For the U.S. Open to move into Pebble Beach is sort of like the Supreme Court turning up in Marrakesh. The Open is usually just not that exotic. But this year it is going to look different, seem different and be different. If the seals don't bark too loudly, if a characteristic early-summer fog doesn't move in, if the television plans come off—showing 13 holes of the tournament over six hours of coverage—and if the entire field doesn't get lost at sea or in the ice plant, the 1972 Open has a chance to be the most glamorous thing that's happened to golf since beltless slacks.
For one thing, the Open doesn't wind up out West all that often, seeing as how the USGA, the rut-iron, the tweed jacket and all that type of thing originated—so far as America is concerned—back in Newport or Amagansett, or wherever they also invented railroads and banks.
The Open was 42 years old before it ever strayed farther west than Minneapolis. That was in 1938 when it wandered all the way out to Denver. It was 45 years old in 1941 before it crossed the Mason-Dixon line and went down to Fort Worth. It wasn't until 1948 that the Pacific Coast received the championship for the first time. In fact, this Open at Pebble Beach will be only the fourth one ever staged on the West Coast. Between Riviera in '48 and today there have been just the two at Olympic in San Francisco, the one Ben Hogan couldn't lose (but did) in 1955 and the one Arnold Palmer couldn't lose (but did) in 1966.
It is not as though the USGA never knew about Pebble Beach. It did. As long ago as 1929—only II years after the course opened—the U.S. Amateur was played on the Monterey Peninsula. This was a tournament primarily noted for the fact that Bobby Jones lost in the first round. The USGA also saw fit to return there for the Amateur in 1947 and again in 1961, when a lad named Jack Nicklaus won.
Like most of the country, the USGA has marveled at Pebble Beach and wondered whether the Open could ever be played there—on a course as famed for its scenic splendor as for its toughness.
There were three sound reasons why the USGA never wanted to take the risk in the past. One, it worried whether a large enough gallery could be attracted to an area basically dedicated to painting, poem writing, money counting and resting. Two, it worried about the absence of a legion of club members to do the dirty work, such as marshaling, parking, etc. Pebble Beach is a public links, although there is nothing very public about the guarded 17-Mile Drive toll road or the Del Monte Lodge. And three, the USGA wondered if the course could ever be brought into good enough condition for an Open.
To the golf establishment, the third reason was always the biggest. Because Pebble Beach, for all of its cliffs and sea and trees, is essentially a mangy layout, let's face it. At least, compared to a Merion. Ragged is what Pebble usually is. Normally, the Pebble Beach fairways are either spotty, spongy, damp, frayed or fluffy. The greens are small by modern standards and half-Poa—that word again. And during the annual Bing Crosby National Pro-Amateur every January, these things always seemed to be exaggerated by horrid weather and all of those show biz and corporate amateurs stumbling around the Poa, digging up turf.
But, as the 1972 U.S. Open nears, the USGA is confident that this is a tournament that will truly sparkle. Ticket sales have boomed, volunteers have been hustling as if their own private investments were at stake, and the course is somehow looking uniformly magnificent. Unfrayed, smooth as silk (where there's no rough) and elegant.
There are those in golf, mostly Merion, Pine Valley and Augusta National lovers, who think of Pebble Beach as a course that gained its lofty reputation on the strength of three holes, the 8th, 9th and 18th, or maybe even one hole, the 18th, that par-5 traveling along a sea wall, Carmel Bay to one side, the Lodge on the other, and always on television during the Crosby. They like to point out that the Peninsula itself is so uncommonly romantic, and the 16th at nearby Cypress Point has been photographed so often, it all gets mistaken for Pebble in terms of image. They think the founder, Samuel F. B. Morse, could have put any kind of course there and called it Pebble Beach, a distinctive enough name on its own—never to be confused with an Oak Hill, Oakmont or Oakland Hills—and instant celebrity would have resulted.
All this is perhaps true, but Pebble has always been a man-sized golf course, wind or no, and now that it has been given the USGA doctoring, manicuring and so-called Open treatment, it could develop the image of Monster West.