The bay, the ocean, the forest and the greens combine to make the Monterey peninsula one of the finest golf destinations in the world. Three hours from Sacramento, it’s not exactly in our backyard, but it’s close enough for an easy weekend getaway. Go with friends or make it a romantic journey, just the two of you, but whatever you do, don’t neglect the planning phase. Tee times, nights at the inn, dinner—reservations are required in this popular vacation spot. Get it all lined up, toss the golf bags in the trunk and head to the seaside for a great game or two beside the biggest water hazard of all.
With some 20-plus golf courses, the Monterey region swarms with opportunities to slay the green giants. We might as well start at the zenith: Pebble Beach Golf Links, where Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and, really, every golfing great since the course opened in 1919 have traversed the fairways. Good luck paying attention to your game on this cliffside beauty—the ocean roils just beyond, glistening with blue sparkle under springtime sun. The par-5 sixth hole stuns, its fairway traversing down, then up an embankment. The seventh, par 3, might just be the best spot in golf—a thrill in any conditions. Expect a heart-stopping moment on eight as you hit over the famous cliff and wait the eternity for its drop. And the par-5 18th hole, a landscape in itself, edges the Pacific Ocean, with Stillwater Cove to its left, grandiose homes to its right, and tall cypress trees and The Lodge at Pebble Beach in the distance. After your round, belt back a brew or a brandy at the lodge’s Tap Room as you count up the day’s casualties.
As expected at a resort of this caliber, your wallet will ache. Green fees run $495, and to book tee times in advance, golfers must typically spend two nights at resort properties (The Lodge at Pebble Beach, The Inn at Spanish Bay and Casa Palmero), with room rates starting at $650.
Another of golf’s iconic courses, Spyglass Hill runs fast and smooth on an undulating, tree-lined layout. Literary nerds might like learning that Spyglass Hill takes its name from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel “Treasure Island”; Stevenson allegedly roamed these lands as he composed the book, and holes on the course are named after characters and places within it. Take your time out here—morning on the front nine, soup and sandwich at the snack house near the ninth to fuel up for the afternoon. Green fees run $385, plus $35 for a cart.
It’s no wonder the awards are piling up for Poppy Hills Golf Course, home of the Northern California Golf Association, where restoration last year removed fairway rough and improved drainage and water conservation; Robert Trent Jones Jr. restored each hole to its natural elevation, softened contours and doglegs, and brought in bentgrass. Golf Magazine and Golf Digest named it a Best New Course. The 12th hole, downhill, tees off toward the ocean, and the par-3 15th demands a good swing or you’ll be in its bunkers for an extended stay. Finish with the risk-to-reward par-5 18th and try to rope an approach around the tall pine guarding the green. When it’s all over, replenish with a breakfast burrito at Porter’s Grill: chorizo, potatoes, cilantro, bell peppers, avocado and green salsa. Green fees vary from $70 for NCGA members Monday through Thursday to $210 for the general public.
The “poor man’s Pebble Beach,” Pacific Grove Golf Links takes this nickname from its dirt-cheap green fees ($35 to $62, depending on time of day and week) and gorgeous waterside scenery. At 5,727 yards from the tips, it plays a short par 70 with some long par 3s (the second and ninth holes) that demand precision and some risky, drivable par 4s (holes four and 10). The front nine winds through inland trees, and the back nine opens to the ocean. Three most spectacularly scenic holes: 11, 14 and 17.
FOOD AND DRINK
A key aspect to any weekend away is a stellar meal. Many options exist in the Monterey area, including the restaurants right at the golf resorts. Hit Carmel’s little streets on foot and read posted menus, and you’ll struggle to decide. Start the day at Katy’s Place, where a seat on the deck under two California redwoods makes an ideal spot to indulge in one of 20 different takes on eggs Benedict. For dinner, Casanova Restaurant, reminiscent of France or Italy’s countryside inns, draws wine lovers, and no wonder: Its hand-dug wine cellar houses 23,000 bottles, and its wine list runs more than 100 pages and includes at least one bottle that costs more than $15,000. In Monterey, visit Restaurant 1833, encompassing seven rooms in one of California’s oldest adobe buildings, and discover a menu of dishes created from locally raised, grown and caught ingredients: Monterey Bay salmon, pan-roasted rock cod or wood-oven roasted whole truffle chicken, for example. In addition to seafood stalwarts The Fishwife and Monterey Fish House, The Market (another seafood-heavy house in Monterey) opened two years ago, serving scallops, calamari, salmon and plenty of land-based dishes such as short ribs and pasta Bolognese. For a bayfront meal, The Fish Hopper on Cannery Row—far less tourist-trappy than you might expect—slings an ultra-creamy clam chowder and plates fish dishes including sanddabs, swordfish and ahi. Go for a thick slice of Key lime pie for dessert. Finally, in downtown Monterey, The Crown & Anchor Pub won’t let you forget you’re in a nautical town. Here, British naval pride adorns the place, with models of famous old ships, intricate picture plates and Admiral Nelson-era pistols and rifles on display. Nab a brew from the list of 20 international ones on tap, and perhaps gorge yourself on an order of hearty, tangy fish and chips.
SPEND THE NIGHT
Fold an old California map in half and the Monterey area’s on the crease—too far from Sacramento for a reasonable day trip. Make reservations at one of Carmel’s cute little inns in the village, head to Carmel Highlands for something dramatically cliffside at Tickle Pink Inn or the Hyatt, or go big in Monterey. In Carmel, Svengaard’s Inn provides an intimate, rustic experience. Roomy rooms come with queen beds, private baths, Keurigs and, in some cases, fireplaces and jetted tubs. Continental breakfast comes to your door. Dog people, take note: Many rooms welcome pets. Just outside the village, the luxurious French-inspired Carriage House Inn has feather beds, fireplaces and a hot breakfast that includes quiche of the day. In Monterey, 379-room Portola Resort & Spa parks you within walking distance of the state historic park adobes, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail (which explodes in fuchsia iceplant blooms this time of year). Do a day at the on-site Spa on the Plaza, where a salt glow or serenity wrap will wind you right down. Casa Munras Hotel & Spa, in the heart of Monterey’s Old Town, started as a handmade adobe home in 1824; a portion of the original adobe still stands. Book a room with a fireplace—nice to snuggle beside after a swim in the outdoor heated pool, or on an evening when the fog rolls in.
Garrett Johnston contributed to this story.