The front nine at Pacific Grove Golf Links, a lovely string of golf holes designed by distinguished amateur golfer and golf course architect H. Chandler Egan, is a typical American-style parkland course. Tree-lined and somewhat narrow, the opening holes trend slightly uphill, but the thing you’ll notice about PG’s front nine is the unusual 3-3-4-4-5-5 opening sequence. The course was not originally laid out that way – the format of the nine holes from 1932 to 1960 featured opening and closing par-5’s (the current Holes 5 & 6, respectively) in an out-and-back figure-eight layout, but with the addition of the seaward nine in 1960 the location of the club house was changed to its current Asilomar Boulevard location in order to lie between the two halves of the course. By the way, the street you cross going from the 4th green to the 5th tee, and the 6th green to the 7th tee, is the north end of the famed 17-Mile Drive!
The opening par-3 is a nice warmup: 146 from the white tees, slightly uphill, with a bunker back left and a mound to the right. You will want an accurate shot to the left side of the green and below the flag for a good chance at birdie or par on the back-to-front sloping green. The 2nd hole is a more severe test – it is longer (nearly 200 from the blues), more severely uphill, and with a bunker short left and mounding short right accuracy is again the key.
The first of the consecutive par-4s is as midlength (305 from the white tees) dogleg left which wants a 190- to 200-yard tee shot to the right side of the fairway, avoiding the tree that intrudes from the left about 95 yards from the center of the green. The slightly oval green slopes away on the diagonal, with bunkers left front and long. The second par-4 is an easier-appearing hole – straighter and shorter than the preceding hole, but out-of-bounds right and trees left call for a good straight tee shot with a long iron or a hybrid, while the shallow green – just 18 paces front to back – can be a challenge to hold with your approach. Bunkers right front and back center await an errant second shot.
Stepping up in distance again for the 3rd pair of holes in the opening sequence, you find yourself crossing the figure-eight (and the tail end of the famed 17-Mile Drive!) to the tee box of the 5th hole, a 510-yard slight dogleg left that was the closing hole of the original nine-hole layout. Shave the inside of the curve with your drive for good position for your second shot. A strong second shot, well-played, could well see you on the front fringe, or even rolling onto the green if conditions are dry and firm, but be wary of the seemingly-unprotected green – deeper than wide and angling slightly right, it has no bunkers, defending the hole with subtle contours that will challenge your green-reading skills.
The last of the unique opening stanza is Long Tom, 527 yards long, uphill, into the prevailing breeze – and this used to be the opening hole! Golfers were made of stern stuff back in 1932, I suppose – imagine playing this hole with persimmon and balata… Keep your drive to the left to open up the angle for your second shot, and leave yourself a good wedge distance for your third – bunkers left and right guard the front quadrants, but only slight mounds at the back will keep a thinned approach shot from skittling over the green and across the 17-Mile Drive.
After crossing the figure-of-eight – and 17-Mile Drive – again, the final third of the front nine begins with the 304-yard 7th hole. It has a straight-forward look from the tee box, but the slight rise to the fairway – which crests about 150 yards out – conceals a bend to the left which is created more by the placement of the two bunkers which pinch in from right and left than by the actual running shape of the fairway. The narrow front opening of the green is skewed to the left by the bunkers, so a tee shot favoring the left side of the fairway as it disappears from your view over the crest will leave you with a better shot at the green.
The final par-4 on the front nine, the 8th hole describes a sweeping left-to-right arc that will challenge you to move the ball in that direction in order to place yourself in a good position for your approach. Knock a 240-odd yard fade out there, with the help of a little roll out on the end, and you will have about 165 yards to the diagonally-set, slightly kidney-shaped green. The bunker at the left front is almost purely cosmetic, but the shallow green – no more than 19 pages front to back, can be a challenge to hold; if conditions allow, play a little short of the green and plan on rolling on.
The closing act of the parkland half of the Pacific Grove Golf Links is a long but innocuous-looking par-3. Nearly dead straight, with no bunkers, the 213-yard hole is slightly downhill, but plays into the prevailing breeze. At first glance the 9th hole appears to have only its length and a slightly narrow entrance to the green working in its defense, but on closer examination a slight right-to-left bias is discernible. Like a few of the other greens on the front nine, the green at 9 is set on a diagonal to the fairway, but the opposite set of the green adds drama. A back right flag begs for a left-to-right ball flight, but with the trees between the 9th and 1st fairways intruding on your favored line (visually, at least) from the left, that can be an intimidating prospect. A left front flag sets up for a gentle draw, following the bias of the fairway, but at 22 paces front to back, that end of the green presents a small target. A testing hole to close out the front nine!
Pacific Grove Golf Link’s front nine presents the experienced golfer with a number of challenging tactical problems without punishing the high-handicap player – a basic tenet of golf course design espoused by distinguished architect Dr Alister Mackenzie, of Cypress Point and Augusta National fame. Handsome grounds set about with cypress trees are a visual treat, and holes 4, 5, and 6 offer pleasant vistas north and north-east across Monterey Bay. The opening nine sets the back nine an unenviable task; following this set of holes and maintaining the high standard that has been established is a tall order, but it will be seen that the seaward side is well up to the job. More about that in the third and final segment of this series.