Pebble Beach holds a position of prestige in golf that not many courses own. The championship pedigree of the grounds is only outweighed by the golf course itself. The Monterey Peninsula provides some of the best views in golf, allowing players to look endlessly into the horizon of the Pacific. Is the public access of Pebble the only characteristic that derails it from overtaking Augusta National as golf’s holy land?
1934 was when golf found its king. For the last 84 years, the holy grail of our game has been sitting in silence in the middle of nowhere in Georgia. Winding through tall pines and covered with blooming azaleas, Augusta National is revered by every golf fan on a deeply spiritual level. For an outsider, the property is just green grass, sand pits, and a few streams. But for golfers, it’s Mecca.
The exclusivity and mystery of the grounds adds to its mystique, which no other golf course has. As other courses around the world have gained popularity, it is yet to be seen if Augusta will ever be dragged from its throne. But how did it come to this? Why is this 365 acre section of Georgia worthy of a pilgrimage every April? The pure beauty of the property is apparent to anyone who has laid eyes on it. The green of the grass, the white of the sand, the rolling hills accompanied by the purest of water. But Augusta National is not the only golf course in America that can take your breath away with its views.
Pebble Beach is often mentioned when debating the best course in the States.
Balancing on the edge of the Monterey Peninsula, Pebble has played host to several US Opens, as well as the AT&T Pro-Am every year. It is also public, which is fantastic for the everyday golfer, as they can play while walking in the footsteps of their idols. The extensive access to Pebble Beach however, also takes away from the course’s rarity. What makes Augusta National seem so holy, is that the property can only be seen for 7 days a year. From the moment the green jacket is slipped onto the victors shoulders, to the following Monday practice round, golfers look forward to catching just a glimpse of the course. But is this the only reason Augusta seems untouchable? Would Pebble Beach be acclaimed on the same level if it was as exclusive as Augusta National?
What may not seem obvious by the question, is what the answer truly means to the world of golf. By removing Augusta simply because it’s exclusive, seems unfair to the golf course. Aside from Augusta National, the most famous course in the world closes every Sunday in order to allow walkers to explore the grounds. The Old Course at St. Andrews turns into a public park once a week, making it one of the most accessible prestigious courses in the world. In this case, the exclusivity of the grounds does not play a role in its popularity. Due to the quality of the golf course, the love for Augusta National would not simply go away because of the mystery of the property. Naturally, this is in part due to the course’s history, which is something Augusta does not lack.
“The National”, as it is known to the locals, has been home to the Masters tournament since 1934. As the only course to host the same major every year, Augusta has become draped by historical play and championships for the last 8 decades. Without the privilege of owning 1 of the 4 majors, it is hard to match what Augusta brings to the table, historically speaking. Pebble Beach has seen its share of saga, undoubtedly, but nothing close to the National. Part of any course’s prestige is in its history, and between Augusta and Pebble, the Masters host prevails.
The quality of each course is otherworldly, but for different reasons. Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, the designers of Pebble, took full advantage of the location. The Monterey Peninsula seemed to be created for the sole purpose of being carved into some of the greatest golf in the world. Holes 4-10 use the Pacific ocean as not only a hazard, but for scenic brilliance. Although it can be seen from other parts of the course, the ocean does not come back into play until the 18th hole. The visual beauty of the property is obvious, but Pebble has always faced criticism regarding the opening stretch. The championship course features a very forgettable 1st-3rd, which impacts the quality of the routing.
This problem has never plagued Augusta National.
Although the location is not as spectacular, once one has reached the end of Magnolia Lane, not a single hole disappoints. Each one features a different challenge for the player, whether that be hazards, sloped terrain, or simply the shape of the hole. There is no break, as each shot comes with a demand. A draw tee shot turns to a cut approach, and vise versa. Landing zones where if not hit, quickly turn scores to bogey or worse. Even if a player is able to navigate the requirements and reach the green in regulation, they are met by angulation and speed. It does not benefit in the way that Pebble does, by taking advantage of the coast line Monterey provides. Although, this may make Augusta even more impressive. Creating a stunning course inland is a rare feat, and Alister Mackenzie molded a masterpiece.
Remember, Heaven is perfection. Heaven is flawless.
Every year, Golf Digest gathers reviews on the country’s best courses and constructs a list of the Top 100. These reviews are done by people who pay for the privilege, and are not compensated for their work. The ranking system is based on many characteristics the course must own to earn a high grade. Challenge, layout variety, distinctiveness, and aesthetics are just a few of the criterias that must be met. Augusta National ranked No.2 on the 2019-2020 list, as Pebble Beach sat at No.7. Although these rankings are pointless to some, they must be considered. Even if it is fractionally.
No one can question the overall quality of Pebble Beach. But as for potentially overtaking Augusta for the crown, is Pebble worthy? Just 5 minutes down the road lies a course capable of beating the 6 time US Open host in every category. Alister Mackenzie, before Augusta National was born, had the privilege of designing another gem upon the Monterey Peninsula. Cypress Point, opened in 1928, dances naturally through forest and coastline as if it was molded by a deity. Former USGA President Sandy Tatum described the property as the “Sistine Chapel” of golf. The front nine winds through the Del Monte forest, using the dunes and waste area as natural hazards. As golfers find their way to the 13th tee, the Pacific ocean lurks in the distance. Holes 15, 16 and 17 are widely regarded as the most beautiful stretch in all of golf. If there was a flaw to Cypress, it would be their closing hole. A dog leg right surrounded by cypress trees, the 18th features a green elavated 40 feet from the fairway. For a course that has such a stunning route, the last hole is often felt to be a disappointment. On the other hand, an argument can be made against this notion of a subpar closing hole. Golfers are putting the greatest stretch of holes in their rearview mirror, and anything after that would feel mediocre.
Cypress Point ranked just one spot behind Augusta National, sitting at No.3 on the 2019-2020 list.
Although the closing hole is the focal point of criticism, the lone flaw may just be a result of what has continually plagued golf over the last 20 years. Distance. The championship tees at Cypress play just over 6,500 yards. With modern technology and skill level of the current PGA Tour player, this yardage would not be enough to contain them. Of course, tee boxes could be moved and expanded to increase the total yardage, but would that have a detrimental impact on the course’s aura?
Golf has a Heaven. Augusta National is beloved worldwide, and sits upon its podium seemingly untouchable. But has the exclusivity of the course created the image in our mind? Is it the mystery surrounding the property that gives it the allure? It can be argued either way, but ultimately the key to the Golden Gates can only be given to the course of highest quality. Pebble Beach has the coast, it has major championship history, it has the views. But it does not beat Augusta. The quality of routing and design does not dethrone the home of the Masters. With this being said, it is not out of the question if another course went toe-to-toe with Augusta National, it could prevail. It would take a masterpiece. It would take purity. It may just take the Augusta creator himself. Mackenzie forged his own masterpiece upon the shores of the Monterey Peninsula, Cypress Point. Its routing and natural incorporation of the land creates a course of near perfection. Unfortunately, the lack of distance impacts its ability to host the best players in the world.
It is difficult to imagine another course being as cherished as Augusta National. The tall pines, matured azaleas, and rolling fairways are imprinted in the world of golf unlike any other course. Magnolia Lane is Heaven’s entrance, and that remains reality until perfection can be toppled.
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Riley is a writer, golf professional, and recent graduate from the University of South Florida. Born and raised in southern New Hampshire, Riley fell in love with the game of golf at a young age. It's tough to beat New England golf, and Riley has played all over the North-East. Put the scorecard away, and enjoy the ride.