Pebble Beach won’t be the same

Pebble Beach won’t be the same course where Tiger Woods won the US Open in 2000. Arnold Palmer has seen to that.

Pebble Beach won’t be the same course where Tiger Woods won the last US Open played there in 2000. Arnold Palmer has seen to that.

RJ Harper, senior vice president of the Pebble Beach Company that owns a number of courses in the Monterey Peninsula area, says he has never seen 80-year-old Palmer so passionate about anything as he has been during his nine visits to the Pebble Beach to oversee the changes he and his design team have been implementing.

Harper told the San Francisco Chronicle this week that there was a gleam in ‘The King’s’ eye every time he visited the course and recalled how, during a telephone call to Palmer, he mentioned that he was knee deep in one of the many new bunkers being installed on the third fairway for the 2010 US Open.

Palmer shot back: “Knee deep? Hmmm. No. Take them all the way to your waist. I want those bunkers to be penal –
Tougher to navigate.”

Palmer, who is a part owner and sits on the board of directors of the Pebble Beach Company, has been a hands-on leader of the drive to update the spectacular and storied sea-side course.

He has moved fairways closer to the ocean, added bunkers, rebuilt greens and lengthened the course to nearly 7,100 yards for the first time with the aim of giving it more teeth for the up-coming US Open next week.

“Arnold definitely took this as a personal initiative,” Harper said. “He did this with his thumb firmly planted on every part of it (the new development), from tree removal to the redesign of the bunkers.

“He didn’t want anyone else to touch it, I don’t think,” Harper added

Palmer, still a much loved figure in golf, relied on old photos showing what the original course, opened in 1919, had looked like in order to get an idea of what its designers, Jack Neville and Douglas S. Grant, had intended.

“We tried to really maintain the historic value of the course,” Palmer has said of his work. “For me, doing that is a lot of fun.”

The biggest changes have been made at the 6th and 15th holes.

On the 6th, an uphill par-5 along Stillwater Cove, a series of five bunkers on the left side of the fairway have been added. In addition, the fairway has been moved to the right, bringing the water more into play off the tee.

On the 15th, a mostly benign par-4 along 17-Mile Drive, Palmer and his crew have added five bunkers on the left side of the fairway. They include one pot bunker placed 10 yards into the fairway, which has drawn some criticism for seeming to be out of character with the rest of the course.

Where the changes necessary?

Pebble Beach more than held its own at the last US Open there in 2000 when only Tiger Woods broke par, but since then stronger and fitter golfers and new technology have changed the game with the last two US Opens being played on layouts that stretched way beyond 7000 yards -. Torrey Pines in San Diego in 2008 was 7,643 yards and Bethpage Black in New York last year was 7,426 yards.

Ironically, multi-winner Palmer never did get to win a tournament at Pebble, his best finish there being a third place in the 1972 US Open behind Jack Nicklaus and Bruce Crampton.