Friday, March 14, 2008

Spyglass Hill Golf Course

Spyglass Hill Golf Course (ranked #81 in the world) is located on the Pebble Beach peninsula, adjacent to Cypress Point and a short drive from Pebble Beach and Spanish Bay. Spyglass is without question one of the top public golf courses in the U.S.

The following excerpt is a nice summary of Spyglass taken from its web-site: "Spyglass Hill Golf Course takes its name from Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel, Treasure Island, published in 1863. Local legend maintains that Stevenson once wandered the Spyglass area gathering ideas for his novels. A unique aspect of this course is that the holes are named after characters in Treasure Island. Hole names such as "Black Dog" and "Billy Bones" are hints for the unwary. As players attempt to master this difficult course, they may hear the laughter of pirates in the distance.

Spyglass Hill was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., as a part of the master plan for the Pebble Beach ocean front. S.F.B. Morse, founder of Pebble Beach Company, and chairman of the board of Del Monte Properties, envisioned a string of golf courses around Del Monte Forest's shoreline. Morse commissioned Jones to design a course between Cypress Point and Pebble Beach."

The exciting first tee at Spyglass Hill

Spyglass is really the tale of two courses. The intoxicating holes along the bay (1-5) are dramatic, wide open and exposed to the elements. The inland holes (6-18) are difficult, tree-lined and play on terrain that slopes uphill.

The opening five holes at Spyglass are dramatic. I would be hard pressed to think of a golf course that has a better opening stretch of holes than Spyglass. The first hole, named Treasure Island, is a downhill sweeping par five that offers tantalizing glimpses of Monterey Bay through the trees as you stand on the tee. As you proceed down the hill, the hole sweeps to the left and the bay provides a wondrous backdrop for the green.

Spyglass Hill first hole looking down the hill

The second hole, a 349 yard par four named "Billy Bones," is one of the finest holes I have played in my travels. The tee shot is through an opening between a line of trees to a narrow fairway that slopes downhill and left to right. It is a classic risk-reward shot that rewards the more dangerous shot to the right with a shorter approach to the green.

Spyglass Hill second hole from the tee

What makes the tee shot on the second trickier is that if you want to play it safe to the left, the shot requires extreme precision. If you hit it too long to the left, your ball will end up in the ice plants (part of the carpetweed family, which tells you all you need to know), which is almost like an automatic lost ball. The short shot to the oblong, elevated green requires intense concentration due to the severity of the slope in the fairway.

Spyglass Hill second hole from fairway

The view of the bay from the second green is as good as you'll find anywhere, with the clubhouse at Cypress Point visible on your left. Overall, the hole has everything a great hole should have - dramatic scenery, great risk-reward characteristics, multiple options for low and high handicapper alike and a superb use of the terrain.

Spyglass Hill second hole looking back from the green

Spyglass Hill second green

Spyglass Hill par three third

The third hole at Spyglass Hill, named "Black Spot," is a tricky par three that plays downwind and downhill toward the bay. The nice views of the ultra-private Cypress Point and of the bay are an added bonus to this exciting hole, which sports a small green.

The fourth green (hole named "Blind Pew") is an oblong, multi-tiered green set within a sand dune, close to the bay. The green is reminiscent of the sixth at Kingsbarns or any number of greens at Cruden Bay. The 370 yard hole plays downhill the entire way with a huge sandy area down the left side.

The first five holes are truly invigorating, and if you play Spyglass, enjoy them, because the easy part of the course is now behind you.

Spyglass Hill fourth green

After the fifth hole, the course changes dramatically. The fifth and remaining holes play away from the bay, and there are no more views of the water. The rest of the course frankly feels more like Pinehurst than it does Pebble Beech. It winds its way through pine and cedar trees on the rolling terrain, leading to a difficult round of golf. When the AT&T Pebble Beach golf tournament is held each year it is played over three courses - Pebble Beach, Spyglass and nearby Poppy Hills. The pros complain about Spyglass generally, because it is such a stern test of golf. Holes six, eight and sixteen rank among the toughest on the tour each year.

My round was going very well at Spyglass until I reached the seventh hole, when, out of nowhere, on my second shot, it happened. Without mentioning the word, I will quote from two great golf writers who will explain my predicament eloquently. "It is the most demeaning shot in golf, and perhaps in any game," writes Henry Longhurst. "The ball shoots off knee high and almost at right angles to the intended line."

The next three holes were a living nightmare.

Bobby Jones explains how the affliction acts upon the mind. "Because of the fear of doing it again, by contracting the swing, the evil is cumulative, living upon itself."

I won't disclose my score on holes seven, eight and nine, but I am including a picture of the plane I flew home on, below.
Mercifully, I regained my composure on the back nine and finished with a respectable score.

The eighth hole at Spyglass Hill ("Signal Hill")

The eighth hole feels more like nearby Olympic Club, with its big elevation changes, uneven lies and narrow fairways. As with many of the inland holes at Spyglass, it plays a lot longer than the card indicates, due to the uphill terrain.

The tenth green at Spyglass Hill ("Captain Flint")

Notice how heavily wooded the back nine is in these pictures compared to the openness of the first five holes. There are several interesting features about the inland holes at Spyglass. The holes generally play longer than the yardage on the card indicates due to the continually rising terrain. Jones laid out 6-18 so that almost all the par fours play uphill and the par threes play downhill. As a result, the par threes are generally short, but still tricky, because the prevailing wind makes them play downwind, making club selection difficult.

The sixteenth hole tee shot at Spyglass Hill ("Black Dog")

The sixteenth hole, the #2 handicap, is a good example of how narrow some of the tee shots and fairways are on the back nine at Spyglass.

Overall, I really enjoyed Spyglass.

I look forward to my return to the Monterey Penninsula to play the last remaining course I need to play in California. With my round at Spyglass complete, I drove past the entrance gate to Cypress Point, the world's #2 ranked course. The entrance to Cypress Point is right off of the Seventeen Mile Drive. It looks like a tantalizing place, and I have now set my sights on getting an invitation there sometime soon.


MacBoube said...

Spyglass is without a doubt the best of R.T. Jones work. It is from his greatest period of work (The 60's & early 70's) where he designed so many terrific tracks. The layout, the location, the difficuty, etc., etc. make for a World Class course, that is right up there with all the great Peninsula courses (Pebble, Cypress, MPCC Shore & Dunes). You could play Spyglass a thousand straight times and never get tired of it. If only RT Jones, Jr. could be so inspired!

Birko said...

I didn't enjoy Spyglass that much to be honest. I thought the first 4 holes were lovely but the drop hole par 3s were very similar and I don't remember all the holes (which is my test of a great course).

To be fair I'd played Cypress Point the same morning and anywhere is going to suffer is comparison!

Good luck with your quest! I've done 22 of the 100, 9 of the top 20...

Matt Keyser said...

Behind Cypress, this is easily my favorite GOLF course on the Peninsula. Is it as sexy as Pebble? No way. Will it ever host a major, not a chance. But Spy has teeth unlike very few courses.

The second you turn away from the water youget beat up from the feet up. Just a great golf course. I never make a trip the peninsula without playing Spy. You get the a little taste of the ocean on the first 4, and then you get the feeling of the Monterrey forrest as well.

Matt Keyser

GChest86 said...

The Glass is a California Classic! Poppy Hills is on the more affordable side for Northern California golfers, and it too, right up the road, is not too shabby. Head back after 2014 when the redesign is complete. Should be a charm after that's through. But without a doubt Northern California has the best tracks around the nation, I may be byist being a Silicon Valley native, but even the smaller privates in the area are great. But Monterey trumps all areas when it comes to golf around here. Quickly followed by San Francisco