By R. Alan Richardson
Pebble Beach Golf Links is an American icon. Listed by Golf Digest as the number one public course in America its stunning beauty and storied history make it a bucket list destination for golfers and non-golfers alike. Located on the Monterrey Peninsula two hours south of San Francisco, it is a piece of real estate like no other you will ever see. Everywhere you turn is a post-card view. According to all accounts it is like the Grand Canyon – one must see it to fully appreciate it.
And last month a guy I happen to know, Alvin Richardson, played it – on his birthday.
By his own admission Richardson is an average golfer but loves the game. “I wish I’d started playing earlier in life and been taught the fundamentals, but I just kind of took it up after college and have never been very good,” he said. Continuing Richardson noted, “I’ve always loved to compete and of course there comes a time when stuff like baseball and basketball aren’t really compatible with getting older so golf kind of took that place for me.”
Richardson also mentioned another facet of golf that he enjoys. “I love the look, feel and smell of the grass,” he said. “I think that cutting all those football fields made me appreciate how much work it takes to get a golf course into prime condition and keeping it like that,” he added.
As for the Pebble Beach trip Richardson gives all the credit to an old college baseball teammate. “Phil Stein has been a dear friend of mine since 1975 when we were in college. He has been a commercial pilot for the past three decades and we’ve always tried to find time to do things together but for the past ten years we’d neglected to get together,” lamented Richardson. “But this past June he called and asked me if I wanted to go play Pebble Beach and I was stunned.” Richardson continued, “But not so stunned that I couldn’t say yes very quickly.”
So in late July Richardson flew to Houston where his buddy lives and from there they flew to San Jose and then drove to the Monterrey Peninsula. “Laura (Alvin’s wife) and I took our kids to Pebble in 2000 as part of a vacation. We had tickets to the U.S. Open there and got to walk the course when Tiger Woods demolished the field, so we’d seen it,” he said. “But never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d get to actually play it.”
The pair of friends started out their dream trip with a warm-up round at The Links at Spanish Bay, a course on the Pebble Beach property and according to Richardson a beautiful layout. “Spanish Bay is kind of a links style course that winds along close to the ocean.” Richardson added, “A lot of the holes are close to the water and the wind was pretty strong that day. I shot an 86 there which is about normal for me but it really helped to settle my nerves because all I could think about was teeing it up at Pebble Beach the next morning. I can honestly say that up to that point I was pretty nervous and I’m not a nervous guy,” Richardson noted.
And then the big day came. It was July 24th and Richardson’s 64th birthday. “We didn’t plan it like that it just worked out that way,” he said. “The weather was gorgeous, about 60 degrees, when we teed off with a pretty good wind. I had told numerous people a couple of things before I left. First and foremost I did not, under any circumstances, want to top one off the first tee and I guarantee you that I was concentrating on that first shot. Secondly my goal was to just break 90. Little did I know that the Good Lord was going to smile on me and give me a big dose of birthday boy luck.”
Richardson’s play by play went something like this, “It was a miracle but that first tee shot went right down the middle, my second shot found the green and I made a par. I was just thankful that I’d be able to say I made at least one par at Pebble because I wasn’t sure if I’d make another one or not.”
Richardson’s play by play continued. “I made another par on number two (a par five) and all of a sudden it was fun.” I wound up shooting 41 on the front nine (five over par) and was tickled to death. Little did I know that my ‘birthday boy luck’ was just getting warmed up and the best was yet to come.”
“The back nine is just a spectacular set of holes that I’d come to know by watching TV. Sometimes it was hard to concentrate on golf just because your eyes kept wandering back to the magnificent views, “Richardson said. “Nonetheless I could do no wrong. My caddy, Finn, read every putt right and the birthday boy kept pouring them right in there. By the time we reached the iconic 17th hole I was two over par which was, in my eyes, an absolute miracle.”
On number 17 Richardson was blessed with another miracle. “We got to the tee box and had to wait a few minutes to let the green clear. It’s an hour glass shaped green and the pin was back left, the toughest pin placement. We were playing from the white tees (for the old men) but it was still a 175 yard shot. I was up first and the birthday boy was still riding a hot streak. I hit a heat-seeking missile about 15 feet left of the pin and promptly drained it for a birdie. I will never forget that shot if I live to be 100 years old,” Richardson beamed.
That put the old man at one over par for the back nine but he suffered a bogey on number 18. “I hit it in the sand off the tee and played a nice 5 iron over the cypress tree in the fairway, came up short of the green and chipped to about 12 feet. I finally missed a putt but it couldn’t take the shine off that glorious day,” Richardson noted.
So our boy wound up shooting a 41 on the front and a 38 on the back to finish up with 79 strokes and a birthday present fit for a king. Richardson finished his story up when he said, “No one who loves golf should miss Pebble Beach. It is the most beautiful walk on earth.”