A new kind of watching GolfMarch 20, 2020

What it was like to spend a (surreal) last few hours watching Pebble Beach's live cameras

While investigating ways to kill the golf-less hours recently, I was informed that Pebble Beach offers four different live video feeds on the course, covering the first tee, 17th green, 18th green and putting green. In better days, I would not deign to spend my precious time watching low-context, low-quality footage of amateurs playing golf at a distance. But these are not better days, and in terms of professionals playing easily trackable, HD rounds on my TV? Well, literally nobody is walking through that door.

It felt strange, in a way, that recreational golf was continuing in many places around the country. We’re encouraged (wisely) to spend our days in near-isolation, to take solitary walks if we go outside and to avoid public interaction unless we have to buy food or go to the hospital. So the idea that I could watch people experience life as if nothing has changed, congregating in small groups for a game, felt like peering in on a different, more carefree—and perhaps more careless—universe. Then, hours after my viewing experience, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California issued a statewide order to “stay at home” effective Thursday night. That means that the remote experience I had enjoyed that afternoon would be the last of its kind for the foreseeable future.

Before that announcement, in the moments of quarantine insanity that probably come right before launching low screaming drives at my neighbor’s house and/or attempting to caddie for the mailman, I decided, sure, what the hell, let’s watch Pebble Beach. I didn’t realize it would be my last chance, but life moves quickly in the age of the coronavirus, and I got in before the buzzer. Let me take you now through the hours spent vicariously experiencing one of the world’s most beautiful courses in one of the world’s most unsettling times, all from my laptop computer.

Putting Green

Well … here we are:

As you see, it is free of human beings, which is simultaneously sad and a little heartening—to play or not to play is a complicated question right now, but it feels like if you’re going to err, it’s better to err on the side of caution. An empty putting green, while dismal in some ways, seems like a good sign on the human behavior front. Then again …

That’s right, a real live human! Maybe he’s about to play golf, or maybe not. We’ll never know, but the idea that he might is the most stimulation I’ve had in days. And if you thought that was good, check out this dude riding an actual BIKE:

Would love to know more about Bike Guy. Seems like a real character.

Constructive criticism for Pebble: If you tilt your camera just a little higher, we’ll be able to see the flag waving on top of the The Lodge. I’d kill to see that flag. As of now, I can see the very bottom occasionally, which, I think we both know, is a big tease. (I have been in my house for too long.)

Unfortunately, beyond a bird or two and the rare titillating glimpse of flag, there wasn’t much action on the putting green. I gave it an honest 10 minutes, but nothing more materialized. It was never going to be the epicenter, though … time to move on.

First Tee

Here’s the write-up Pebble offers for people coming to their live feed:

Waiting for someone special to tee off? Have them wave at Gallery Cafe! Then watch them smooth their tee shot down the middle. (Tell them not to hit driver!) While they will almost certainly be feeling some first-tee jitters as a gallery mills about outside the golf shop, there’s an excellent chance they’ll hit a better opening shot than actor Jack Lemmon. During the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Lemmon shanked his drive into the actual room he was staying in at The Lodge!

I like the enthusiasm of the exclamation points. It makes me want to meet the writer and have a shouty conversation. Also, how do we know Jack Lemmon’s shot was a “shank,” and not a very precise attempt to assassinate whoever was staying in his room?

What’s this?

It’s a golf cart, there on the left part of the screen. A golf cart means people. Believe me, as a tree guy, I could spend lots of time watching the gorgeous jagged-crowned cypresses lining the fairway, but at some point you want some action. But then, the cart left. Nobody emerged. It just drove off, no shot, no nothing. It’s good social distancing, but leaves a little to be desired on the watchability front.

Time to skip ahead.

17th Green

Maintenance crews!

That’s some solid social distancing right there … I don’t see anybody closer than six feet. Let’s check on 18.

18th Green

More maintenance work, but here we have a lonely, maverick greenskeeper. He’s mysterious, a little dark, and he keeps to himself. Some say he harbors a secret, but if that’s true, it’s one that he’ll never relinquish. Read more in my upcoming novel: “The Mowing Monk of the Monterey.”

Can we take a moment to recognize how lovely these clouds look?

If you’re a cumulus freak, and so many of us are, you gotta love it. Unless that’s cumulonimbus, in which case I’ve just humiliated myself.

On a serious note, this was clearly the lull before traffic picked up, and it brought up more mixed feelings. Yes, it was strange to see workers out on the course at times when everyone “nonessential” is basically housebound. Clearly, golf is not essential. But they were far apart, and at a time when we’re seeing workers in so many sectors get hit and hit hard, there’s something to be said for the fact all of these people still have paying jobs. What’s better, and what’s worse?

At this point in my journey, I got desperate and called Pebble Beach to confirm that the course was still open. A nice woman in reservations, just a little puzzled that I would merely be asking if the course was open and not following up, informed me that yes, it was open and people were playing. I chose not to explain why I was calling.

At that point, I let a few minutes pass, and returned to …

First Tee

Where some guys are teeing off!

I can’t tell which direction his ball went, or how far, or whether he’s happy or not, but unless I miss my mark, he and his pal are definitely playing golf. It seems as though the social distancing is pretty solid even among this threesome. Notice how these guys are apart, and all using their own carts:

That said, here’s a shot from later in the day on 17 green:

Those guys aren’t standing close together, but can you really tell me that throughout the hours it takes to complete a round, they were never in close proximity? And even if they were on their best COVID-19 behavior, can you say that everybody else was? Can you legitimately argue that golf in foursomes doesn’t pose a risk of spreading the virus? Maybe you can, but if there is a risk, how do you justify any of this?

The Putting Green

I’m going fast and furious now, and look, somebody’s putting!

18th Green

The Mowing Monk has been joined by a friend:

This is just a guess, but I assume it’s his former handler from MI6, where he was a spy for years, bringing him back for one last job to settle a score against a Qatari businessman and arms dealer who murdered the woman he loved. As I said though, that is just a guess.

17th Green

Over on 17, it’s the chill-out hour.

First Tee

And on No. 1, the glorious Procession of the Carts has begun. A caravan for the ages.

It does seem from this shot and others that each player is using his own cart, which is a smart policy for which Pebble deserves credit.

Putting Green

Finally, one last trip back to the clubhouse, where our friend from before has hit two very decent lags and is on her way to pick up the near-gimmes. The circle of trust widens in the end times.

Conclusions

Thus ends our tour. What can I tell you about watching live golf at Pebble on the last day that such a thing was possible for the near future? Well, it’s a very different experience from Tour coverage, in the sense that you won’t know any of the people, how they’re playing or where their ball goes after they hit. In terms of getting your golf fix, it’s like gnawing on tofu when you want filet mignon. However, high marks to the patrons and staff of Pebble Beach for good etiquette in these days of corona. I didn’t see anybody coming too close to each other. This photo shows just how separate everybody is, when you can see eight carts in frame:

Whether that rendered this whole spectacle any less strange is another question entirely. I can tell you that while it was possible, watching some vague forms do some vague activities on a magnificent piece of coastal property was kinda peaceful. It’s the exact opposite of a stock-market ticker, and it beats caddieing for the mailman. But the possibility of that experience, like so much else, has been put on hold.


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