The 12th at Pacific Grove Golf Links. Par 5 - 513, 497, 480
Words by Ron KroichickPhotos by Kohjiro Kinno
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Lasting first impression
Gary Christian had heard all about the panoramic ocean views on No. 12 at Pacific Grove Golf Links. So he eagerly anticipated his maiden voyage around the course in June 2018, and specifically his arrival at this picturesque hole.
Then he reached the tee and saw mostly fog.
“I could just make out the bunker on the right, at the corner of the dogleg, so I had a little idea of where to point myself,” Christian says. “Then the fog half-lifted and you could start to see the water. It was amazing, like someone suddenly turned on the lights.
“What an incredible feel and smell—almost like an overload of your senses.”
Christian, a former PGA Tour pro, was in town in his role as an on-course commentator for Golf Channel, giving him the chance to make an early morn-ing visit to Pacific Grove, where he zipped around the course in less than three hours.
Along the way, he learned what Northern California golfers have known for decades: This is a true municipal-course gem.
Pacific Grove, aka the poor man’s Pebble Beach, forever lives in the shadow of its famous neighbors. Pebble, Cypress Point, Spyglass Hill, Monterey Peninsula Country Club—these storied layouts gobble up headlines and acclaim.
Then there’s modest little P.G., as it’s known to locals. No pretense of privacy, no crazy-steep green fees. Even out-of-town visitors pay only $55 on weekends; golfers with a Pacific Grove resident card pay just $29 during the week.
It’s the bargain of the century.
Low rates, big names
The course includes its share of muni scruffiness, especially on the front nine. But the back nine weaves through distinctive sand dunes and features stunning glimpses of the coastline, none more spectacular than what awaits after walking through a large dune on the path from No. 11 green to No. 12 tee.
No, it’s not as dramatic as the stroll from No. 14 green to No. 15 tee at Cypress Point. Still, arriving on the elevated 12th tee box at Pacific Grove gives golfers a sweeping vista, overlooking adjacent and aptly named Ocean View Boulevard to the rocks and water beyond.
This helps explain why CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz, who lives in nearby Pebble Beach, occasionally comes out to play the back nine at P.G. Paul Azinger, NBC analyst and onetime Ryder Cup captain, also has stopped by, as have former PGA Tour pro Arron Oberholser and current pro Zac Blair.
Oberholser calls No. 12 a “fun, strategic par 5.” Beyond its abundant scenic value, the hole offers legitimate design intrigue, turning sharply to the right near the landing area.
Christian cut the corner on his drive, like many long hitters do. He used a hybrid for his second shot, leaving the ball about 30 feet from the hole, and “managed to shake in” his 3-footer for birdie.
Nearly as memorable were the conversations he had with local players after his round. Christian sensed their pride in the course, their satisfaction upon hearing he had thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
“It was such a jewel to play, and that hole was the most memorable,” Christian said of No. 12. “I have a very soft spot for what I would call a proper public course. You drive back to the hotel with a little smile on your face.”
Chandler Egan, the 1904 U.S. Amateur champion, designed the front nine at Pacific Grove, which opened in May 1932. This seems fitting, because Egan had ties to Pebble Beach: He and esteemed architect Alister MacKenzie worked together to prepare Pebble for the 1929 Amateur.
Jack Neville, who co-designed Pebble Beach in the first place, also left his imprint on Pacific Grove. Neville proposed a seaside back nine in the 1950s, a vision made possible when the city leased the land from the Coast Guard. Neville then shrewdly fit those holes into the natural terrain around Point Pinos Lighthouse, and the back nine opened in 1960.
More than a half-century later, general manager/head pro Kevin Williams appreciates the setting every time he wanders onto the course.
“The feeling you get on the back nine is just special,” Williams says. “I’m always checking the course, and I try to do it in the evenings. It’s so peaceful at that time.”
Casey Boyns understands the sentiment better than most. Boyns—a two-time state amateur champ, longtime Pebble Beach caddie and member of the California Golf Hall of Fame—essentially grew up on Pacific Grove. He’s played the course thousands of times by his estimate, including his days as a standout player at Pacific Grove High School.
Boyns recalls his once-regular visits to P.G. just before sunset, to sneak in nine holes before dark. He also remembers the way local players, in a scene reminiscent of schoolyard ball games, used to choose up sides before their rounds, with some friendly wagers on the outcome.
At one point many years ago, the greens at Pacific Grove were so good that Boyns came to call the course “Little Augusta.”
He doesn’t get out there much anymore, but Boyns still feels a deep connection to P.G. And no hole stirs his soul more than No. 12, given its uncommon blend of breathtaking scenery and strategic challenge.
A proper par 5
The hole’s evolution over the years has changed the way players attack No. 12. Boyns says the tee box once was located farther to the right, away from the road, and a tall mound of thick ice plant prevented tee shots from cutting the corner. (The ice plant was removed several years ago because it wasn’t a native grass, according to Williams.)
Now that’s the preferred and inviting route, especially for longer hitters. The fairway is generous and leaves plenty of room for tee shots down the middle or drifting to the left. But big hitters can take the ball over the corner on the right, roughly a 250-yard carry, and leave themselves 200 to 220 yards to the green for their second shot.
As with so many shots in this part of the world, much depends on the wind. The prevailing wind blows toward the tee, reducing the chances of reaching the green in two. But a south wind helps: Boyns occasionally has hit driver/6-iron to reach in two.
Another option is taking the conventional three-shot route: staying left of the dogleg off the tee; plopping a safe lay-up within wedge distance, ideally on the left side of the fairway (a small mound sits short and right of the green); and then clearing the false front with your third shot.
The green on No. 12 is fairly flat but also slightly elevated, making it difficult to run the ball up. Still, short is decidedly better than long: Visiting the environmentally sensitive area behind the green is not advisable.
“It’s a good hole,” Boyns says. “It’s so Scottish; it even has the same kind of grass, the seaside fescue. Back in the day, 12 was a lot narrower with the ice plant; it’s gotten wider over the years.”
One risk in taking an aggressive line off the tee: out-of-bounds on the right. The O.B. stakes are not too far right, near the start of the dunes separating Nos. 12 and 13. Pacific Grove assistant pro Connor Rummonds says those stakes prevent players from purposely smacking their tee shots into the 13th fairway, which provides a shorter path to the No. 12 green. Hence, trying to cut the corner truly offers risk-reward.
“You can hit a good tee shot a little right and get penalized,” Rummonds says. “That makes you play the hole the right way.”
More than anything, the setting lifts No. 12 into another realm. Wind whipping off the ocean, waves breaking over the rocks—the images linger for Dana Dormann, a former LPGA pro and now the women’s coach at San Jose State.
Dormann started taking her son, Jason, to play P.G. when he was 13. It quickly became his favorite course, with No. 12 entrenched as their favo-rite hole.
It’s a special place for them and so many others. Dormann sums it up well: “You can’t help but break out the camera on that tee.”