The Origin Of Pebble Beach Golf Links February 14, 2015

The Origin Of Pebble Beach Golf Links

Thanks to the vision of Samuel Morse, Pebble Beach has become one of the world's most famous and picturesque golf layouts. (USGA Museum)

Jan. 19, 2010

By Neal Hotelling

When Pebble Beach Golf Links officially opened on Feb. 22, 1919, it did not immediately transform golf in California, or even the Monterey Peninsula. It was initially known as Del Monte’s Second Course. Del Monte’s first course, opened in 1897, had already become the centerpiece of golf in California. It was there that the California Amateur Championship was born in 1912, where the early California and Pacific Coast Open Championships were held and that the Western Golf Association made its first foray across the Continental Divide to hold the 1916 Western Amateur.

Part I: The Monterey Peninsula

Both courses were adjuncts to the famous Hotel Del Monte, built in 1880 by railroad partners Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, Collis Huntington and Leland Stanford. Shortly after the last of the tycoons died in 1900, the railroad was sold to E.H. Harriman and their vast land holdings - held in the name of the Pacific Improvement Company - began to lose money and luster. In the spring of 1915, Crocker’s son and controlling heir, William H. Crocker, put 29-year-old Samuel Finley Brown Morse in charge of judiciously liquidating Pacific Improvement Company.

Morse, captain of Yale’s 1906 national championship football team, had been a classmate of W.H. Crocker’s nephew Templeton.  A native of Boston, Morse moved to California shortly after graduation. Since 1910 he had been profitably managing the Crocker-Huffman Land and Water Company in the Merced area - displaying sharp vision in buying and selling land, cattle and even an irrigation system. Crocker easily convinced the board Morse was their man.

For the company’s Del Monte unit, Morse changed the management at the hotel. After discussions with many top amateur and professional golfers, he convinced the board to abandon a lot program proposed for the coastal area at Pebble Beach that

Amateur Jack Neville (above) co-designed the original Pebble Beach Golf Links layout with fellow amateur Douglas Grant. (USGA Museum)
mirrored the small lots developed at Pacific Grove and Carmel in favor of a bolder plan with larger lots inland and an unmatched golf course right on the coastline. As the goal was liquidation rather than investment, he also had to convince them his plan could be done inexpensively and would better attract the right buyer. It would be designed for free by a pair of top amateur golfers, the company’s existing maintenance staff would provide the construction labor and it would be operated with minimal labor by using underground irrigation and sheep.

The board agreed.

The amateur golfers were Jack Neville and Douglas Grant.  After learning the game in his youth from George Smith and Jim Barnes, the 1921 U.S. Open champion, at Oakland’s Claremont club, Neville hit his stride at age 21 by winning the last Del Monte Championship and inaugural California Amateur on back-to-back weekends in 1912 at Del Monte. He won again in 1913 and reached the semifinals in 1914. Grant learned the game at the Burlingame Club, which his father Joseph helped found in 1893. In 1907, Grant won the Northern California Amateur at 20, and two years later won the Pacific Coast Amateur. In 1910, he was the medalist and semifinalist in both the Del Monte Championship and the Pacific Coast Amateur before his father sent him to England to study business. Grant preferred studying and playing the courses there.  He married and made England his home until World War I broke out, before returning to California in 1915. At Del Monte in February 1916 he was medalist in the Mid-Winter Championship and eventually waxed Neville in the final, 7 and 6.

The pair had many duels over the next few years. Grant compiled a first-round win in the 1916 Western Amateur followed by three consecutive qualifying medals from 1917-19 in the California Amateur Championship.Each one earned a title  (Grant in 1918 and Neville in 1919) in that event. Still, the pair is best remembered for their collaboration on Pebble Beach Golf Links over this same period.

They completed the initial design in April of 1916 and construction began shortly thereafter. Neville later recalled in a 1972 article written by Herbert Warren Wind in The New Yorker: “It was all there in plain sight. Very little clearing was necessary.  The big thing, naturally, was to get in as many holes as possible along the bay.”

The one challenge to that goal was a five-acre parcel above Stillwater Cove that the owner would not sell back; so they built the fifth hole inland before returning to the coast on No. 6. 

Given budgetary constraints, construction was slow. By late 1917, the end was in sight and they began plans for an opening on Washington’s Birthday in 1918. Morse contacted Yale classmate G. Maurice Heckscher of New York, son of multi-millionaire August Heckscher who helped build Central Park. Morse convinced him to come out for the opening as a possible buyer. The opening was delayed, but Heckscher liked what he saw and made an offer. Morse’s plan worked, but the offer was too low. He countered with his own; he would buy it himself at the full asking price of $1.3 million if they would allow him a year to arrange the financing. 

The board agreed.

A premature opening in April 1918 led to an immediate closure, and the official reopening on Washington’s Birthday in 1919. Morse’s Del Monte Properties Company closed the sale and became the owner the following week. The course was praised for its stunning setting, but it had its critics and Morse oversaw many refinements during its first decade. The sheep were the first to go.

While the basic routing was unaltered, dramatic differences were made; most noticeably Herb Fowler’s direction to lengthen the 18th from a dismal 379-yard par 4, to a spectacular 555-yard par 5. That work was completed in 1922. Alister MacKenzie added some bunkers to holes 8 and 13 in 1926, and then in preparation for the 1929 U.S. Amateur, a committee led by USGA Vice President Roger Lapham retained H. Chandler Egan and Robert Hunter to prepare Pebble Beach for its first national championship.

It was then, following the first USGA event west of St. Louis, that Pebble Beach Golf Links was first ensconced as a great championship course and one of the premier golf venues in the world.

Neal Hotelling is Director of Licensing at Pebble Beach Company, and an award-winning author of multiple books, including his newest, “Pebble Beach: The Official Golf History” (Triumph Books, 2009).