How Pebble Beach altered — and safeguarded! — one of golf’s most dramatic holes

jordan spieth on 8th hole at pebble beach

Jordan Spieth's high-risk approach shot on Pebble Beach's 8th hole a year ago.

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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — A year ago this week, during the third round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Jordan Spieth faced a shot that gave new meaning to “risk and reward.”

On Pebble’s par-4 8th hole, Spieth’s tee ball bounded through the length of the fairway and settled at the edge of a dizzying drop-off.

Even from a good lie, the approach on the 8th has always had an element of Evel Knievel, requiring a long carry over an ocean inlet. Not for nothing did Jack Nicklaus call it the “most dramatic” second shot in golf.

Spieth’s situation added danger to the drama. His stance risked turning him into lemming.

But rather than take a penalty drop, as his caddie Michael Greller counseled, Spieth played 7-iron from the cliff’s edge.

Though he wound up saving par, he later conceded that he should have played it safer.

Management at Pebble appeared to feel the same. Shortly after the event, it made changes to the 8th meant to dissuade others from similar daring.

On Tuesday, as practice rounds got underway for this year’s AT&T, those changes were apparent along the bluff. A red hazard line, which once ran just a few feet from the plunge, has been drawn back, and the end of the fairway has been drawn back with it, with shaggier rough now growing between the short grass and oblivion. More than ever, the cliff’s edge is not a tempting place from which to play.

So, the 8th has that going for it, and that’s not all.

Like many celebrities who have played this pro-am, the green has also had some work. Always a tiny target on a venue with the smallest greens of any Tour stop, the 8th represented a course set-up challenge for both tournament and resort play. Its size and slope, coupled with slick modern green speeds, left few options for hole locations. During the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble, the cup was cut in close to the same spot all four days. The center of the green was the only way to go.

Last summer, modest nips and tucks were made to reclaim 400 square feet of putting surface. Much of the green’s tilt was also tamed to complement potential new hole locations, including an especially imposing one in the back right.

8th green at pebble beach
Denny McCarthy getting acclimated to the new 8th green Tuesday. Josh Sens

Practice rounds, though, are intended to be friendly, particularly when amateurs are involved. And on Tuesday, the flag on the 8th was propped in the center, which still didn’t make it easy for Josh Allen to find.

Arriving at the famed par-4, in the late-day calm, the Buffalo Bills quarterback pulled his tee shot into the left rough, far from the perils of Spieth territory but also a long way from the hole. From that wispy lie, 205 yards out, he airmailed a 6-iron into a bank beyond the green, then flubbed a downhill flop into one of two rear bunkers.

Allen shrugged and chuckled. A sand blast and two putts later, he was asked if he’d noticed changes to the hole.

No, he conceded, but he’d learned a lesson.

“That spot I was in wasn’t anywhere near as dangerous as Jordan’s was last year,” he said. “But definitely a scary place to be.”

Josh Sens Contributor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.