Pebble Beach Flyovers: Third and Four Holes

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While we’ll get to the loss of a double fairway at the ninth and two greens offering maybe two palatable hole locations, a case could be made for the third as Pebble Beach’s most architecturally adulterated.

When I first played the course in the early 1990s and attended a U.S. Open there in 1992, the third was always the hole to hold up as an example of Pebble Beach’s inland holes asking top-notch strategic questions. This was before the out-of-scale, out-of-character righthand fairway bunkers were installed by the Palmer design group and today’s athletes began traveling with resistance bands.

Back in the good old days, players were free to bail out away from the corner bunker, trees and barranca. Such a tee shot left a hanging lie in rough to a green best approached from the left side. A flyer might go out-of-bounds.

Best of all, there were rewards for to turning a ball over, shortening the hole, and improving the angle of approach.

The combination of the landing area dynamics and the degradation of the barranca may change the approach at this year’s U.S. Open. Bomb-and-gougers face little trouble just cutting the corner, a play we saw in the U.S. Amateur when tees were at the 404 yardage. Even if the player finds rough, they are approaching from the best angle, lob wedge in hand and yardage under 100 yards.

But hey, enjoy the flyover…

The short par-4 4th is not a hole to drive but it can be a fascinating tee shot thanks to the fairway bunkering and conditions. The green has shrunk a bit over the years and lost a little shape as this 1929 to 2010 comparison shows. The surface is steeply pitched back to front, making it one of the more difficult to navigate from above the hole. Tree diseases have taken out many of the tall woody view-obstructors down the right side, unlocking wonderful views and more influence from the elements off Carmel Bay.

During last year’s U.S. Amateur, I asked Jack Nicklaus if he ever tried to drive the fourth in his youth and he looked at me as if I’d ordered an Arnold Palmer. He did later confess to trying in practice, but made clear it’s an idiotic play in any era, any conditions.