FROM THE FIRST EDITION OF THE NEW MONTEREY BAY NEWS AND VIEWS
Samuel F.B. Morse knew a good place for a golf course when he saw one. He convinced his board that the course could be maintained by sheep and designed at no cost by two amateur golfers—Jack Neville and Douglas Grant.
In an interview in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1972, Jack Neville said: “It was all there in plain sight. Very little clearing was necessary. The big thing, naturally, was to get as many holes as possible along the bay. It took a little imagination, but not much. Years before it was built, I could see this place as a golf links. Nature had intended it to be nothing else. All we did was cut away a few trees, install a few sprinklers, and sow a little seed.”
Neville’s imagination was displayed in all its splendor this past week for the 2012 Pebble Beach National ProAm. Bright sunshine and balmy breezes turned it into the place Robert Louis Stevenson called “the most felicitous meeting of land and sea.” It was a day for poets and picnickers, yet still a perfect day for golfers and gawkers.
The Celebrity Challenge on Wednesday, February 8, brought together the usual suspects of notables who have become annual crowd favorites. George Lopez, resplendent in royal purple, walked with comedian Anthony Anderson, whose white pants with bright red star-patterned splotches befitted a clown, or someone exiting a clown car at the circus.
San Francisco 49er’s quarterback, Alex Smith’s tee shot on the meandering par 5 second hole sliced into the crowd striking a woman on her leg. She received an apology form the solicitous quarterback, as well as ice for her leg, and tickets to a 49er’s game for next season. On the 2nd’s undulating green, the crowd cheered lustily as ESPN’s Chris Berman snaked in a hard breaking fifteen footer to win $40,000 for his charity. The small slanting 17th green proved to be an elusive target for the amateurs. Once on the green they discovered that putting had to be accomplished with the delicacy of a jeweler splitting a diamond.
There are few views in any sporting even that can match Pebbles’ famous finishing hole. This par 5’s fairway hugs the ocean the way a caring parent would loving caress a child to protect it from the perils that make getting from tee to green so hazardous.
Of course, this year all the buzz is centered around the return of Tiger Woods to Pebble Beach. His presence assures larger galleries as well as more comprehensive media coverage. It is not as if attendance at this annual event suffered during Tiger’s hegira from the AT&T Tournament. His ability to turn an event into a spectacle, especially since he himself has become a spectacle, adds nuances of intrigue that are missing when he is missing.
So what is it about this game that draws such huge crowds. At other major sporting events we sit in in one place watching the game. Many attendees of a golf tournament trudge the 7,000 yards of a golf course along with the participants. Why do they do that? It is said you cannot judge a person unless you have walked a mile in their shoes. Many in the gallery have walked a mile in the spiked shoes of a golfer. They understand the uniqueness of a game where one becomes his own judge, referee, and umpire calling fouls and penalties on himself. I have never thrown a touchdown pass in a super bowl, or got the winning hit in a baseball World Series. But I have stood in Tiger’s shoes standing over a two foot knee-knocker. I have added a stroke to my score turning a bogey into a double bogey because my putter accidently brushed the ball while it lay on the green. I have watched my golf ball carom off the rocks on the treacherous finishing hole at Pebble Beach, carried westward by the Pacific until the next round it plays may be at The Tokyo Country Club. I have stood visualizing the timing that keeps my head still, my left arm stiff, getting my hip out of the way, transferring my weight so that the club head is square at impact with a dimpled ball that is standing still, yet is as difficult to hit as a baseball moving at 90 miles an hour.
What makes it so great a game? It is hitting that one, true, perfect shot that clears the bunker, lands softly on the green and rolls to a stop less than 12 inches from the cup. The shot that erases the other hundred shots you hit that day.