One of four famous 18-hole layouts operated by the Pebble Beach Company, Spyglass Hill Golf Course has been on the rota for the PGA Tour’s AT & T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am since 1967, the year after it was first unveiled. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Snr, it’s well known as a tough track and at least one commentator has termed it one of the best courses to have never staged a major.
It was originally called Pebble Beach Pines Golf Club but was renamed very soon after it opened by Samuel Morse, founder of the Pebble Beach Company, and he labelled all the holes on the course after characters and places from the 1883 novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, who spent time in the Monterey area before the book was first published.
Occupying a fabulous tract of coastal land between Cypress Point and Monterey Peninsula Country Club, Spyglass Hill is regarded by many as a more demanding test than its more celebrated near neighbours, with it bearing more than a passing resemblance to another couple of iconic world-class American courses, as intimated by its esteemed designer.
“The first five holes, starting from deep in the woods and heading immediately to the sea, demand target golf through sandy wastes, deliberately reminiscent of Pine Valley, but with water in the background and buffeted by ocean winds,” commented Robert Trent Jones Snr. “The rest of the course winds through towering Monterey Pines and Cypress in the Del Monte Forest, and is deliberately reminiscent of Augusta National.”
Feature holes include the 370-yard 4th (“Blind Pew”), where the 55-yard long green is surrounded by ice plant vegetation, the 399-yard uphill 8th (“Signal Hill”), with a reverse cambered fairway, and both the two par threes on the back nine; the 178-yard 12th (“Skeleton Island”) which plays downhill to a pond-protected green and the 130-yard 15th (“Jim Hawkins”) with its putting surface bounded by water, sand and a falloff to the left.
Since its inception in 1966, Spyglass Hill has of course been modified, indeed ahead of the 2020 AT&T Pebble Beach ProAm the par fives at #7 and #11 were lengthened, the 17th green renovated and 25 yards added to the 18th to give the home hole extra teeth.
I think this borderline Top 100 U.S. golf course isn't even Top 5 within 60 miles (Cypress, Pebble, Pasa, both MPPC) .It has a couple very cool holes on the ocean and the inland holes do create a very cool visual. Hole 6 and 7 are both fun holes that are able to incorporate some cool land movement and risk/reward. Starting on Hole 8 the course definitely started to feel less special and a lot more predictable. The first pond on #8 is followed by three in the next seven holes that practically look just like it. The sandy look is completely gone and the rest of the course is inland and has worse land movement. Holes 3, 4, 6, and 16 stood out to me as the best holes, but many of the holes on the back nine were just fine.
Imagine if the first few holes of Spyglass were actually Pebble....Now that would crate a masterpiece. Meanwhile Spyglass is a wonderful course. Maybe the toughest of the lot at Monterey. It is a must play while in Monterey and that's about it. And that points to 4 star maybe 4 1/2......I'll be nice.
Spyglass Hill Golf Course opened in 1966 and has been regarded as a world top 100 course since- but it suffers in comparison to it's famous neighbours who both have stunningly beautiful holes right on the ocean clifftops.
Nevertheless Spyglass Hill has it's own appeal. It is probably the most difficult of the courses on the Monterey Peninsula. Robert Trent Jones designed it to be a demanding test of the better player, and the course can play long. It is a championship course, to be sure!
The opening 5 holes are routed through sand dunes with distant ocean backdrops. It is a brilliant start to the round with a tough long opening par 5, a medium length cross hill par 4, and then two lovely par 3's interspersed with a memorable short par 4. That par 4- the fourth is a hole that you will want to play over...it's a world class hole.
From hole 6 the course turns up into the forests and the nature of the course changes with each hole framed by pine trees. Raised greens and water hazards are also a recurring theme.
There is a certain sameness to these holes, but nevertheless they provide a good test of golf and are picturesque- they just don't have the creative flair of those early dunes holes...
Notable holes include:
- hole 3, a downhill par 3 in the dunes with the ocean as a backdrop some 200 or so metres distant. It's a gorgeous hole!
- hole 4 is a world class hole. It's a shortish par 4 with a green set between two dunes runnning basically at right angles to the line of the hole. The length and line of the tee shot, the position of the flag, and the ever present wind will determine the challenge on your approach!
- hole 12 is a stunning shortish par 3 protected by water and bunkers
- hole 14 is a strategic par 5 that demands your attention. Framed by pine trees, and with a green set in it's own little ampitheatre protected by bunkers and water, it is a classic hole
Spyglass Hill should be on every Monterey Peninsula golfing itinerary. It is a championship course, and always beautifully maintained. And it provides a nice contrast to The Links at Spanish Bay, and Pebble Beach.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
In an area packed with great golf options, Spyglass should not be overlooked. Just great, pure oceanside golf.
Majestic. #1 is arguably one of my favorite opening holes. #3 is an unbeatable view. #4 Blind Pew has one of the best approach shots oon a RTJ layout. Could not disagree more with complaints about lack of ocean views after the opening 5 holes. Absolutely love the character of the forest holes and the Augusta feels to those holes. True test of your game though, one of the most difficult courses in the region.
The early holes on the ocean are some of the best along the coast in Monterey. I just wish they came later in the round. Spyglass subsequently turns inland and takes on a slight Augusta National parkland feel. Toughest course among the Pebble resort options.
It’s a good course, but not great. The first five holes are unique, majestic, and supremely enjoyable. The next thirteen are somehow both extremely challenging and extremely unmemorable. It’s 1960s blah target golf at its finest, and on top of that seemingly every long hole is narrow with an uphill approach. Perhaps that’s enjoyable architecture to some people, but not to me. The first five holes and the set of par threes on the course prevent it from being a complete miserable slog.
I’d be very interested to see how Spyglass would be received if the course routing was completely reversed – as in the golfer from green to tee on every hole from 18 to 1, with modern green complexes designed by Hanse or Doak or the like. I’d wager a fair bit of money that it would be a better course. Certainly the finishing stretch climbing to the clubhouse would be classic.
Among the courses on the Peninsula that I’ve played, I would rank Spyglass as my least favorite, and certainly for the money I would play Spanish Bay or Pacific Grove which are easier and either the same or more scenic.
It is purported that Robert Louis Stevenson, of “Treasure Island” fame, spent time in this area to cultivate ideas for his novels. This Robert Trent Jones course opened in 1966. The first hole, a downhill par five dogleg left is aptly named Treasure Island; make sure you stay right or you will get blocked out. The third hole is called Black Spot, a short downhill par three. It can be deceiving; be wary of the wind and trust me, being long is not good. The fourth hole, Blind Pew, is really cool. It is not a long par four, a dogleg left, but the placement of the tee shot is critical. It is one of the narrowest greens that I have seen with multiple tiers set at a redan. The brilliance of the hole is if the pin is left, the tee shot should be right and if the pin is right, the tee shot should be left. After the fifth hole my caddy asked what I thought of the course so far. I responded that I liked it. He said, “Now comes the tough part.” He was right; what a difference between the first five holes, which are seaside and the next 13, which are situated in the Del Monte forest.
The eighth hole is a killer par four. It is less than 400 yards but uphill. I hit a good drive and a good five wood and was still twenty yards short. The ninth isn’t quite as bad, but you do not want to be above the hole.
My favorite hole on the back nine was the 17th, Ben Gunn. It is a relatively short par 4. The landing area for your tee shot is blind as is the uphill approach shot. I cannot tell a lie, it was my favorite hole because it was the only one I birdied. It may also be, because the 16th hole is a real killer, as well.
In my opinion, Spyglass Hill is a much tougher course than Pebble Beach. It is definitely a target rich barkie environment. The wind is not as much of a factor as Pebble, but the fairways are very tight and you can find yourself blocked out if you are on the wrong side of the fairway. It has consistently been rated as one of the toughest courses in the world. The 6th, 8th and 16th typically rank amongst the toughest holes on the PGA tour just about every year.
I have had the opportunity to play Spyglass Hill on a number of occasions over the years and my earliest opinion still holds. I shake my head at a routing that offered the best visual and strategic holes at the beginning -- rather than at the end. As others have opined -- I concur the first five holes get the golfer's blood flowing and you feel the wind and see the Pacific in the nearby distance.
There's little question Spyglass provides a demanding test as you make your way away from the coastal area into the interior of the Del Monte Forest. The uphill nature of a number of the holes later in the round put a maximum premium on being able to carry the ball sufficient distance in order to gain a better angle for one's approach.
Spyglass is the epitome of Robert Trent Jones, Sr. core design philosophy of "tough par / easy bogey" mantra. The course showcases his style -- the massive putting greens with flanking large bunkers. The primary claim too fame is how demanding the course can play because of the terrain that follows for the final 2/3's of the round.
What would have been interesting to have seen is if the routing was reversed so that the ending climax comes from being nearer to the coastline as the first five holes show. In so many ways -- once you have played the opening salvo of holes you are stoked for more -- and then you realize quickly on that the best of what you have played is now over.
I am a big time fan of the par-4 4th hole. One of the most difficult holes to design is a par-4 that is more than 350 but less than 400 yards. The 4th is brilliantly done -- using the terrain so well and the approach shot is one of the finest you play among all the courses in the Pebble Beach area. I really like how the menacing ice plant becomes more and more of an issue when the pin placement is in the deep rear area of the green.
In many ways Spyglass gets a clear boost in being in the same area as such heavyweights as Pebble Beach and Cypress Point. It's too bad on "what might have been" if a better overall routing was carried forward at the inception. Spyglass is clearly rigorous but the bulk of the architecture after the first few holes simply becomes a recipe for demanding golf -- not compelling architecture of the first order.
by M. James Ward
Spyglass is really the tale of two courses. The intoxicating holes along the bay (1-5) are dramatic, wide open and exposed to the elements. The inland holes (6-18) are difficult, tree-lined and play on terrain that slopes uphill.
The opening five holes at Spyglass are dramatic. I would be hard pressed to think of a golf course that has a better opening stretch of holes than Spyglass. The first hole, named Treasure Island, is a downhill sweeping par five that offers tantalizing glimpses of Monterey Bay through the trees as you stand on the tee. As you proceed down the hill, the hole sweeps to the left and the bay provides a wondrous backdrop for the green.
The first five holes are truly invigorating, and if you play Spyglass, enjoy them, because the easy part of the course is now behind you.
After the fifth hole, the course changes dramatically. The fifth and remaining holes play away from the bay, and there are no more views of the water. The rest of the course frankly feels more like Pinehurst than it does Pebble Beach. It winds its way through pine and cedar trees on the rolling terrain, leading to a difficult round of golf. When the AT&T Pebble Beach golf tournament is held each year it is played over three courses - Pebble Beach, Spyglass and nearby Poppy Hills. The pros complain about Spyglass generally, because it is such a stern test of golf. Holes six, eight and sixteen rank among the toughest on the tour each year.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs