Tuning in to watch the best players in the world tee it up this week at Pebble Beach can elicit mixed emotions. On one hand, the seaside visuals provide a welcome escape from the grim reality of winter (at least for us stuck in the north). Yet many of us are left jealous of those fortunate enough to play the Monterey Peninsula gem, knowing the $600 green fee puts it out of our budgets.
That leaves many commonfolk searching for alternatives, places that capture the spirit of Pebble, without the price tag. One fantastic option is Pacific Grove, or the "Poor man's Pebble Beach," just down the road from the original, where our Joel Beall played for just $50.
For East Coasters looking for a taste of the Pebble experience without the travel or expense, consider booking a trip to coastal Maine and Samoset Resort, regarded as the “Pebble Beach of the East.” I played in the Maine Amateur at the seaside resort last summer and was reminded how at its best, Samoset captures the spirit of Pebble, if on a more modest level.
Located in Rockport, Samoset plays along the Penobscot Bay, with views of the Atlantic Ocean on 14 of the 18 holes. If you visit in the fall or book an afternoon tee time during the summer, resort guests can play for about $100. Peak mid-season rates run in the mid-$100s, still far less than Pebble Beach.
To be clear (and though it pains this Mainer to say it), the architectural merits of Samoset don’t compete with the famed cousin 3,400 miles to its west. Only a few holes make compelling use of the coastal setting, with a handful of holes in the middle of the round set back in the trees. Still, at Samoset’s best—early on the front nine and late in the round—the aesthetic is Maine’s take on the Monterey Peninsula.
As one of our panelists writes, “The first six holes seem to live up to the ‘Pebble Beach of the East’ namesake.” The par-4 second hole is your first introduction to the ocean, as it plays toward the nearly mile-long granite pier, which fittingly has a lighthouse on its end. The third and fourth holes, however, draw the closest Pebble comparisons.
The par-3 third (above) hugs the rocky shoreline, playing uphill to a double green, where a left miss will fall into the Atlantic. The par-5 fourth (below) is Samoset’s version of Pebble’s 18th, hugging the coast as it doglegs to the left. Players choose how much ocean to take on off the tee, and the bold will be able to get home in two. The approach into the fourth plays out to the tip of the property, set hard against the Penobscot Bay. The lighthouse often makes a good target.
The rest of the front nine plays on an exposed hillside with terrific ocean views, though the holes are simplistic from an architectural standpoint. Frustratingly, the course routes away from the ocean at the turn, with several narrow, tree-lined holes providing a sharp contrast to the wide-open front nine.
At the 14th, the Atlantic comes back into focus, peeking through the trees on the downhill approach to the par 5. The Maine coast is visible throughout the last four holes, including at the par-4 15th, which once again hugs the shoreline and penalizes a left miss.
To call Samoset the Pebble Beach of the East is not to make the argument that the Maine gem deserves similar national accolades. Though it’s a former long-time member of our Best in Maine list, Samoset’s architectural shortcomings will likely inhibit further ascent up our rankings. Instead, the moniker speaks to the rare aesthetic the two share—a course built on a rocky shoreline overlooking an idyllic bay.
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