Imagine growing up as the youngest of three siblings. The oldest is Warren Buffet, the middle child is Bill Gates and despite your unbelievable contributions to mankind through your years in the Peace Corps, you get no respect. Such is the lot of The Links at Spanish Bay, having the misfortune of being part of a triumvirate that includes Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. Take Spanish Bay and stick it in Kansas and it might be a top ten course. Never mind that would be a miracle given the lack of Pacific Ocean frontage in the flyover states.
Over the past ten years I have played Spanish Bay on multiple occasions, and find that I have grown to like the layout more and more. No longer do I obsess on comparing it to the two most amazing courses available to the public. Instead, I always try and book my round there first, before I go into the trancelike state that takes over for several days after knocking my Titleist around Stillwater Cove (Pebble Beach). Once I leave the gates of Seventeen Mile Drive sanity quickly returns, but by that time it is too late to provide a fair assessment of Spanish Bay.
The course offers many of the attractive features as its older siblings. There are plenty of ocean oriented holes, as well as a trip into the forest to check out the deer. The holes are challenging, with the exposed links design offering a steady, and frustrating wind to close out the back 9. In their own way Numbers 15 and 17 mirror the challenges of 9 and 10 at Pebble Beach. The short par 3, number 13, while not as dramatic as Number 7, is still a knee knocker. Also, like Pebble, the first tee shot must be made without the assistance of a nearby driving range. (Spanish Bay offers even worse proximity to a practice facility). The par 5’s tend to be long. Sure, the greens are much larger and you do not have the same marine life, but this course is no slouch when it comes to views.
Spanish Bay is a fair layout. Good shots can lead to good scores, while errant ones will frequently find the native areas, resulting in penalty strokes. The putter needs to be solid as many of the greens have massive undulations and multiple tiers. Generally, I reach hole 14 with a decent round going, but this long par 5 into the wind always seems to bring me back to earth. With 15 and 17 good for a double bogey, or two, I typically find my opportunity to break 80 being literally “blown away” as I finish the round. Nevertheless, I think the five finishing holes are collectively some of the best around.
My Rating: 8+ (I should give it more respect with a 9)
Absolutely Must Play: Yes. Definitely book this one first on your Pebble Beach excursion. The course provides a great opening act. Do not take this one for granted or your score will balloon.
Weekly Observation: Poor Phil. He finally gets rid of Tiger and Rory shows up. This year’s PGA was easily the best of the majors. The leaderboard was terrific, with three of the most popular players (Phil, Rory and Ricky) all showing tremendous game. (Note: I am writing this on the plane to the site of next year’s PGA-Whistling Straits.)
By Paul Laubach
Image of Rodney Dangerfield from www.usatoday.com
Paul Laubach is completely unqualified to provide expertise with respect to golf course rankings and design, however, he is a highly opinionated golf addict who believes everyone should be entitled to his thoughts. He is in the process of completing the story of his journey to play America’s top 100 courses. Please visit this website regularly for more (im)practical information.