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Monday, December 15, 2014

For Pure Golf, Spyglass Beats Pebble

Spyglass Hill #3
Pebble Beach gets all the headlines, but Spyglass Hill is arguably the better golf course by many standards. It's measurably harder, has more than a few intimidating shots, and can more severely punish a near miss. Spyglass may not have quite as many iconic holes, but it has more than its fair share of fabulous scenery, too.

Sypglass has an interesting history. It was originally built by the Northern California Golf Assocation (NCGA) in 1966, its construction financed by members who put up cash and agreed to dues of $50 per year. There is still a membership, although I'm not sure what happens to them in 2016 when the fiftieth anniversary comes around. The course is owned and operated today by the Pebble Beach Company and the NCGA has moved its headquarters to Poppy Hills, which it owns.

Robert Trent Jones, Sr., designed Spyglass and many of us believe it to be his best work. By the numbers, Spyglass Hill is tougher than Pebble Beach. It's longer from all four tee boxes, measuring 6,960 vs Pebble's 6,828 from the tips. From the gold tees, the Spyglass rating/slope is 73.8/140 vs. Pebble's 72.6/136, a difference that's reflected on the other three tees as well. Jones' pop up greens and the natural elevation changes at Spyglass makes it play even longer than Pebble's relatively flat terrain, too. The extra 100 yards on the scorecard for the gold tees play more like an extra 300 yards when you take that into account.

The opening hole reflects the dual nature of the course--trees, elevation, and the ocean combine to make a classic introduction to the layout. The hole is a long, downhill par five with a tee shot that threads a corridor of pines to reach the dog leg at the bottom of the hill. Once you've cleared the corner, the hole turns left and greets the ocean. The extensive bunkers in front of the green echo the dunes and beach lying beyond it.

Spyglass isn't lacking in visual splendor. The first five holes play along the dunes, often close enough to the waves to see the water dripping from the surfers' eyebrows. The second hole, a 321-yard uphill par four (from the gold tees), plays to a green perched like a crow's nest overlooking the ocean.  It's followed by a truly great par 3. At 150 yards, the third hole plays directly toward the Pacific over a wasteland of scrub, dunes, and bunkers. The fourth hole, which Jones often said was his favorite par four, is short at 358 yards but has one of the most radically skinny greens you'll find anywhere. The last hole you play on the ocean stretch is the 169-yard fifth, where the green sits directly beneath the glass-fronted house made famous by Clint Eastwood in "Play Misty for Me."

The back nine at Spyglass is a pure test of golf, rewarding in equal parts accuracy, distance, and touch around the green. The 13th and 16th holes are long, demanding par fours playing 435 and 454 yards respectively. The two par threes on the side have water in play while the short (312-yard) par four 17th seems to have as many bunkers as trees--and there are a LOT of trees. The finisher plays up a steep, steep hill to a green with brutal contours. It's only 386 yards on the card, but plays like 486 and a bogey feels like a birdie.

Spyglass Hill is not for the faint of heart, but it is a rewarding, memorable golf experience that should have a place on everyone's bucket list.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

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