute dogs — frolicking in the sand just past the edge of the greens. And you’ve probably thought to yourself, hey, they seem awfully close to the golf … Here’s the truth: they are!
There are many ways to get into Pebble Beach to watch the U.S. Open. You could have played your way in, of course, but that door closed awhile ago. You could buy your way into the Pebble Beach resort, provided you’ve got a spare $14 million to toss around for a home along the course. You could still pick up a ticket for around $150 for one of this weekend’s rounds.
Or, if you’re enterprising enough and don’t mind getting slapped with a light trespassing charge, you could walk right onto the course. (Yahoo Sports does not recommend walking onto the course, just so we’re clear.)
Golf at its heart is a sport designed to give you a break from the everyday world. Rounds last as long as you can stretch them. Courses wind far away from your car, your home, your office, and bringing your phone on the golf course isn’t unlike bringing your phone into church — you can do it, but you’re going to get judged. This is a place to get away from it all, not bring it with you.
Certain golf courses do run right alongside their host communities, of course. At the Old Course at St. Andrews, wayward shots — even, on occasion, from pros — have ended up in flowerboxes and storefronts along the thin road that runs beside the 18th hole. And all over America, you can spot golf courses from the road or highway, with weekend hackers just tempting you to honk your horn while they’re in their backswing.
Championship-level courses and private clubs in America do their best to screen out the outside world, often for complicated sociological reasons we don’t need to delve into here. Augusta National, for instance, has ten-foot-high ivy-trimmed fences running along virtually its entire perimeter; the course within is set so far back from the property line that you never get a glimpse of the outside world … which is exactly how Augusta National likes it.
But Pebble Beach presents a specific challenge. The magnificent coastline beauty that defines it also leaves it wide open to curious visitors. You can’t paddle up to Amen Corner or the Island Green at Sawgrass, but the ocean’s a big place, and it’s not tough to make your way from Carmel Beach around to the majestic sweep of the course. You drive down Ocean Avenue in Carmel, through rustic little beach cottages with seven-figure price tags, past boutique shops like Diggidy Dog and Cottage of Sweets, hope that there’s parking in the tiny cul-de-sac right up against the sand, and, well ... start walking.
All beaches in California are public, including the one that runs right alongside the ninth and 10th holes of Pebble Beach, even though the golf course itself is private property. Nobody short of an Army ranger is climbing up, say, the steep cliffs that abut the eighth hole, but there are gentler routes onto the course … which, again, is TRESPASSING.
Longtime residents will tell you that there once was a walkway that extended from the beach right up to the 10th green, back when Pebble Beach was the site of Bing Crosby’s clambake tournament (now the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am) and golf wasn’t quite the top item on the agenda. Even today — well, not today, but when there’s no tournament going on — you can pick your way up to the back of the 10th green without much trouble.
Given the low sweep of Pebble Beach’s far holes, which dive down to about 15 feet above the waterline, there’s not really any way to stiff-arm trespassers without either disrupting the beach or wrecking the aesthetics. Barbed-wire fences like the ones that run along beaches in South Korea, while effective at keeping out wanderers, don’t exactly contribute to the epic, sweeping vistas that Fox is showing all weekend long with its drone camera flying high above the shore.
There’s plenty of old-school law enforcement in the wings, though. A Coast Guard cutter just offshore Friday seemed to show up whenever people in kayaks drew a little too close to the 7th hole. And red-jacketed USGA volunteers and marshals along the course were tipped off that there might be some amateur golf enthusiasts visiting them.
Trespassing in California, an internet search tells me, is a violation of state Penal Code 602, which carries a penalty of up to six months in prison and a fine of $1,000. Wandering onto a golf course would probably fall under the less-severe 602.8 PC, which is a $75 fine for first-time offenders. But hey, why take the chance? Use that money to buy a t-shirt or something.
As of Friday afternoon, though, all had been quiet. Law enforcement surveyed along the ninth and 10th greens didn’t report any freelance gallery members.
“Haven’t had any yet,” one said. “But we’re ready.”
Let that be your warning. Get close, sure … but save that bail money for a ticket in 2027, when the Open comes back to Pebble.
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