I don’t know much about golf. I know that it’s “a good walk spoiled.” I know that my dad shot his age several times and made a hole in one twice, and that those are plaque-worthy accomplishments. I know that golf originated in Scotland. What I didn’t know is that there is a difference between a regular golf course and a “links course,” which my oldest son was astute enough to point out during our family’s visit to Spanish Bay at Pebble Beach, California.
WHAT IT IS
The Pebble Beach website explains that “Links is an old Scottish word for sandy wasteland, usually near the sea, with bristly grasses and ever prevailing wind.” Thus, around five hundred years ago, the enterprising Scots found a sporting use for their sandy, salty-aired wasteland ridges and developed the game of golf. The words “golf course” and “links” have been bandied about here in the U.S. until they have become almost interchangeable. As I understand it and traditionally speaking, if a tract of land is buildable or farmable or fit for a multitude of uses, it can be developed into a golf course. If it is good for absolutely nothing, except perhaps as the location for a sandy, windy, salty-aired picnic along the sea, it can become links. But that’s just me. What defines a true links course has become more elusive, and golfers, both expert and amateur, continue to debate the terminology in books and articles and over beers at the club. It all boils down to opinion. Some say that playing a links course has to do with the experience itself, and some maintain that this is an experience which can only be attained in the British Isles.
BRING IT HOME
But maybe you don’t live down the bonnie lane from St. Andrews. There are a number of links courses in the U.S., and two of them are in the Pebble Beach community: the Pebble Beach Golf Links and the Links at Spanish Bay. The Links at Spanish Bay course is relatively new to the game, having opened in 1987, and often gets lost in the shadow of Pebble Beach’s spotlight. But the Spanish Bay links course was designed specifically to utilize the wind, the atmosphere, and the lay of the land to create a true links-style experience. For those of you who care about such things (and if you do, you probably already know this), I will tell you that the Links at Spanish Bay was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., Tom Watson, and Sandy Tatum, who took great care in making it as authentically Scottish as possible.
But we didn’t go to Spanish Bay to golf. We went there for the sunset and bagpipes. Our day trip along the Pacific Coastal Highway ended with the Seventeen Mile Drive along the Monterey Bay peninsula and coincided—just barely–with the appearance of the 5:30 bagpiper at Spanish Bay.
We were also hoping to see a glorious sunset, since our drive along the coast consisted entirely of sunny, blue-skied weather and views like this.
When we arrived at Spanish Bay, however, a mantle of clouds had already enclosed the place with a cold misty gray, and the ambience was uncannily similar to that of the Scottish Highlands.
(Genuine Scottish Highlands)
We commandeered some seats on the benches around the outdoor fire pits where a crowd had gathered in anticipation of the bagpiper and the hidden sunset. Waiters and waitresses took drink orders and passed around blankets to fend off the damp chill. We chatted with the others who were gathered around the fire pit with us (and who, I suspect, were chagrined to see the previously empty spots become occupied by a family of six), but they warmed up to us as we all warmed up beneath blue flannel blankets. One couple among us was there with their daughter and grandson, so that eased my comfort level.
Finally, the whining strains of the piper could be heard, and we saw his beanied head appear amidst the sandy wasteland and bristly grasses.
The Links at Spanish Bay employs the Scottish tradition of calling in the golfers at the end of the day by means of a roving bagpiper. I’m not sure how effective it is for the golfers, but it is extremely effective in calling the guests and tourists to run hither with their cameras and ithings at the ready.
I took enough pictures, myself, to create my own flip book feature of the bagpiper.
I was taken by this statue of a man and girl sitting on a bench. I thought it was depicting some celebrity golfer and his granddaughter, but evidently it is not, and is called simply “A day in the park.” If you’re in the neighborhood of Spanish Bay and have a few hours to spend, try cozying up on the benches around the fire pits in the park near the links while an honest-to goodness Scottish bagpiper entertains you. You might even catch a sunset.
Want to know more? This is what the PGA has to say:http://www.pga.com/golf-courses/quick-nine/best-links-style-courses-in-us-quick-nine
Here’s a Wikipedia link to the Links, in the U.S. and elsewhere.
- Posted in: Entertainment ♦ Lifestyle ♦ Tips and Tidbits
- Tagged: British Isles, California, Golf, Golf course, linked-in, Links, Pebble Beach, Pebble Beach Golf Links, Robert Trent Jones, Sandy Tatum, Seventeen Mile Drive, Spanish Bay, The Links at Spanish Bay, Tom Watson