So I have this hilarious habit of celebrating my younger brother's birthday, on May 25th, by giving myself really incredible gifts. One year, on his birthday, I bought my first brand new car. Another year it was the 70-inch 3D television I'd been eyeing for months. But 19 years ago today, on my brother's 24th birthday, I celebrated him by giving myself something I'll probably never top ... 36 holes of golf on the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Links.
2002 was a big year. My ex-wife and I bought our first new house. I was doing some side work as a speechwriter that had become pretty lucrative. And so we decided to sink a few thousand dollars into a whirlwind trip of the Monterey Penninsula with her father, Dan, (one of my best golfing buddies) and stepmother, Sharron.
Flying out on Friday, we had plans to play Pebble Beach on Saturday morning, with tee times over the next two days at Spyglass, The Links at Spanish Bay and Poppy Hills. We were staying three nights, and in those days you could only book an advance round on Pebble for every two nights of your stay. But the folks at Pebble Beach try to be very accommodating to their guests. And upon arrival for our stay at the Inn at Spanish Bay, I asked the concierge if there was any chance of getting a second tee time at Pebble.
To my surprise and delight, she called the golf shop, rearranged our Spyblass and Spanish Bay tee times, and secured us an afternoon round on Pebble just a couple of hours after we would finish our first 18.
Playing Pebble Beach is every bit as magical as you think it might be and more. Even on a cold, wet, foggy day, it was magnificent. Back in those days, I was about a 6 handicap. I couldn't get a putt to drop all day and shot two terrible rounds ... and I didn't care in the slightest. Because I was playing at Pebble Beach. Where Nicklaus hit the 1-iron that rocked the flag on 17. Where Watson holed the chip. Where Tiger showed the world, just two years earlier, what it really meant to be the best there ever was (at least at that moment in his career).
19 years later, I can remember so much about that day as if it were yesterday. My chip-in on 2. The punch sandwedge that I knocked over the 7th green and into the ocean during our first round ... and the punch sandwedge I knocked over the same green into the same ocean during round two. The shot across the cove on 8 that finished barely 10 feet from the hole. The seagull who stole the food from our cart on 9. The moment I thought Dan was going to fall over the cliff on 10 because he was sure he could hit that ball out of the high stuff ... and the looks between our caddies that said, "How are we going to explain this to management if this guy goes over?" The tee shot on 17 that sailed just over the flag ... and the putt I for birdie that I blew past the hole, turning a 2 into a 4. The moments spent on the tee on 18, sitting on the fence, just soaking in the experience while the group ahead waited in the fairway to mishit all of their second shots. Putting out on 18 (twice) with the biggest smiles on our faces. And the cheesy bread we ate before dinner at the Tap Room in the Lodge ... that we can still just about taste and often talk about nearly 20 years later. We played two five-hour rounds that day, and we wouldn't have complained if they'd taken six.
Someday I'll take my son to Pebble. He's six today and only just starting to take up the game. More than anywhere else I've played, I look forward to sharing that experience with him some day ... even if we only play 18 and I (once again) score terribly.
Here are some pictures from my epic day at Pebble Beach. Just remember, this was 2002, and digital cameras back then were not at all what they are today. :)
Teeing off on the third hole. Not going to lie ... I totally hooked that shot into the junk on the left. Didn't care in the least. Pebble Beach.
The par-3 5th. Don't. Go. Right.
Looking down at some of the seals just hanging out on the rocks in Stillwater Cove behind and below the 7th tee.
The 7th hole at Pebble Beach ... likely the most-photographed golf hole in all the world. Kind of reminds me of Grover Dill, Scott Farkus' toadie in "A Christmas Story," because this hole is small but it's still a bully. Certainly ate my breakfast during the first round ... and about six hours later it stole my lunch money!
Absolutely gorgeous view across the cove from the fairway to the 8th green. It's no wonder Jack Nicklaus calls this his favorite second shot in golf.
View from behind the 8th green as I'm about to hit what turned out to be an incredible shot into the green.
Told you it was a great shot into the 8th green from across the cove. (Notice I didn't say I made the putt.)
Dan and I making our way down the fairway on 9. What a day.
Another solid shot from the right side of the fairway on 9.
A look from up above at the 10th hole. I believe Gene Hackman was living in that house just beyond the 10th green when we were there in 2002. He did not come out to congratulate us on how masterfully we played the hole.
Pretty look back across the 10th fairway at Arrowhead Point and the 7th green.
Posing like I actually know what I'm doing as I make my way toward the next fairway.
Going for the green in 2 on the 14th after I absolutely smashed my drive. Practice swing was fantastic. Actual swing sent my ball screaming into the side of a $40 million mansion off to the right.
Hit the cut-off Tiger stinger off the tee on 15, right down the middle.
Beautiful tee shots (for Dan and I) into the 17th green. Funny thing ... as much as I remember about our experience that day, it occurs to me that I have no recollection at all of the other guys we played with in either round. Could not tell you a thing about them ... except that they missed this green short and to the right.
The view from the tee on 18. I could live on this tee box and be happy.
Get off the green ... we're going for it in two, Sparky!
Great day with a great friend. We've had many, many golfing adventures since ... and believe me, when I say "adventures," we hit the ball into and out of places Indiana Jones wouldn't even visit some times. But there will never be another day like the day we took on Pebble Beach twice in 2002.