The Links at Spanish Bay

CALIFORNIA, USA

Story & Images by Sam Gole, Discover Golf Magazine

Rugged, windswept and blessed with natural beauty, there’s a definite spirit of Scotland’s great coastal tracks at The Links at Spanish Bay. Overlooking Spanish Bay and built on an acreage previously used for a sand mining operation, The Links at Spanish Bay, Pebble Beach Resorts, opened for play on November 5, 1987.

The design team included golfing luminaries Robert Trent Jones Jr., Tom Watson and Sandy Tatum. With little earth movement involved, the team cleverly integrated sand dunes, environmentally sensitive habitat and shallow marsh beds into the routing of holes. The Links at Spanish Bay is a wonderful example of a modern-day coastal track that has successfully retained an authentic natural feel.

The prevailing weather conditions were also taken into consideration in the course setup ensuring Spanish Bay is a stern but fair test of golf.

To shoot a good score at this masterful layout requires a thoughtful approach. From the tips, the par 72, 6821-yard (6237-metre) course isn’t long by present-day standards; however, the youngest track in Pebble Beach Resorts stable is no easy beat. Cunning design features, which include plenty of shape and shrewdly placed bunkering, ensure the ‘bomb it long’ style is unlikely to succeed here.

The course is impressive from the outset with the front nine stacked with brilliant golf holes.

Spanish Bay opens with a classic risk reward par-5. At just 500 yards in length, it’s reachable in two shots after a strong drive down the left centre of the fairway. However, the green is well guarded by two large bunkers to its left and by a marsh and dune to its right.

After leaving the first green, one of six putting surfaces that rests within close proximity to the exposed coastline, the 2nd hole heads back to The Inn at Spanish Bay. The hotel provides a neat backdrop and at just 307 yards in length, it’s the shortest par-4. The narrow fairway and well-placed fairway trap requires an accurate drive. A hybrid or long iron off the tee will set up a pitch shot to a multi-tiered green. When the pin is placed on the bottom tier, look to use the high ridge that runs through the green behind the hole to funnel your ball toward the cup. This hole is seriously fun to play.

The 5th hole, a 451-yard dogleg right par-4, is a test of wit and nerve. Ranked the hardest hole on the course for the blokes, three pot bunkers positioned in the right centre of the fairway devour shots hit Spanish baytheir way. The safe play is to hit left of the bunkers. There’s plenty of fairway but it’s a long way home from there. Play right of the fairway bunkers to significantly shorten the hole, but be aware, the landing strip is narrow.

The par-3, 158-yard, 8th hole is a belter. With its tee box perched above 17-Mile Drive and narrow green located by the exposed shoreline, club selection in windy conditions is the key to successfully finding the putting surface.

At the turn, the marvellous layout takes on a fresh look. With holes 10 through 13 nestled comfortably into the forest setting, tree-lined fairways replace the links landscape found on the front nine. It’s another delightful surprise from a course that continues to evolve during the journey around it.

From the short par-3, 13th hole, the course returns to the ocean. The final five holes are stunning. Nevertheless, don’t lose focus, there aren’t any gimmies coming home from here. This is the most difficult stretch at Spanish Bay.

The par-5, 576-yard, 14th hole is long and unforgiving and features out of bounds down the left from the tee. Holes 15 and 17 are long par 4s that feature island-like fairways, where the run-off into wasteland will prove hazardous to your scorecard.

The 16th hole is the longest par-3 at 200 yards. Located close to the shores at Spanish Bay, you’ll need to factor the sea breeze into your club selection.

Then the round finishes as it started—with another risk reward par-5 providing the final examination. You can reach the green in two shots after crunching a strong drive. But with plenty of gorse to clear, the approach will need to be struck perfectly.

After completing the inaugural round at The Links at Spanish Bay more than 25 years ago, eight-time major winner and course co-designer Watson, who posted a stunning 67, declared, ‘It’s so much like Scotland, you can almost hear the bagpipes playing.’

Watson’s observation instigated the beloved ‘The Piper’ ceremony. Every evening at sunset, The Links at Spanish Bay closes to the cherished sounds of bagpipes. It’s a touching scene that pays respect the game’s origins. Viewing the ritual from the communal fire pits located in front of the Inn at Spanish Bay is an unforgettable way to cap off yet another memorable golfing experience at Pebble Beach Resorts.

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