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'Poor Man's Pebble Beach'

A municipal course next door to the site of last weekend's U.S. Open is short, sweet ... and famous, in its own way.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 22, 2000


PACIFIC GROVE, Calif. -- While much of the golf world paused last weekend to take in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, it was business as usual just a few miles down the road at Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Course.

Although everyone at the quaint little course was well aware of what was happening nearby, it didn't keep them from snatching up every tee time, per usual.

For greens fees that run about one-tenth of those charged at famous Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove is a terrific bargain, especially when you consider that the entire back nine is within view of the Pacific Ocean.

Its nickname of the "Poor Man's Pebble Beach" helps explain why a group of golf writers fit in a visit during the week of the Open. Not that the place is looking for publicity. When Golf Digest recently featured Pacific Grove, the story elicited groans rather than gratitude.

"The majority of the people here cringed," said Peter Vitarisi, the course's head pro for 30 years. "It's just too busy. This is their special little place."

So special, in fact, that when the greens fees were raised two years ago, cries could be heard throughout the Monterey Peninsula. The increase: $1.

"This course used to be a local secret," said assistant pro Jeff Bushnell. "But it's not anymore. We did 92,000 rounds last year and we are always filling the tee sheet.

"That number is obviously a lot. But don't misunderstand. We get people in and out of here in 41/2 hours. The course is packed, but it's always moving."

Indeed, it has to be in order to accommodate more than 250 rounds per day.

Originally designed by Chandler Egan in 1932, the first nine holes are just two holes wide and take you through the forested areas of Pacific Grove. The first two holes are par 3s; the fifth and sixth are par 5s with a quirky local rule: a ball hit into the other fairway requires you to bring it back to the center of the tree line and measure one club length into your fairway no closer to the hole, no penalty.

The front nine's charm also includes five street crossings and screens to protect the homes that line the course.

The back nine is different. Designed by Jack Neville -- yes, the same man who co-designed Pebble Beach -- in 1960, the inward holes roll along sand dunes that approach the sea. The Point Pinos Lighthouse overlooks the back nine. Built in 1855, it is the longest continuously operating lighthouse in California.

"Obviously it's the back nine everyone wants to play," Bushnell said. "But the front nine has some good holes, too. There are a couple of holes on the front nine that will challenge the best golfers.

"It really is a special place. I've worked here for six years now, and you get the feeling you are working at a golf course that is unique."

The course measures just 5,732 yards from the back tees, but the feel of the ocean air in your face on the back nine makes up for a lack of distance. So do the numerous deer that feel at home on the course and are oblivious to the errant golf shots flying all about them.

Of course, the real reason the place is so popular is the affordable greens fee, which runs from $31-$36. The course allows walkers. And after 4 p.m., there is a twilight rate of just $15.

For information, call (831) 648-3177.

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