Golfing Pebble Beach

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How can frugal golfers (is there any such thing?) "swing" the outrageous green fees on the famous courses?

Most golf lovers fantasize about walking the grounds of Pebble Beach, Calif., the legendary multicourse resort where the greens sweep down to kiss the Pacific Ocean. But with fees of $395 for 18 holes--and $40 just to watch players practice for the PGA-circuit AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am--the closest most fans get to the area's glamour is Golf magazine.

The secret to swinging with the stars is to focus on the towns that share Monterey Peninsula with the tony courses: Carmel (two miles southeast), Pacific Grove (five miles north), and Monterey (eight miles northeast). You could wait years for a tee time on the marquee links, but Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Course has a view almost identical to Pebble Beach's. Its 18 holes--ranked by Zagat as one of the top-10 budget courses in America--cost just $32 during the week and $20 after 3 p.m. Have a buddy snap a photo of you at hole 17 sinking the winning putt while waves crash in the background.

Pacific Grove's Beachcomber Inn is a cheerful but simple motel beside Spanish Bay, one of the three seaside golf courses at Pebble Beach, and 300 yards from the beach--many second-floor rooms have decks overlooking the ocean. Among locals, it's best known for its Fishwife restaurant, which is consistently voted as having the best seafood in the area. Across the street, the sprawling Asilomar Conference Grounds, open since 1913 and mainly designed by the architect of Hearst Castle, rents modern standard rooms (hotel quality, private bath) for about $60 per person double; four friends can split a $160 room with four beds.

Carmel, where Clint Eastwood was once mayor and still owns a pricey inn, is good for celebrity sightings. Raise a beer at Jack London's Grill & Taproom, a golf-theme pub, and you may see Bill Murray, Kevin Costner, or other famous Pro-Am regulars who hang out there.

The next Pro-Am runs February 7 to 13, and volunteers receive access passes in exchange for at least three days of gofering (get on the waiting list at attpbgolf.com). Or follow the lead of many longtime crashers: On afternoons during the tournament, stroll the beachfront near Pebble Beach Golf Links' exits and beg for day passes from the tired spectators who leave early. The best passes read sponsor and often get you into corporate tents full of free food and cocktails.

Pebble beach

Activities

  • Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Course 77 Asilomar Blvd., Pacific Grove, 831/648-5775
  • Lodging

  • Beachcomber Inn 1996 Sunset Dr., Pacific Grove, 800/634-4769, montereypeninsulainns.com, rooms from $50
  • Asilomar 800 Asilomar Blvd., Pacific Grove, 831/642-4242, visitasilomar.com, from $60 per person double
  • Food

  • Fishwife 1996 1/2 Sunset Dr., Pacific Grove, 831/375-7107, fishwife.com, entrées from $9
  • Jack London's Grill & Taproom Dolores St. between 5th and 6th Aves., Carmel, 831/ 624-2336, beer $3.25
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