In his final book, A Life Well Played: My Stories, Arnold Palmer takes stock of the many experiences in his life, bringing new details and insights to some familiar stories and sharing new ones. In this passage, Palmer, who died September 25 at 87, writes about his appreciation of Pebble Beach.
You can probably guess the golf courses that are near and dear to my heart. Bay Hill Club & Lodge and Latrobe Country Club are obviously at the top of my list, with Augusta National Golf Club following very close behind. I've already mentioned Pine Valley and The Greenbrier as places that hold some significance to me personally. Cherry Hills Country Club, where I won my U.S. Open, is very special. I didn't win at St. Andrews, but that is where my long relationship with the Open Championship and the good folks of the R&A began, and receiving my honorary degree from the University of St. Andrews in 2011 adds to that deep affection.
You can put Pebble Beach Golf Links into the same category as St. Andrews -- another gorgeous seaside golf course for which I hold great affection despite never having won a tournament there. Of course, the fact that I am one of the principal owners of Pebble Beach has something to do with this, but my appreciation for Pebble Beach long preceded my decision to invest in the iconic layout that remains a daily fee golf course, and, thus, is available to the public golfer. That makes it quite special.
The whole area of Pebble Beach is conducive to good golf and enjoying golf. That's what draws golfers there and the nongolfers who just want to experience a true natural wonder. It's safe to say that Pebble Beach Golf Links is on every golfer's bucket list.
I always considered it special, though it was an unrequited love. I competed in the Bing Crosby Clambake -- now the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am -- for more than twenty years starting in 1958, and although I played well in it and had a few great chances to win, I never quite got over the hump. I also had a chance to win the 1972 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, but an opening 77 and a closing 76 did me in, and I finished third while Jack Nicklaus went on to victory.
But to illustrate just how painfully close I was to winning, there was a particular juncture in the final round that appeared on split-screen on television. I was putting for birdie on 14 and Jack had a par putt on No. 12. If I made mine and Jack missed, I'd have taken the lead. The opposite occurred, however, and I had to settle for merely another good finish in the Open.
But if there was one incident in particular that stands out for me at Pebble Beach above all others, it's what happened in the 1967 Crosby. I came to the par-5 14th hole trailing Nicklaus by a stroke, and I was in my usual aggressive mindset, going for the green in two shots. Instead, however, I pushed my approach to the right, and the ball hit a tree and caromed out of bounds. I dropped and tried again and hit the same tree with that shot, and it went out of bounds again. Eventually, I took a nine on the hole and finished third behind Jack and Bill Casper.
A storm blew through the course that night and uprooted the tree. Some say nature tried to make it up to me. I say too late.
The group that completed the deal for Pebble Beach in 1999 -- after it had changed hands a couple of times already in the previous ten years -- included actor Clint Eastwood, former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, and airline executive Dick Ferris. The purchase also included Spyglass Hill Golf Course, The Links at Spanish Bay, and Del Monte Golf Course, plus the Lodge at Pebble Beach, the Inn at Spanish Bay, and 17-Mile Drive, which winds through Pebble Beach and nearby Del Monte Forest. I derive great enjoyment from the partnership with people I consider great friends, and it's turned out to be a good deal. In fact, I consider it one of the greatest business decisions I've ever made. It's more about the prestige of association with Pebble Beach than any capital concerns, though we still make a little money on it.
We all have our jobs when it comes to the property. Mine is making sure the golf course is up to date and up to snuff. We've already begun making preparations for the 2019 U.S. Open, which will be held during Pebble's centennial year. A major renovation of the 17th hole already is receiving many compliments. We've done a few things with the 14th green, and we've undertaken a few other tweaks here and there. To clarify: we didn't change things so much as we updated them, like giving the sand traps a more modern look and in some cases relocating them to have an impact on how the top professional golfers play the game.
I've told some people that my involvement in the acquisition of Pebble Beach was purely a business opportunity with the right people. It was a project that we had been looking at and studying for many years, so when the time was right, we were ready. The decision was a no-brainer as far as I was concerned. But there was much more to it than just business. Pebble Beach hasn't been a special place just for me. The place is full of history and tradition. We wanted to preserve these traditions and continue to enhance one of the finest golf experiences in the world.
You know, it was probably going for broke a little bit, I must say, but it was something that I felt would be a very good thing, and it has worked out wonderfully.
-- Excerpted by permission from A Life Well Played: My Stories by Arnold Palmer. Copyright (c) 2016. Published by St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes.