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.
One of the things the USGA has done to Pebble Beach, which is what it feels compelled to do with any Open course, is make the tee shot tremendously important. The USGA establishes driving zones off the tee by its use of high rough and bunkering. In an Open, you drive to an island where a fairway used to be, and hit to another island where a green might be. And the islands at Pebble are, in some cases, about the size of a doughnut.
While USGA Executive Director P. J. Boatwright is more generous in this area than Joe Dey ever was, the pros nevertheless tell you that P.J. wears the striped tie and blue coat of the USGA and, rightly or wrongly, the pros don't think the USGA wants anybody to win an Open. Most of the USGA doctoring at Pebble Beach has been on the inland holes, some of which were too short and too easy for the modern pro. They've been toughened at the same time the photogenic holes have been refined, and the overall result should be a course the pros actually have never seen before, regardless of how many Crosbys they've played in.
One further element of fascination about all this is that, thanks to the energy of ABC-TV, a world unfamiliar with the glories of the course is going to get to see nearly all of Pebble Beach.
The idea to let people in on most of Pebble's splendors occurred first to a television executive as he was making a transcontinental trip. Like most people who regularly travel coast to coast, he had discovered that he had seen the movie on board, and that the man seated next to him wanted to talk about heavy-equipment moving. ABC's Chuck Howard did what anyone else would have done under the circumstances. He began poring over a TV survey map.
What Howard noticed was that Pebble Beach's configuration is uniquely suited to TV camera coverage because the holes are so closely bunched. ABC in recent years has always put 22 cameras (and three production vans) into its Open coverage, a healthy one-third more equipment than is normally used for a routine tour event. With this equipment and Pebble's layout, it was possible to show more of a course, and a tournament, than had ever been seen in this country. Howard worked out the details with the man who will direct the production, Malcolm Hemion, and what they found to be within their capabilities is a way to show every hole live except I through 4 and 9—and ABC could televise those if pressed into doing so by some journalistic necessity.
"We're excited about what we're attempting to do," says Howard, "but it wouldn't have been possible or make much sense without extended air time. Roone [Arledge] sold the concept to the network and the network sold it to the sponsors. This means we can cover more of a major championship than anyone has ever seen before."
What the network will show is a 30-minute program of taped highlights on Friday night, then 2½ hours of live action on Saturday and three hours of live action for Sunday's final round. Obviously, ABC is hoping for a championship as lively as last year's when Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus wound up in a playoff at Merion.
There is a bit of evidence that Pebble Beach might be the site of another playoff. The past 10 years reveal there is a 50-50 chance, and Open playoffs have a habit of being bunched. They came back to back in 1965 and 1966, just as they did in 1962 and 1963. One can find other occasions in the history of the Open without belaboring the subject.
Big names seem to play big roles in the Opens held out West. Ben Hogan won at Riviera that first time the Open went to the Pacific Coast. Hogan then lost to Jack Fleck at Olympic on the USGA's second trip West, and it was also at Olympic that Billy Casper caught and then defeated Arnold Palmer in '66. If Pebble encourages anything approximating this kind of fun from the big names, it will have been a memorable Open indeed.
Much of the suspense, quite naturally, will center on Jack Nicklaus and the not-so-whispered word that this represents the second leg of what could be a Grand Slam year for him. He's won the Masters; now he wants our Open, the British Open, then the PGA. What he is striving for, however, seems monumental—to have four fine putting and driving weeks, just when he needs them the most.
There is a theory that big ones are easier to win than small ones—for the big guys. Because only a few players believe themselves capable of winning them. Jack probably feels this. Still, Pebble Beach is hardly tailored for him despite the fact that he's won two Crosbys on it, and one U.S. Amateur. He can't spray a tee shot at Pebble as he can at Augusta and even he, Nicklaus, will have trouble with the rough, although with his upright swing and his strength he should have less trouble than most.
Nicklaus is clearly working harder for this Open than any he has played, and no doubt he is thinking deeper about it. He is getting closer to the point in his career when he almost has the field psyched—as Hogan once did in the Open—before play even begins. And if this happens at Pebble we'll have another case like Augusta, a case of Jack trying to beat himself.
Chances are, however, with the Open being played by an ocean for the first time ever, in an area where the weather defies prediction, something far more unusual will occur. It might happen to Nicklaus. It might not. But early on, only Jack and the exotic Pebble Beach scenery will have everybody's careful attention.