Spyglass Hill a Worthy Companion to Pebble Beach
August 13, 2018 | Pebble Beach, Calif.
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
“I climbed a thousand times to that tall hill they call the Spy-glass, and from the top enjoyed the most wonderful and changing prospects.”
Treasure Island (1882) – Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Trent Jones Sr. was at the height of his career in the mid-1960s when he took on a design project on California’s Monterey Peninsula, not far from hallowed Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Jones, who died in 2000, designed more than 400 courses in a World Golf Hall of Fame career, but before he even began sculpting the layout that would become Spyglass Hill Golf Course, he knew he was onto something special.
“He was very engaged and passionate about that project,” said Jones’ son, Robert Trent Jones Jr., an accomplished architect in his own right and the designer of 2015 U.S. Open host course Chambers Bay. “I was doing graduate work at Stanford and also serving my apprenticeship with him. He would sleep on our couch and wait for the folks from the Northern California Golf Association (NCGA) to pick him up so he could go down to work on it.”
Jones partnered not only with the NCGA, but also with Samuel F.B. Morse, known as the “Duke of Del Monte,” the developer of the Del Monte Forest, which included Pebble Beach and environs.
“Sam Morse was the person who told my dad which land we could use, and when he offered what he called the sandy wasteland to us, my dad said nothing,” said Jones Jr. “But afterward he said to me, “Bobby, he’s just given me a diamond field.’”
That sandy stretch of land would become the first five holes of Spyglass Hill. The opening par 5 begins from a high point and spills down toward the ocean, with four succeeding holes in dunes along the coast before turning back inland on No. 6.
“My father’s concept was very clear,” said Jones. “He was going to build an homage to Pine Valley on the first five holes with those wild sand dunes, and the last 13 holes were going to be an homage to Augusta National.”
Jones dubbed the course Pebble Beach Pines, but Morse later changed the name to Spyglass Hill, based on the lore that author Robert Louis Stevenson had been inspired to write the classic story Treasure Island while visiting the area in the late 1870s. Bob Hanna, the executive director of the NCGA, named each of the holes after people and places in the book – the par-4 second hole is called Billy Bones; the par-5 14th is known as Long John Silver.
PGA Tour players had less complimentary names when the course debuted as part of the rotation for the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am (now the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am) in 1967, and Jones Jr. got an earful.
“They wanted to invite my dad to play in the Crosby, but I played instead,” said Jones. “He was taking all kinds of guff from the players. My father’s concept was to use the land in a penal way on the first five holes – what we now call target golf. Then the inland 13 holes feature ponds and are much more strategic.”
Jones Sr. considered the fourth hole, a sharp dogleg-left with an elongated, punchbowl green set in the dunes, one of his favorite par-4 designs. The severity of the course was due in part to the limited budget, according to Jones Jr., who said the contract to design and build the course was $487,000.
“Part of the reason it was considered such a difficult course was because we were not immediately able to clean out the woods,” said Jones. “Over time, the Pebble Beach Company made it more yielding and more fun. My dad also enlarged the greens on holes 5 and 14 in response to the early criticism. He was always known for large greens, but some of them were in heavily treed areas and there wasn’t much wiggle room.”
That’s not to say that the course doesn’t still have its teeth. Three of the par-4 holes – Nos. 6, 8 and 16 – routinely play among the toughest two-shot holes on the PGA Tour, and the par-3 fifth is another perennial stalwart.
“You can get a big impact from the wind on the ocean holes, and after you turn inland, you feel like you’re transformed from one location to another – almost like being in the Carolinas with the tall pines,” said the USGA’s Ben Kimball, the director of the U.S. Amateur Championship. “As the players will find over the two days of stroke play, it’s not about shooting the low score, it’s about being in the low 64.”
Kimball noted that no one broke 70 in the two days of stroke play for the 1999 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, which also featured Spyglass Hill as the stroke-play co-host.
“We’re not trying to replicate what happened in 1999, but Spyglass makes a great co-host because it’s a wonderful test of golf,” said Kimball. “It’s got thick rough, interesting green complexes and hole locations, and I would expect it to play tougher than Pebble in stroke play. Spyglass will give the players all that they can handle.”
In the pantheon of courses dotting the Monterey Peninsula, Spyglass Hill has a place of its own. A famed architect, diverse topography and an inspired routing combine to create a formidable stroke play co-host that will go a long way to determining who has a chance to raise the Havemeyer Trophy come Sunday.
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.