At first glance, the pairing of Del Monte Golf Course and the California State Net Amateur Championship seems natural a shorter, classic golf course and a handicap tournament. But for golfers who know better, “Old D” has plenty of bite, and playing to one’s handicap is an achievement.
The par-72, 6,357-yard course opened in 1897 and was designed by Englishman Charles Maud as an activity for guests of the original Hotel Del Monte, now the Naval Postgraduate School. The land for the golf course was rented from Monterey Peninsula land baron David Jacks (and eventually acquired by Pebble Beach doyen Samuel Morse in the 1930s) and was located a few miles from the hotel. With more than 100 years under its belt, Del Monte is the oldest course in continuous operation west of the Mississippi. The course joins Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, and Spanish Bay in the quartet owned by the Pebble Beach Company.
There have been only two major changes to the course in its 100 plus years. In 1920, Herbert Fowler re-routed the course adding bunkers and extending tees to take the course over the 6,000- yard mark. “Most of what is Del Monte is Fowler,” said Pebble Beach Company historian Neil Hotelling. (Fowler would return to the Peninsula in 1921 and leave his mark at Pebble Beach, extending the 18th hole from a par 4 to a par 5.) Highway 1 construction necessitated the other change with Del Monte’s final routing debuting in 1971.
Soon after its opening, the Pacific Coast Golf Association selected Del Monte for its championship. In 1909, the Del Monte Championship was created to identify the finest golfer in the state. Three years later, this championship became the California State Amateur with Pebble Beach co-designer Jack Neville winning the inaugural state title. The course’s championship legacy would grow through its hosting of the 1916 Western Amateur, and is maintained today by serving as one of the sites along with Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill of the annual Callaway Pebble Beach Invitational each November that includes players from the PGA, LPGA and Champions Tours.
The State Amateur continued to be played at Del Monte until 1920. Morse wanted the tournament to switch to Pebble Beach in 1919 soon after its opening, but California Golf Association officials deemed it not ready. By the following year, however, the championship moved to its current home at Pebble Beach. Del Monte’s history is intrinsically entwined with the State Amateur as the course has been involved in one way or another with seemingly every championship
Competitors at the 95th annual Net Amateur will discover a demanding track that in many ways mirrors the challenges of nearby sister course Pebble Beach. Very small greens and tight fairways emphasizing tee-shot placement, rather than length, push a golfer to be accurate and creative to score well.
The challenges the golfer faces are nowhere more apparent than on the second hole, a 328-yard par four. The drive must be a slight draw of no more than 225 yards. Any tee shot significantly shorter will leave the golfer blocked from the green any shot too long will find a bunker. The approach is played to a small, highly-sloped green where long is dead and short probably means the third shot will be from a bunker with very little green to work with. As with most greens on the course, the severe back-to-front slope makes two putting a challenge.
“Distance control determines the better golfer at Del Monte,” said head professional Neil Allen. “Get above the hole and you’ll be chipping or putting downhill, which is treacherous.”
Many of the short par 4s at Del Monte (there are five less than 350 yards) follow this same paradigm: controlled tee shot that must be accurately placed followed by an approach to a highly contoured and tiny green. The sensibility these holes evoke is reminiscent of the 1st, 3rd, or 11th at Pebble Beach all shorter par 4s that demand the same precision as Del Monte.
As Nick Watney’s course-record 61 at the 2005 Callaway Pebble Beach Invitational suggests, the course can be had by a long-hitting player willing to take risks. But failure comes with a steep penalty. The 15th, a tree-lined par 4 of only 330 yards is a prime example. Many professionals can drive this green but an eagle putt does not guarantee success. “I’ve seen more people make 6s there,” Allen said. “John Daly can drive it but I’m not sure he ever made birdie.” Watney’s record broke a 51-year-old record, a 62 by Ken Venturi when he was a soldier stationed at nearby Fort Ord.
While tournament play is well documented, almost as important are the legions of public players who take on the course daily (roughly 44,000 rounds per year). The green fees range from $100 to a twilight rate of $25. One of the best deals on the Peninsula is available to members of the Duke’s Club at Del Monte. For the $250 membership fee, a golfer will pay discounted green fees ($37-$53) and reduced rates at Spyglass Hill and Spanish Bay.
Del Monte’s rich history has stood the test of time for 109 years. And like an old shoe, the comfortable fit of the course appeals to all golfers. The course exists as a living museum and tribute to California golf history hence no alterations are planned. “Why change what has been so much fun and tests every part of your game?” Allen asks.
Samuel Morse, in his unpublished memoirs, perhaps summarized the course’s appeal best when he wrote Del Monte “was the forerunner of the magnificent courses which have made the Monterey Peninsula the greatest golfing area in America, if not in the world.”