Not playing Pebble Beach? No problem

PEBBLE BEACH, California – Blanketed by a sense of melancholy because you’re out on the Monterey Peninsula and you can’t handle the very steep price to play Pebble Beach Golf Links and at its sister courses — Spyglass and Spanish Bay?

Snap out of it. Smile. If you are on the Monterey Peninsula, or plan to be, you must celebrate three hugely positive aspects even without playing those classics.

1: You’re in arguably one of the most picturesque and charming areas of the country.

2: You can easily absorb a good sense of the Pebble Beach magic by perusing 17 Mile Drive and walking parts of the golf course, including the 18th hole.

3: Keep your clubs at the ready because you have terrific options that will quench your thirst for fun golf.

“There’s nothing more exciting, visually stunning, and challenging as coastal courses in the Golden State,” says Tom Spencer, a consultant with CBS Sports who has worked tirelessly alongside Jim Nantz for golf broadcasts.

Spencer, who grew up in Northern California and played a lot of competitive golf in the area, adores the Monterey Peninsula and confirms that great options go beyond Pebble Beach.

Hole No. 18 at Bayonet in Seaside, California.

“The (Peninsula) courses are charming, yet cunning,” he says. “The atmosphere is cozy but intimidating. It’s golf at its highest level of enjoyment.”

Leading off, say hello to Pacific Grove Golf Links. For green fees that will run anywhere from $44 to $82 you get a front nine that starts with back-to-back par 3s and then morphs into a back nine that dazzles with a links feel that you rarely get in our country.

Designed by Jack Neville, who was the visionary behind Pebble Beach, Nos. 10-18 will bring a joy to your golf heart.

Want a beefier test? The 18-holers up in Seaside, 10 minutes from Monterey, fill the bill. Bayonet and Black Horse are strong enough that they have been used for PGA Tour Q School sites. Rates run in the $106 to $125 range and there’s a very fair 36-hole rate.

Connecting your golf soul to the famed “Crosby” — you know, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am — you can tee it up at Poppy Hills, which is squeezed in between the Pebble Beach Company’s crown jewels, Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hills.

Poppy Hills is owned by the Northern California Golf Association and non-members can get an 18-hole rate of $325. Beautifully designed and featuring five par-3s, Poppy might be overshadowed by its neighbors, but pocket your snobbish side. Instead, embrace the Poppy experience. 

If you choose to stay tight to Monterey, there are two cozy and charming offerings — Monterey Pines Golf Club, which is owned maintained by the U.S. Navy; and Del Monte Golf Course, which is the one Pebble Beach Golf Company course that doesn’t require stays at the resort.

Short and cute, yes, but take it from Spencer, “the (Peninsula) grass is lush and the bunkers are all unique in shape and texture,” he says. “The air is crystal clear on a sunny day; thick and chilly on a foggy one. Winds can be a gentle zephyr or a strong gale.”

Moving outside the confines of Monterey, two worthwhile options sit on your way to Big Sur — Carmel Valley Ranch and the Quail Lodge and Golf Club in Carmel.

Carmel Valley Ranch provides a sense of the great outdoors. The Pete Dye design is relatively flat going out and features more elevation changes coming in. 

Located not far from Carmel Valley Ranch, Quail Lodge can be so quiet at times you’ll be able to hear the Carmel River, which juts through some of the property.

Designed by Robert Muir Graves, whose extensive list of course designs are in California and the Pacific Northwest, Quail Lodge at about 6,500 yards presents pleasing visuals and annually wins local honors for its condition.

Trust us, these choices will keep you in a golf-happy mood and you won’t be bemoaning a trip without the Pebble Beach freight ticket.

Ditto if you choose to head away from the Pacific and drive up into the Monterey hills. That’s where you’ll find Laguna Seca Golf Ranch. A gentle test of approximately 6,200 yards, Laguna Seca will provide standard Monterey Peninsula fare — very good turf and a quality experience.