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Art Imitates Life at Pebble Beach

Photography By Joann Dost

Pebble beach Golf links hasn’t only been the site of golfing history. The course has served as a set for films such as National Velvet, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Rebecca. And, upon stepping to the first tee for the first time at Pebble Beach, I was indeed thinking about a movie rather than, say, Tiger Woods’ historic 15-shot triumph here at the 2000 U.S. Open. I was thinking about The Purple Rose of Cairo.

In Woody Allen’s comedy, an actor walks off the screen and into real life. As I put my tee in the ground, I felt I was walking out of real life and into a movie. The small crowd around the first tee were the silent extras, and I was the star. A star terrified he’d forget his lines and blow the opportunity of a lifetime. I needn’t have worried. In the end, as it surely always does, Pebble Beach stole the show. It is the show.

Another metaphor (or perhaps the channeled neurosis of Mr. Allen) arrived as I stood over my bogey putt on the opening green. (Pebble Beach often leaves one reaching for comparisons beyond golf.) Not for the first time in my life, I felt as though I were on a date in which I was out of my league. She’s so beautiful! So smart! Why is she here with me?

Because you’re paying for everything, I muttered to myself, right before I missed that putt. Now just enjoy her company, since odds are you won’t see her again.

The first three holes at Pebble Beach seem designed to ease you through the panicky period of hyperventilation brought on by the fact that I am playing Pebble Beach! Pebble! Me! They’re graceful, elegant and, it must be said, inland.

To follow the dating metaphor, as you walk up the fourth hole, with the Pacific Ocean shimmering to your right, well, you just can’t help it: You’re falling in love. It’s one-sided, yes, and fated to end, but you feel so alive. The salt air is like perfume. It’s making you light-headed. You’re hitting dopey shots, and smiling about it, googoo-eyed.

For people not well versed in the course-there may even be a golfer or two among this group, though that’s doubtful-Pebble Beach has several iconic holes that rank among the world’s greatest. For sheer punch-above-its-weightiness, it’s no contest: At just 106 yards, the teeny, terrifying 7th, playing straight downhill to a wee green fronting crashing Pacific Ocean surf, boasts the highest fame-to-length ratio in golf. I stood on that tee box, gap wedge in hand, bursting with anticipation, only mixed with an odd sensation: utter peace. On a perfect Monterey afternoon, at one of the most exquisite places on earth, I was playing a game I love in the company of a great friend. No metaphors cluttered my mind. This was just plain awesome.

My swing, if not precisely awesome, was smooth enough. The golf gods smiled benevolently, and my ball caught the left front corner of that wee green, burned the edge of the cup with my birdie putt and happily settled for a par anything but routine.

Which was good, because then I butchered the epic, chasm- spanning 8th.

In fact, I stunk up Pebble Beach. And the highest compliment I can pay it is that I couldn’t have cared less. Sure, my few good holes came on the most renowned ones. Really, though, I had briefly lived the dream. If it proved the only time, well, that’s enough. I’ll always have Pebble.

Darkness descended on my friend and I as we made our way up the final fairway. To the left, the Pacific was more easily heard than seen. Ditto the happy golfers murmuring and clinking glasses on the patio near the green. As the curtain of night fell, I knew I faced a return to reality-right after a beer in the famous Tap Room. I left on an up note beyond compare.

The Tap Room

If there is a more iconic 19th hole in golf than The Tap Room at The Lodge at Pebble Beach, it doesn’t leap to mind. Certainly it has location, location, location going for it, but that’s not the top draw. First and foremost is the history of the place, which can be absorbed by a deep breath in: The nostalgia and the salt air seeping in from outside make for a potent cocktail. Close your eyes and you can hear the conversations of old-the amaze- ment at Tom Watson’s 17th hole chip-in at the 1982 U.S. Open and Jack Nicklaus’ flagstick-rattling 1-iron on the same hole a decade earlier, the less-heroic feats of everyday players reliving their own highs and lows of the day. Open your eyes and you’re surrounded by amazing photographic evidence of the same filling the walls.

Plus, the food and drink are pretty damn good. California is artichoke country, and the artichoke soup here is justly famed, though it battles with the prime rib chili for starter supremacy. Foodies (or company credit card holders) might well opt for the American Kobe Filet Mignon, but after a round somehow The Tap Room Burger-1/2-pound of black Angus, pepper bacon, sharp Cheddar on a brioche bun, grilled in a high-intensity Montague Broiler-paired with a nice local microbrew seemed the epicu- rean equivalent of a tap-in birdie.