Redemption Review: Spyglass Hill Golf Course

What a wacky six-day adventure it was a couple weeks ago, and I’m still getting caught up on reviews. My original plan was to spend three full days (maybe 3.5) the Tahoe/Truckee/Reno area. That blossomed into four full days at the last minute. Also, another opportunity came up to play in a special event in the Bay Area a couple days after I was supposed to get back. This ended up adding two more days to the trip and quite a detour!

The golf friend who joined me in Tahoe actually dropped me off in the middle of nowhere along the I-5 (Lost Hills to be exact) late on Monday night. Then, another friend picked me up the following morning. Usually being the one driving myself all around, it was kind of odd and I felt like a hitchhiker.

We spent Tuesday in the Monterey area. It didn’t result in any new courses played for me, but I got to return to a couple great tracks. We first played Quail Lodge & Golf Club around noon. I’ve reviewed that course several times on the blog, so I won’t review it again. All I can say is that it was in pretty much immaculate condition (as always) and it was another fun visit to a very underrated/underappreciated course for that region. I’ll share a few new pix at the end of this article.

However, Tuesday’s main event in my eyes was a rematch of sorts with famed Spyglass Hill Golf Course in Pebble Beach. Unless you live under a rock, you know this is considered one of the best courses in the world along with its sister courses, Pebble Beach and Spanish Bay (and Poppy Hills, too, though that’s not actually part of the resort) and its close private neighbors (Cypress Point, which I have actually played, and MPCC, which I haven’t yet). Spyglass is consider one of Robert Trent Jones, Sr.’s masterpieces and many people rank it the best course on the peninsula.

I first played Spyglass in 2007. And though I really liked the course layout, I had a bit of a service issue that really soured my experience. At the time, I paid $350 out of pocket and I booked my tee time the day before as was non-resort-guest policy at the time (it may still be, I’m not sure). I checked in at the pro shop and that went fine. What nobody bothered to mention to me was that they has aerated and sanded the greens very recently (either the day before or perhaps even overnight) as I was in one of the first groups out.

I’ve played on plenty of punched and sanded greens in my days. I can usually get past it, especially when the course warns me about it. For this price, though, I may have passed on the special Spyglass round had I known the maintenance literally just happened. Nowadays, I trust Greenskeeper.org to “know before I go,” but I still feel the course should let you know before you tee off, especially when paying this much money!

And when I say “sanded,” I should say that every green literally had about a quarter-to-half inch of sand on top. They were basically unplayable, like putting through wet sand traps on a damp and foggy morning. It pissed me off. I did call the resort to complain afterward and they did offer me $100 back on my green fee. That was helpful, but it still wasn’t anywhere near a $250 golf experience either and I’ve had a bit of a beef with Spyglass ever since.

This visit started on a good note because the person who set up the tee time (a Monterey resident) was a Duke’s Club member and was able to get us a twilight rate of $100. So, in a fitting way, the money I got refunded 11 years ago essentially paid for this round.

I did gripe some more when they told me that the cart fee was $40 per rider, which is so ridiculous. Normally, I consider it sacrilegious to take a cart on any Pebble Beach course. I’ve walked every round I’ve played out here. Plus, it’s cart path only on the resort courses anyway. However, there was no way I would be able to walk and carry my clubs on a very hilly course like Spyglass after what I had already put my body through in Tahoe. Plus, they don’t offer pull carts for rent here. So, I just sucked it up and paid for the cart even though I wasn’t too happy about it.

Thankfully, there wasn’t hardly anyone on the course. We were able to tee off a little before 5:00 as a threesome and finish all 18 with just a little bit of light left. We were the last ones out there and that was kind of cool.

Now that I’ve said my peace and recounted the frustrations to get on the course for the second time, I can focus again on what matters. This is an awesome course that deserves its “bucket list” status. I would still pick Pebble (and Spanish Bay) over it based on personal experiences, but that’s nothing against Spyglass. It’s a special place and all courses in Pebble Beach are easily “must-plays.”

Spyglass is kind of an interesting layout because it’s pretty much two different courses with four oceanfront, linksy style holes and then 13 hilly forested holes. The 1st hole is kind of a hybrid as you tee off from up by the clubhouse and work your way down to the ocean view on your approach.

Some golf architecture snobs will tell you that the course doesn’t get good until you turn inland. Others will awe at the ocean views of the first five holes and then ride that euphoria all the way through.

I will say the ocean view holes are beautiful and also kind of quirky. None is more bizarre than the par-4 4th, which has one of the most unusual greens you will ever see. It is a long and skinny, two-tiered banana tucked in between mounds on either side. It’s quite a sight to see.

Though you lose the ocean views after the uphill 6th hole that takes you back into the woods, there is no shortage of beautiful scenery. It is very secluded and serene as you work your way through the misty forest of tall trees and naturally hilly terrain. The few water hazards are dyed and basically look black in appearance, providing a glassy reflection and almost eerie quality.

I can agree with the argument that the layout is more interesting on the inland holes, but it is also kind of odd to start off with all the majestic ocean views and then they’re gone just like that. I’ve always felt like the nines should be flipped, so you get this little oceanfront stretch early on the back nine and it’s not out of the way so quickly. However Spyglass is routed, it’s a fantastic golf course and I did feel quite a bit of redemption with this second visit. I finally got to play the actual greens here and, with karma on my side, I was putting absolutely lights out!

All the par-3s at Spyglass are special. The short 3rd has you hitting from an elevated perch right down toward the ocean to a tiny green. The 5th plays slightly uphill and plays trickier than it looks. Then both par-3s on the back nine (12 and 15) offer similar looks with elevated tees and water hazards in play.

My favorite hole here is the 14th, which is a great par-5 that doglegs right the whole way. The green is slightly elevated above a pond with a rock wall lining the edge. It’s just a beautiful and interesting hole.

Also, the course was in great shape. It’s not the lush deep green look like Quail Lodge because they just don’t get as much sun and you have more salt in the air, but it plays perfectly from tee to green. The tee boxes, fairways and rough were all great. The bunkers were fantastic with the white sand. The greens were firm-ish and rolling well at medium-fast speeds. And best of all, they weren’t covered with sand!

There you have it. My Spyglass Hill redemption story. This course and I had a rocky relationship for years, but this time I was able to truly enjoy what the hype is all about.  It’s certainly a bucket list course. I would still recommend playing Pebble Beach first if you can only choose one, but all are definitely worth splurging for at least once. I do wish I had better picture conditions, though, as it was overcast and getting darker during our late twilight round.

Some pictures from Spyglass Hill Golf Course (6/19/18):

(Click on any pictures below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)

Also, here are some new pictures from Quail Lodge & Golf Club (6/19/18):

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