It’s hard to recall a more eagerly anticipated major in the women’s game as the 78th U.S. Women’s Open draws ever closer and there are many reasons for that, one of which is the hosting course.
Pebble Beach Golf Links is one of the United States’ most storied venues, iconic in every fashion. Situated on California’s Monterrey Peninsula, it is regularly ranked as the number one course in the country, and unlike its neighbour, the uber exclusive Cypress Point, anybody can get a round at Pebble. Well, anybody with $625 to spare.
Perched on the rugged clifftops above Carmel Bay, holes six through 10 may well be the greatest sequence of golf holes on the planet, beginning with a par-5 with a sheer drop to the Pacific Ocean on the right and a blind second shot, then onto the par-3 seventh, possibly the most photographed hole on the planet. Playing downhill to a green surrounded by craggy rock outcroppings and the lapping waves, it’s usually just a wedge but when the wind turns against, we may even see headcovers being pulled off.
The eighth is a par-4, again with cliffs to the right, and a second shot over a gaping chasm to a green that looks like a pool table surrounded by bunkers. Nine is another par-4 that’s flanked by cliffs the entire way, with a beautiful white sandy beach providing the backdrop as you eye up your second shot, and the 10th is more of the same, though with the beach now running adjacent but some 20-feet below and with the rugged coastline jutting in in several places making the fairway narrow and lay-ups fraught with danger.
The two closing holes are built for drama. The 17th, a long par-3 with an angled, hourglass green and the ocean behind, has been pivotal in deciding the outcome in several major championships – more on that later – and the 18th is one of the most visually stunning and exceptional closing holes in golf. A long par-5 that sweeps from right-to-left, a lone cypress tree stands sentry on the right side of the fairway meaning players wanting to get on in two must take on the ocean with their tee shot, and a fairway bunker 100 yards long stands between the sea wall and the short grass on approach meaning that the layup is no gimme either. Anything from three to eight is in play on the tee and no player feels safe with a one-shot lead playing 18.
Jack Nicklaus, who knows a thing or two about golf courses, said “if I had only one more round to play. I would play at Pebble Beach. I loved this course from the first time I saw it. It’s possibly the best in the world.” High praise indeed.
Pebble Beach has hosted the men’s U.S. Open on six occasions, starting in 1972 when the aforementioned ‘Golden Bear’ hit the flag with a 1-iron on the par-3 17th in the final round, leaving a tap-in birdie and an eventual three-stroke victory. A decade later, Nicklaus learned that the golfing gods must be repaid as Tom Watson famously chipped in for birdie on the same hole when tied with Jack.
It was here that Tom Kite, aged 42 got the ‘best player never to win a major’ monkey off his back in 1992, and where possibly the greatest exhibition of golf has ever been displayed when Tiger Woods romped to a 15-stroke victory in 2000 enroute to the ‘Tiger Slam.’ The only player to break par for the week, Tiger did so with ease, reaching -12 and prompting runner-up Ernie Els to remark that he’d won the tournament he was playing in.
Graeme McDowell made history in 2010 by being the first Irishman to win a U.S. Open, and becoming the first European in 40 years, paving the way for Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Jon Rahm and Matt Fitzpatrick to follow suit in the years that followed.
Its final hosting was in 2019, where Gary Woodland would make one of the all-time great par-saves on the iconic 17th, chipping from the front edge of the green when impossible to get close with a putter and denying Brooks Koepka becoming the first ever three-in-a-row champion.
But this is the first time that it has ever hosted a U.S. Women’s Open, so history beckons once more. Small greens and the potential for strong winds make it very much a second-shot golf course and there are no better exponents of accurate iron play than the stars of the women’s game.
In many ways, the power exhibited in the men’s game has blunted the challenge Pebble Beach presents, but when the women take to the links, we’ll see it play to its full potential.
And I, for one, can’t wait.