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A Drive through Paradise

The 17 mile drive is perhaps one of the most beautiful and picturesque drives in the world, as it wends through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula in California. There are several iconic golf courses on this drive including the Pebble Beach Links golf course. Join Rachna Singh as she takes the reader on a tour of the gorgeous Pacific coastline and a round of spectacular golf on the hallowed grounds. 

I landed in San Francisco one muggy July evening. The Airport looked like any other airport in the world, creaking at the seams with the chaotic humanity spewing out of its doors. I must admit I was a little disappointed. My children were waiting eagerly to receive me at the gates. They looked at me expectantly, perhaps hoping for a thumbs up for the country they had adopted, as thinking adults. They looked a little woebegone when I said nothing. Then they simply exchanged a quick glance and smiled as though they had an ace up their sleeves. I was too jet lagged to shake the secret out of them. But a few days later when I had shrugged off my jet lag, they bundled me up in their car with a packet of sandwiches and a flask of my favourite brew. “Sit tight!! We are going on the ride of your life.” I was a little nonplussed. My repeated entreaties for some clue to our destination were met with secret smiles. The landscape slowly changed, as we drove at a fast clip. From urban concrete we slipped into small towns that dripped an old-world charm, Santa Cruz, San Jose, Santa Clara. The scenery was a bit like a National Geo video. Rolling hills, shimmering gold under the sparkling sun or shrouded and straddled by a will-o’-the-wisp mist. A sudden tantalising glimpse of the beautiful turquoise blue of the Pacific Ocean with yachts and boats bobbing on its azure surface. Orchards of ripe, juicy fruits ready for the picking: cherries, peaches, plums, strawberries, nectarines, blueberries, blackberries. The children hid their smiles at my spontaneous exclamations of joy and whoops of delight. “Relax Ma. You ain’t seen nothing yet.” I smiled, thinking to myself “It couldn’t get better than this.” But the children were right. It did. And how!!

By now we were driving through what looked like an exclusive residential area. We paid tickets for entry into what was called the 17 Mile drive. There were beautiful sprawling houses overlooking the splendour of the ocean, some sitting atop gentle slopes, some nestled on cliffsides, some offering a grandstand view of the Del Monte Forest and some offering a panoramic view of the innumerable Golf courses dotting the area. “That’s Clint Eastwood’s house. That’s where Salvador Dali lived.”  John Steinbeck. Jimi Hendrix. Joan Baez. Doris Day. Claes Oldenburg. Steve Jobs. Jack Kerouac. The names came thick and fast as I looked on like a celebrity-struck-fan-turned-goldfish, mouth agape, jaw dropping in wonder. “Hold on to your jaw Ma,” the children sniggered. “There’s more to come.” More? I shrugged sceptically. “Oh yes!!!” they chorused.

We drove past the Shepard’s Knoll and the Huckleberry Hill, which offered breath-taking views of the Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz and headed to what was called Point Joe. The sea was restless here, with waves crashing on the jagged rocks noisily. The sound of an angry ocean, hurling itself at the craggy rocks, while seagulls screamed their encouragement, brought alive the shipwrecks witnessed by the shore, as blissfully ignorant sailors were beguiled by the beautiful, seemingly clean shoreline into thinking that they had reached the mouth of Monterey Bay. The story goes that in the early 1900s, a man named Joe lived in a driftwood hut on the shore, selling trinkets to visitors and tending goats, which is how this point was named Point Joe. We then headed for the Bird rock. As the name suggests it is a rock covered completely by birds, pelicans, cormorants, and seagulls. This was the first time ever I had seen so many birds perched silently, staring meditatively into the water of the ocean. There were some ungainly sea lions draped at one end of the rock, their plump proportions gleaming bright. Their occasional bleat added to the din created by the strong breeze and the jostling waves. The only snake in this Eden was the overwhelming stench of bird guano.

Our next stop was the Fanshell beach. The pristine white beach took our breath away. We happily walked barefoot on the silky-soft sand, clambered the rocks that offered a bird’s eye view of the ocean, played peek-a-boo with the waves that gently lapped at our toes and enjoyed running after the seagulls watching us intently, ready to pounce at any scraps to eat that we might proffer.  We then headed for the Lone Cypress. Oh Yes!!! That’s what it is called.  Lashed by the buffeting Ocean breeze, smothered in Ocean mist, this cypress tree obstinately clings to its precarious pedestal of rock, indifferent to the vagaries of nature, a spectacular mix of resilience and individuality. It teaches you a thing or two about endurance and survival. A lesson no ‘guru’ or book on the subject can teach with the same ease. Faced with this 250-year-old example of lonely magnificence, we became a little serious, a little philosophical and even a tad melancholy.

Breaking the ponderous silence, the children chimed in, “now you can strike this off your bucket list.” My bucket-list?  My philosophical ruminations came to an abrupt halt. I started running through my bucket list mentally, my gaze a little unfocussed. I heard the intake of a sharp breath and looked up. On my left was a picturesque fairway, strewn with cypress trees, white sand bunkers and rolling sand dunes. I gazed spell bound. On my right was a tee box atop a cliff, that overlooked the Pacific shoreline. What golf course is this? I almost stammered, overawed by the beauty of the place. “This is the Links at Spanish Bay course. There are six other well-known golf courses in this area, all in and around the 17 Mile Drive,” the children informed. Um! I swallowed my disappointment. “That’s not on my bucket list,” I said under my breath. The children either didn’t hear me or ignored my mutter. By now, the car had taken a bend and entered an arched gate, which read ‘Pebble Beach.’ My brain was still processing the information, when the children parked the car and turned around looking at me expectantly. “Guess where, “they said smiling. The Pebble Beach Golf Links course?”, I questioned timorously, wondering if my desire to visit the World’s best golf course had conjured it up. “Yes!!”, the children smiled, the beatific self-congratulatory smile of a Santa Claus who knows, he has handed you a cherished and most coveted toy.

Over the years I had watched several PGA Tours played in this Golf mecca. I had watched Tiger Woods win the 2005 PGA tournament here. Phil Mickelson won the Pro- Am PGA tour in 2019. Tom Hoge won the AT & T Pro Am Tournament in Feb 2022. And I was on this hallowed ground!!! This legendary 18-hole public course was not only beautiful but also very challenging. The next few hours were the most thrilling of our lives as we happily ambled through the course, our attention more on the scenic beauty than on the game of golf. The 9th hole with its green sloping into the Carmel beach and the 10th hole with its green on the edge of a cliff was awesome (I normally cringe to use the word that has become a part of the Gen Z popular parlance but there seems no adjective more suited to describe the beauty of this course). I watched with my heart in my mouth as I saw my ball rolling down towards the ocean on the green of Hole 13 but even as I looked, my eyes were rivetted by the beauty of the shoreline. The iconic hour-glass figure of a par 3, 17th hole was fabulous. The traditional Sunday US open hole location of the pin on this hole is back left, where Jack Nicklaus hit the flag with a 1-iron and Tom Watson gently chipped in. The green of the 18th hole has a bunker flanking it and the expanse of the ocean on the left. I enjoyed the beauty of the waves gently lapping against the rocky shore even as I waited for my fellow gofers to finish putting. My bucket list game done, as we walked towards The Lodge (Clubhouse) that overlooked the 18th hole for a much-needed hot brew and some snacks, I could not help but pump my fist in glee.

To round up this gorgeous day, we settled into our chairs on the Upper Terrace of The Lodge, warmed by a fire, and happily tucked into a sinful chicken sandwich, clam chowder and hot buttered rum. Before we left for good, I went to the pro shop to pick up a marker and a hat. And guess what image was embedded on the marker and the hat? Yes!! You guessed it right. It was the Lone Cypress.

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A doctorate in English literature and a former bureaucrat, Rachna Singh has authored Penny Panache (2016) Myriad Musings (2016) Financial Felicity (2017) & The Bitcoin Saga: A Mixed Montage (2019). She writes regularly for National Dailies and has also been reviewing books for the The Tribune for more than a decade. She runs a YouTube Channel, Kuch Tum Kaho Kuch Hum Kahein, which brings to the viewers poetry of established poets of Hindi & Urdu. She loves music and is learning to play the piano.