U.S. Open 2019: On the beach below Pebble, golf fans, dog walkers, and an underrated view
PEBBLE BEACH — You can’t legally get from Pebble Beach Golf Links to that gorgeous beach below the 10th green. From the first tee, you walk east some great distance. “You enter a new time zone,” a man told me. You pass a house for sale at $35 million. Fifty-two minutes later, across the 10th fairway, you see water, Carmel Bay, which means you’re near the beach that you can’t legally get to. So you ask a question.
“What if I just ran, like a streaker, across the fairway,” I said to a gallery marshal named Jamie. “Could I get to the beach that way?”
That beach—I could hear the waves crashing now—so near, so far, that's the beach we keep seeing during the U.S. Open television broadcast, all white and wonderful, all those dogs frolicking in the surf.
“You could try running,” Jamie said. “Then you could jump off the cliff and you’d be there.”
At that moment on my long trek, the thought appealed. Jamie must have noticed. She said, “Except you’d get arrested first. There are three sheriff’s deputies waiting for you over there.”
So I left the golf course through Gate 2, walked along 17 Mile Drive, and turned right onto a boardwalk that reached the beach. It’s not Pebble Beach, it’s Carmel Beach. It belongs to the next little rich town over.
Saturday morning, early, on the beach, these people aren’t there to get a free look at the golf being played atop the cliffs. They’re there for the beach because, y’know, who’s got much better to do than walk on a Pacific Ocean beach early on a Saturday morning?
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They brought their dogs. I met a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Kenya. A soaked-with-surf poodle named Gabriella. A Great Dane, Clyde. “Standing with his paws on your shoulders, Clyde's 6-foot-3, 200 pounds,” his human companion, Kyle, said. “Got a sister at home, Bonnie.”
Gabriella’s man, Roy, who lives along the bay, said, “We locals used to sneak onto the golf course by climbing up that cliff.”
He nodded toward sheer land rising as a pedestal under the 10th green.
“Really?” I said.
“You could do it with one hand tied behind your back. Of course, now those guys would get you.”
Those guys were two, not three, Monterey County sheriff’s deputies, lounging by an ATV at the foot of the cliff.
I thought to talk to a man in a raincoat. He wore a wide-brimmed hat over a towel that covered most of his face. His German shepherd, Samson, romped in the bay.
“Why you want my name?” he said.
“First name’ll do,” I said.
“Enock,” he said, and I wrote it down, and I left before Samson returned.
A man from San Jose, Charles, down for the Open, said he’d come to the beach on a Saturday morning just to walk his dog. Probably wouldn’t watch golf today. “I’m disappointed in Jordan Spieth,” he said. Charles had a theory on Spieth’s recent mediocre play. “He’s done nothing since he got married.” A smile. “But that’s the way it goes.”
A man from Florida, Chad, had come for the Open. From the beach, he looked up the massive cliffs and saw the tiny, tiny figures of people in the galleries. How little they all were in the grand scheme of things—a metaphor, in fact, for how he had come to see Pebble in a new perspective: “How narrow the course really is.” His wife, Michelle? “She came for the beach. We see only Atlantic water. Kinda murky. The Pacific here is clear and blue.” He looked down the beach. “There’s Michelle—way down there.”
Way down there turned out to be at the far west end of Carmel Beach, unseen on television. There the beach turns up into a hillside somewhere below the eighth tee. A hillside trail from a beach is impossible to ignore, as Michelle had proven, and so I found myself on a rocky, sandy trail a foot wide and 30 feet above the bay.
There, even as I wondered about returning downhill on that trail, a man from New Jersey named Doug pointed out the wonder of seeing tiny, tiny people near the seventh green and much of the eighth, ninth and 10th holes from tee to green.
Even as we teetered there, we were treated to a mighty roar from near the eighth green, perhaps in celebration—friends in the media center later figured—of a second shot by the amateur Michael Thorbjornsen that left him with a kick-in birdie on that diabolical hole.
And now that I have returned safely down that hillside trail, I can claim to have discovered, on a Saturday morning on Carmel Beach, a vantage point that is the best-kept secret at Pebble Beach. Just don’t tell the sheriff.