What kind of guy plays Pebble Beach whenever he wants, for free, shoots par and then says he doesn't enjoy it? The kind who takes his job very seriously. Chuck Dunbar, Pebble's new head pro, admits he never feels completely at ease when he's out on the course. "If there's no water in the ball washers or the trash cans need to be emptied, I get distracted," he says. "To truly enjoy a round, I've got to play somewhere else."
Don't misunderstand. Dunbar's not complaining. "I'm grateful for the way things have worked out," he says. So much so that when he was offered the job last October, he cried. "I'm not an emotional person," he says, "but I was overwhelmed." It's just that he's really into his work.
Why not? This gig is the kind of job Dunbar, 36, had been dreaming about since he got serious about golf 10 years ago. Back then he made a living mixing martinis at the Fat City Bar & Cafe in Sacramento, his hometown. Growing up, and all through college at Sacramento State, where he majored in communications media with a minor in theater arts, Dunbar rarely played golf. "I wanted to be a game-show host," he says. "Chuck Woolery [the host of Love Connection] had that big Rolex, and I thought he was doing all right." Dunbar might have been sitting in Regis Philbin's seat today if not for a fateful trip to San Francisco with a buddy who had a job interview with Club Med.
While in the waiting room Dunbar was asked if he wanted to interview, too. "Four days later I was on a plane to Cancun," he says. For the better part of 1990 Dunbar blended away singles' inhibitions by night and water-skied, boardsailed and snorkeled by day. Back in Sacramento for Christmas, Dunbar was made an offer he couldn't refuse. "It was one of those unusually cold winters during which everybody's pipes burst," he says. So when Club Med called with an opening behind the bar in Florida, Dunbar checked with a friend there who told him, "It's a beautiful thing. I play golf every day." So Dunbar signed on, and on his way out of town he stopped at a Costco and paid $199 for his first set of new clubs.
In Florida, Dunbar began to play every day and in 10 months had shaved his handicap from 24 to six. He also met Clarice, a hostess at the club. They married in March 1992 and moved back to Sacramento, not sure what they would do next. While celebrating their first anniversary, at his grandmother's beach house in Santa Cruz, Calif., Dunbar saw an ad for an assistant pro at a nearby course. He got the job, but during a trip to Arizona he was exposed to high-end resort golf. "I realized I was in the right business but in the wrong place," he says. Not wanting to relocate, he had one option locally: the Pebble Beach Company.
After four months as low man on the totem pole at the company's Links at Spanish Bay, Dunbar was transferred to Del Monte Golf Course. Two years later he was promoted to head pro there. Then last fall the Pebble job opened up. Dunbar expected a move to Spyglass Hill or back to Spanish Bay and would have been thrilled with either post, but when his bosses called him in, Dunbar says, "They talked and I listened. I couldn't talk. I was floored."
"[ Pebble Beach] is like a Broadway show," says Paul Spengler, the company's senior vice president of golf. "Every day there's a new audience that has high expectations, and that creates high anxieties." Next week's I .S. Open will be particularly stressful. Dunbar will help coordinate the locker rooms, player hospitality, courtesy cars and the driving range as well as run the pro shop.
Dunbar admits that being the head pro at the most famous course in the country can be nerve-racking, but you'll never see him flip his ever-present grin. When the going gets rough, he'll pull out pictures of his son, Taylor, 4, and daughter, Lorance, 1. Or he'll grab a chicken-salad-on-wheat sandwich and a soft drink from the Pebble Beach market, hijack a cart and have lunch next to the forward tees on number 8. "To one side you can see Carmel Beach down to Big Sur, and to the other is Stillwater Cove and number 18," he says. "In between is number 7 and a whole lot of ocean."
Those are the moments at Pebble he truly enjoys.