Pebble Beach Golf Links is known as the crown jewel of American public golf courses—the place most golfers put on their bucket lists and vow to play at least once before they die. And while the course lives to up to its lofty reputation, many visitors are equally vowed by a completely different, somewhat surprising aspect of the iconic resort: its eponymous spa. The Spa at Pebble Beach has been honored as one of 48 Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Award spas in the world for three years running, and Spa Director Lara Davidson, who's been in her role since 2001, says the reason for the spa's popularity is simple: "The staff here is very genuine and caring; they take the time to find out what the individual wants." Despite all the high-end services Davidson has brought to the luxury operation as its chief visionary, she is most proud of the longevity of her team, 25 percent of whom have been at the resort for more than 15 years. "People come over and over again for the staff," she says.
The long-term commitment reflects a driving passion to be authentic, both for visitors and employees. "All of our decisions are based on constantly asking 'How can we make the experience better?'" says Davidson, a spa and wellness veteran who started in the field right after she graduated from Columbia University 23 years ago. As part of the process, the spa elicits comments and feedback from guests, and then turn those suggestions into reality. For example, the men's lounge now features a TV ("The guys want to know what the score is, watch the game, then hit the steam room," says Davidson), as well as warm shaving cream and a warm-towel caddy based on guests' suggestions. The men's snacks favor the salty side, Davidson says, similar to the Tap Room's. "We try to anticipate the different requests and preferences before we get them, and before the guests even get here."
The spa has recently added a dermatologist from the California Skin Institute who provides cosmetic procedures such as Botox, fillers and lasers, as well as skin cancer screenings. "It's a great service to both our staff and our golf guests," says Davidson.
The spa is an important part of the mix—and the golf experience—at Pebble Beach, mainly because golfers have seen a genuine need, and benefit, in the spa-golf pairing. Davidson, who's also a certified massage therapist, early on saw the need for acupuncture, which the spa added to its menu about 10 years ago. "There are some ailments that even a deep tissue massage won't help," she says. "One guest came in with a frozen shoulder and couldn't swing." She knew the condition was beyond the scope of massage therapy, and after a session of acupuncture the guest was able to play. "We see hobbled golfers all the time," she says.
Davidson started taking golf lessons the minute she took her job at the resort 15 years ago so that she could be more attuned to the needs of golfers. "As a non-golfer, after a few lessons I could feel how the swing puts pressure on the back," she says. The spa offers several golf-specific massages, from a pre-golf warm-up, which includes stretches and soft tissue release, to deep post-golf recovery massages. "We ask our golfers a lot of questions. Are you playing golf today, tomorrow or re-rounding? We wouldn't do a deep tissue massage on someone playing the very next day because they could be sore and have limited motion."
When asked what she loves about her job, she says, "Every day is different and something new. That helps the staff stay positive about their jobs. We want it to be fresh for the guests and for the staff, and we want to provide the best service possible."