With dwindling golf options in Monterey, a secret mission was in order

March 21, 2020
Pacific Grove GL

Friday was a beautiful day here in Northern California so I felt like playing a little golf. This is a normal impulse but these are unusual times. Most everyone I know is holed up in their homes but Monterey County’s shelter-in-place ordinance expressly allows,”activities related to maintaining a healthy lifestyle during this time.” It also states,”It’s okay to go outside for walks if you are not in a group and practice proper social distancing.” Clearly golf is allowed under the letter of the law, and a couple buddies wanted in on the action. But most of the golf courses on the Monterey Peninsula have been shuttered due to ongoing concerns about the COVID-19. We rang Bayonet/Black Horse. First available tee time was 3:30! The 36-hole facility had already booked 340 golfers for the day, all of them sworn to following new safety protocols. Poppy Hills is also open for business and had more availability but my buddy Mike didn’t want to pay the $115 walking rate. (We suddenly lost Kevin due to domestic concerns; his explanatory text captured the fraught politics of abandoning the family to tee it up: “This shizz is hard.”) There was clearly only one good option left: sneak on Pacific Grove muni, which shut down a couple of days ago.

Mike and I parked near the 10th tee, which is across the street from the empty restaurant and out of view of the pro shop, where someone was still answering the phone this morning. Playing the back nine first was a strategic as well as aesthetic decision: the holes among the dunes are epic but also more secluded than the front side, which winds through a crowded neighborhood. Across the street from where we parked a city truck was idling in the cemetery and Mike, who’s as jumpy as a cat on a hot tin roof, swore the dude behind the wheel was staring at us. We stood six feet apart chatting until he drove off. But then Mike spied a security camera affixed to the clubhouse roof and declared the 10th tee to be too risky.

We hopped in our cars and drove along the border of the course, looking for our opening. There’s nowhere to park on Lighthouse Ave., parallel to the 11th fairway, but plenty of spots along the coastal road by the 12th tee. Bingo. We lowered our bags over the wooden fence and then crawled through a small opening. The 12th hole at P.G. is one of the best par-5s on the Peninsula, which makes it one of the best on the planet. The target is an off-shore rock outcropping, surrounded by the bluest ocean. With nary a practice swing we lashed drives and then hurried off the tee.

It was glorious to have the course all to ourselves. Some recent rain had left the fairways extra plush. The ocean was sparkling and there was a nice breeze blowing. I stripped off my quarter-zip and suddenly felt like I could breathe again. There wasn’t a flag on the 12th green so we just aimed for the center and hoped for the best. The greens were a tad slow but still excellent; they looked like they had been cut a day or two ago.

Coming down the 13th fairway we heard a disquieting noise: a mower! This wayward greenskeeper was on the adjacent 14th fairway, leaving us nowhere to hide. Mike froze but I encouraged him to keep strolling insouciantly down the fairway. We’re golfers, playing golf and enjoying this hard-working fella’s handiwork. How could he mind that? The mower rolled on, and so did we.

Pacific Grove is a local legend on the peninsula.
Pacific Grove is a local legend on the peninsula.
Pacific Grove Golf Links

After playing 13 and 14 we had to make a choice: the final three holes of the back-nine play alongside busy Ocean View Blvd. and Mike was worried about us getting pinched by the fuzz. So we decided to linger longer in this quiet, private corner of the course, heading back to the 13th tee. Alas, we were mid-fairway when a golf cart appeared on the horizon, making a beeline in our direction. The jig was up. The kid from the pro shop was cool and confided that we weren’t the first scofflaws he’d had to eject. “It’s always industry people,” he said, an instant-classic rebuke. We chatted for a while about the sad state of the local golf industry; Pebble Beach had just announced that all four of its courses would be closing on Saturday evening until further notice. Mike and I finished out the hole and of course I hit my best shot of the day, a 50-yard pitch to eight feet. (It helped that this time around we knew the hole location.)

It had been a blissful hour of golf until the real world intruded. We trudged back to our cars and waved goodbye. I was wistful because it felt like the last golf I might play for a long while. Or at least until Sunday, when I sneak on to Spyglass.

To receive GOLF’s all-new newsletters, subscribe for free here.