Pebble Beach is the most iconic US Open venue in the game. Its cliffside holes are instantly recognizable by golfers and non-golfers alike, with small, sloping greens sitting precariously above the Pacific Ocean. Originally built in 1919, the architectural history of the course is a bit more layered than most realize. For most of us, the course has looked pretty similar since Jack Nicklaus’ 1972 win there (most will have seen video of his 1-iron hitting the flag on the long, Par-3 17th). As we’ll explore though, Pebble Beach has been influenced by quite a few individuals, all of whom have helped shape the course into the magnificent championship venue it is today.
The course was designed by Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, two successful amateur golfers who, in order to retain their amateur status, designed the course for free. Many of the features that we see today are the result of their original ideas with the most notable one being its brilliant figure-8 routing. The course begins away from the ocean until the second-shot on the 90-degree dogleg 3rd hole sends you towards the coast. Thanks to a new 5th hole that was built for the 2000 US Open, holes 4-10 now all sit cliffside. The course then turns back inland for holes 11-16 before the long tee shot on the Par-3 17th takes you straight back out to the ocean and you finish on the iconic 18th.
Which takes us to our first notable adjustments made by English architect, William Herbert Fowler. Fowler spent 1920-1922 traveling the coast of California, consulting on existing courses — including Pebble Beach. Over those couple years he made a number of alterations to the course but the most significant was moving the 18th tee well back and building new green, adding 150 yards to the hole. What was originally a short, 380-yard Par-4 became the stunning, risk-reward Par-5 that we know today.
Next up was Alister MacKenzie. In 1926, before he built his masterpiece, Cypress Point, just down the street, MacKenzie was asked to consult at Pebble Beach and it’s then that the current 8th and 13th greens were built. The 8th plays from a low tee next to the 7th green to a blind stretch of fairway above before golfers are forced to hit perhaps one of the most thrilling second shots in the world across a massive ravine to a small green that sits cliffside, surrounded by bunkers. MacKenzie’s dramatic new green now seems like a no-brainer.
That most radical changes were made by Chandler Egan (with the help of Robert Hunter and Alister MacKenzie) in the lead-up to the 1929 US Amateur. Egan reshaped every green on the course, built dunes-like bunkers around many of the holes, and moved some of the tees back. His most timeless adjustment though was moving the 9th green right up to the cliffs edge. Below is an image of dunes he built around the 17th green compared to how the hole looks today.
Pebble Beach is known for having tiny greens (they average about 3,500 sq ft) and although many were designed to be quite small, maintenance techniques and time means they’ve shrunk even more. Because of this, the most recent projects have dealt with restoring green size which will hopefully allow the USGA to utilize more areas for pin positions during tournament week. The greens they’ve focused on leading up to this championship were #9, #13, #14, and #17, adding between 700-800 additional sq feet to the putting surfaces.
Between the small surfaces and narrow fairways, Pebble Beach will challenge every facet of the competitor’s game this week. As important as ball striking will be, missing greens will be inevitable so the player who can minimize compound mistakes and make some putts will most likely find their name near the top of the US Open leaderboard.