A short but tall task
Inside one of the most famous par 3s in golf — the seventh hole at Pebble Beach
February 08, 2016
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
Inside one of the most famous par 3s in golf — the seventh hole at Pebble Beach
In the first three rounds, a sand wedge was usually enough club.
The weather went from benign to brutal on the final day of the 1992 U.S. Open, though. Winds howling off the Pacific Ocean were clocked in the 40-mph range, and that seventh hole, a wisp of a par-3, was clearly in Mother Nature's cross-hairs.
The tee is elevated, with the tiny green a mere 106 yards in the distance, completely exposed to the elements on that ragged bluff of land. The putting surface, which is just over 20 yards deep, is well-guarded by bunkers as waves crash against the rocks below to heighten the drama.
Noted golf course architect Pete Dye once said he likely would have missed the hole if he'd been walking the stunning property hugging Stillwater Cove before the routing was done. Jack Nicklaus, the game's greatest player turned accomplished designer, told Golf Digest he probably would have done the same thing "because it wouldn't look like there's room enough for a hole."
On that Sunday at Pebble Beach, though, the seventh hole, the shortest on the PGA TOUR, certainly commanded plenty of attention. The key was to find a club that would stay low and bore through that wall of wind, hopefully finding the green and not the rocks or the water, in the process.
Tom Kite, who honed his game in Texas, chose a 6-iron. His ball landed in the left rough -- only two players in the final 10 groups hit the green -- but he managed to hole a lob wedge for one of just five birdies made there that Sunday.
"I was almost in shock when it went in, and my initial reaction was to jump up and down," Kite was quoted as saying at the time. "The reality was I had so many more big shots left, but it got everything started."
Indeed. Kite, who started the day one stroke behind Gil Morgan, would go on to win his only major that afternoon. He shot 72 to beat Jeff Sluman by two on a day when only four players broke par -- and the scoring average was a whopping 77.27.
Legend has it that Sam Snead once putted down the hill at the seventh hole to outsmart the wind during the star-studded event once hosted by crooner Bing Crosby. No word on whether Snead used a conventional, croquet-style or sidesaddle stroke.
At the same time, there have been 16 aces at the seventh hole. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback John Brodie made the first while playing as an amateur in 1959. TOUR player Mike Heinen made the most recent in 2003. Former UCLA golf coach Eddie Merrins needed a 3-iron for his 1965 hole-in-one so you can imagine the conditions.
Fortunately, though, completely over-the-top days like that Sunday in 1992 are the exception and not the rule at Pebble Beach. And the seventh hole is one of the most photographed in the world, one that Ben Crane calls "arguably the greatest little hole in golf."
"The view is a little distracting, right?" he said with a smile. Guess that's why so many men -- including actor John O'Hurley -- have chosen the seventh hole for marriage proposals. CBS announcer Jim Nantz was even married at the hole.
"It's amazing how you can stand up on a sand wedge par-3 with no wind and be nervous," Johnson Wagner said. "You're kind of in awe of the situation of where you are."
Not everyone was a fan of the seventh hole, though.
In 1920, a year after the soon-to-be renowned course opened, W. Herbert Fowler, a British cricketeer and golf course architect, tried to convince Pebble Beach developer Samuel Finey Brown Morse to get rid of the little par 3. He saw the hole as scenic but not worthy of a championship layout.
Luckily, Morse did not listen -- although he did commission Fowler, who designed Walton Heath in Surrey, England, to change the 18th hole from a par 4 to the spectacular par 5 that has produced so many great champions.
One of the things former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy likes most about the seventh hole is its versatility. An 18-handicapper can enjoy it as much as the TOUR pros who gather annually on the Monterey Peninsula for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
"And look where it is," he said. "I mean, you've got ocean behind and to the right and back, all in the side of it. It's just an unbelievable setting, a really cool hole. You can see the clubhouse from there and you can see along into Carmel and it's just one of the most beautiful places in the world.
"If it was 180 yards or even 200 yards like modern holes it probably wouldn't get talked about as much. But because it's so short, it's hard because it's so hard to hit a shot that soft. We're not used to hitting half 60-degree shots and then one day it blows and you hit a 6-iron in there. It just drives you crazy. It just ticks every box for a par 3, really."
Ogilvy will be the first to tell you that he has never encountered the full brunt of Mother Nature's wrath at No. 7. But he does remember chipping an 8-iron to the green several years ago when the tournament was halted by a wind delay.
"I've heard some crazy clubs, people hit 5-irons and stuff but I've never done that," the Aussie said. "I think I've gone about an 8 which is pretty amazing because I would hit 8-iron down the hill like that probably 180 something -- so it played 70 yards longer than it measured sometimes for me."
Jimmy Walker, who won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 2014, has never had that kind of day, either, but "I know it's coming," he says with a chuckle. He's played in the tournament eight times and interestingly has only birdied the hole twice, one of which came last year.
"It felt like, man, I finally made a birdie there," Walker said. "It felt like I'd been on a dry spell there."
Brandt Snedeker, who defends a title at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this week for the second time in his career, has seen No. 7 at its worst. He remembers hitting a 4-iron straight into the wind and rain "as low and has hard as I can" and barely making the green.
Snedeker is also quick to smile and tell you he two-putted for par and "went along my happy little way to the next green."
"Until you've hit Pebble on a day like that you don't realize how wonderfully designed and how awesome that one little par-3 can be," Snedeker said. "...You catch it on a bad day and it's like, oh my God, this might be the hardest hole on the golf course. You can literally get a ball turn a yard either way in the wind and it be in the ocean.
"It's funny, the guys who win there seem to play that hole pretty well during the course of the week; they make some birdies there and kind of get stuff going. It's definitely a hole you can take advantage of but when the wind gets blowing, it's one of the most treacherous you'll ever want to see."
Jason Gore, a native Californian, tells people playing Pebble Beach for the first time that they really need to do it twice -- "once to get the 'oh-wow' factor out and then once to actually enjoy the golf course." The seventh hole is one he's always liked, even when he was pressed to hit a "little, chippy 5-iron" when the wind blew in from the right during his victory in the 1997 California Amateur Championship.
"I think it's the greatest par-3 in the world," Gore said. "It doesn't matter if it's perfect or if it's blowing. It's awesome. I just think most par 3s have gotten so long. They're all 2-, 3-, 4-irons and I just think you can have a great hole and it still be 93 yards or whatever it is, especially when the green gets firm."
You can also count Marc Leishman among the fans of short par 3s like the seventh hole. He likes the variety and the challenge, particularly in a setting where the weather can have such an impact.
"I think it's something designers should take maybe more into consideration when they're building new courses," the Aussie said. "A par 3 doesn't have to be 220 yards long with four different sections and all that to be a good hole. Most of the great ones are short -- that one, the 12th at Augusta, the Postage Stamp are just the first few that come into my mind.
"The setting is great. Maybe if it was in the middle of nowhere it wouldn't be as good a hole. But yeah, I love it."
Another good thing about the seventh hole besides the obvious scenic beauty? It's not like a designer could come in and "ruin it by adding too much length," Bill Haas said, only partly joking.
"I think if you polled them 90 percent of TOUR pros are going to say they need to shorten all their par 3s and make the greens smaller and make them more fun," Haas continued. "Because they should be birdie holes and when you make them 220 yards, they're not birdie holes. I prefer the shorter par 3s. All the great par 3s are all under 170 yards -- that would be the longest one."
Stewart Cink thinks the history of the seventh hole, as well as its beauty, sometimes makes it hard to focus on what can be a taxing tee shot. He's willing to bet the TOUR average from 106 yards would be a lot better than the average on that hole in terms of proximity to the pin.
"It's similar to the island green at (TPC) Sawgrass, which has its own challenges, but it's also kind of hard to focus on because there's other things drawing your attention," he said. "And the 12th hole at Augusta. They're different holes but they all have that same similar quality of iconic beauty and iconic history that makes it hard to focus."