PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It wasn’t quite dark Sunday night when I walked alongside Pebble Beach’s 18th hole, but it was close enough.
A small moon glowed straight overhead. A spectacular sunset of red- and orange-splashed clouds was gone, as if it never had happened. The Pacific Ocean rolled languidly in Stillwater Cove, reflecting the last remnants of the day’s fading light. I could hear the Pacific, and smell it.
Semi-darkness may seem like a strange time to patrol golf’s most photogenic finishing hole. The shadows left a lot to the imagination, but any golfer knows that land by heart. It was enough to be there in one of golf’s special places and have it to myself.
Plus, there’s that nagging thought in the back of my head that, Hey, I probably won’t be here the next time the Open returns to Pebble Beach and maybe, just maybe, this could be my last visit to Pebble Beach. If I have to be a paying customer, I’m probably not coming back.
I did not have the 18th hole to myself, as it turned out. I was there because I decided to walk back from the Beach Club, where the World Golf Hall of Fame held a dinner to unveil a painting of the Class of 2019 inductees, to The Lodge at Pebble Beach, where my rental car was valet-parked. I could have waited for a ride in a shuttle cart, but its route would’ve been along the entrance road, past the parking garage, not the golf hole.
A stroll past the 17th green and along the 18th hole in the solitude seemed like a good idea. I walked in the rough, stepping carefully in the shadows, outside the gallery ropes. When I stopped to take a photo of the famous cypress tree in the middle of the 18th fairway in the unusual lighting, I noticed three figures strolling down the middle of the fairway.
I paused a second time to take a few pictures of the other big cypress tree short of the green because it was eerily spotlighted. That’s when the men, dressed in coats and ties as I was, caught up to me. The trio included Mike Davis, head of the U.S. Golf Association, and Nick Price, a former player and Hall of Fame member. I’d spoken with both of them at the dinner. They, too, obviously figured that a walk along Pebble Beach’s 18th hole beat a shuttle ride, 8 and 6.
Davis rubbed his foot across the thick, unforgiving patches of deep rough. “They won’t be hitting any 3-irons out of this,” he said with a chuckle.
I thought he was right but answered, “Don’t tell that to Brooks Koepka. All he needs to hear is that he can’t do something.”
We moved toward the back of The Lodge. At the entrance, I looked at the outdoor dining tables on the patio. A number of customers were still there, enjoying the individual firepits glowing atop each table, a pretty cool upgrade. I should have taken a picture but didn’t want to look like more of a tourist than I already appeared to be.
I went inside, walked past the entrance to The Bench, a downstairs informal dining area. I climbed the steps to the main floor and dawdled for a few moments at the opening to the famous Tap Room, the bar where everyone who was anyone in Pebble Beach history has had a drink, heard a story and laughed too hard and too long. If not, that’s their loss.
The Hall of Fame dinner was a nice affair. The living inductees – LPGA great Jan Stephenson, former Masters chairman Billy Payne, two-time U.S. Open champion, Retief Goosen and golf showman Dennis Walters – were there. The late Peggy Kirk Bell, a long-time supporter of women’s golf, an instruction pioneer and the operator of Pinehurst’s beloved Pine Needles Resort, is the fifth inductee.
A number of Hall of Famers were on hand, and I was seated at a table that included Tom Kite, Juli Inkster and Nancy Lopez. I was there as the recent past president of the Golf Writers Association of America, having taken part in the voting that decided the inductees.
The Beach Club is a building adjacent to the par-3 17th hole. I have walked past it many times covering tournaments over the years but never been inside. It’s as sweet as you might expect. The walls are mostly glass windows, which give it a spectacular view. My table, Table 8, was on the far right side, which meant we had a straight-on view of the 17th green.
I also could look out onto Stillwater Cove, where I saw two women on an inflatable raft. One was in a Buddha-like pose. The other attempted to stand on her — yes, on a raft. After two tries and two collapses, she gave up. I pointed them out to Kite, who had trouble believing my report that women were doing yoga on a raft, so he got up from his chair and walked to his right to get a view. He confirmed my assessment and shook his head. “Only in California,” he said with a smile.
Steve Mona of the World Golf Foundation made some introductory remarks and reminded the audience of the great Open winners at Pebble Beach. There was Jack Nicklaus and his famous 1-iron shot in 1972, Mona said, and Tom Watson and his famous chip-in in 1982. I glanced over at Kite because I knew what was next, the ’92 Open and Tom Kite. We were nibbling on our appetizers when Mona continued, “And there was Tom Watson in 1992.”
Kite never looked up, just nodded wryly and said, “Did he win another one?”
Mona quickly corrected his tongue-slip, and Kite got his due. “I thought Monty [Colin Montgomerie] won in ’92,” I told Kite. That made him laugh.
Former NFL quarterback Steve Young followed Mona as the featured speaker.
Young talked about Hall of Fame defensive lineman Reggie White, whom he had known for years, and who liked Young enough that each time he sacked the quarterback, he’d grab Young and pull him down on top to avoid injuring the passer.
Then White would ask, “Steve, how are you doing?” Young would say, “Right now, not so good.” On the next sack, White would ask, “How’s your dad doing?” Young marveled at White’s ability to play with ferociousness in a violent game and, in a split second, switch to conversational mode with an old friend.
Young told how Bill Walsh, his coach with the San Francisco 49ers, passed on everything he knew about football, all of his secrets of coaching, to his assistant coaches so that they could be successful and, maybe, share the greatness of the game.
One of Walsh’s assistant coaches was Mike Holmgren, who later coached the Green Bay Packers to a victory over Young and the 49ers in a conference playoff game. Young later asked Brett Favre what Holmgren had said at halftime. Favre told him, and Young said, “It was Bill Walsh’s same big-game speech.”
Young said he often has wondered whether he could be so generous if he were in Walsh’s situation. Of course, he was subtly putting that question to the audience, making them consider bigger things. Such as, say, putting your fellow humans before your own desires.
After Young, the painting of the Hall of Fame inductees was unveiled, a standing ovation ensued, followed by handshakes and hugs as the attendees drifted out.
I went out into the night for that walk. It wasn’t quite dark, but I thought I’d seen a light.
Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle