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Pebble Beach's lone short par 4 is no pushover

February 10, 2021

Few scenes on the PGA Tour come as welcomed as the surf and shoreline of Pebble Beach Golf Links, site of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am since 1947 (once known as the Bing Crosby National Pro-Amateur, or the Crosby Clambake). Pebble Beach marks time, a point on the dial so reliable and comforting it might as well be considered “America’s Course.” If Augusta National and the Masters signals the beginning of spring for golfers in cold weather climates, Pebble Beach is the warm February spark that pulls us through the mid-winter blues.

For all the history, adoration and accolades Pebble Beach receives (it’s ranked seventh on our America’s 100 Greatest Courses list), it is not a particularly strategic golf course. The essential task for professionals and resort players alike is to hit long drives, avoid the rough and keep approach shots under the hole on the small, tilted greens. One exception is the short par-4 fourth, where an array of staggered hazards demand more tactical thinking.

THE DESIGN

(The above is a GIF from our drone footage of our "Every Hole At: Pebble Beach Golf Links video." To watch the video in its entirety, scroll to the bottom.)

The fourth is the course’s shortest par 4 by 50 yards (you might call the par-4 third, at 394 yards, short—we wouldn't count this as drivable for most). The tee is set in groves of cypress and evergreens, and emerging from it onto the open shore of Stillwater Cove provides the round’s first genuine encounter with the Pacific. The key feature is a pot bunker in the left-center of the fairway about 235 yards off the tee. Though the fairway is 50 yards wide at that point, the bunker shrinks its effective size, and the hole continues to narrow as it moves toward the green, pinched by bunkers creeping in further up from the left and the cliff on the right.

RECENT CHANGES

Prior to the 2010 U.S. Open, Arnold Palmer Design Company modified the fairway, sliding the pot bunker toward the center and bolstering the string of left-hand bunkers angling toward the green. The bottling configuration of the hazards demands that pros must think through the strategy of the hole and play to their strengths. Most lay back with irons and hybrids and attempt to hit the tiny, oval-shaped green with a 100- to 125-yard club, while others opt to gas drives into the teeth of the trouble, hoping to be able to pitch the ball on from short. The fourth will yield birdies, but only if players can make the correct choice between aggression or discipline.

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE PUTTING SURFACE

Green mapping: Courtesy of StrackaLine

The second key feature of the fourth hole is the green, just 2,300 square feet, the second smallest on the course. And it’s ringed with bunkers. The tilt of the putting surface makes it receptive to incoming wedges, but the upper, rear hole location leaves little room to miss—shots that overshoot it leave chips that run quickly away from the players toward the front of the green.

HOW TO PLAY IT

The diminutive nature of the putting surface makes it imperative that players attack it with precision and control, which in turn influences how aggressive tour pros are with the tee shot. Because the target is so small, almost every incoming mistake results in a short-sided recovery, from either tangled rough or sand. Saving par from both situations is essentially even odds: Since 2016 only 42 percent of players in the AT&T Pebble Beach get up and down from the encircling bunkers, while 56 percent do so from the grass.

Watch Golf Digest's "Every Hole At" video featuring Pebble Beach, with narration by Jim Nantz:

Green mapping: Courtesy of StrackaLine • Photograph: Evan Schiller