Watching the US Open Golf Championship at Pebble Beach is only the beginning.
Let’s start with all the clichés: Golfer’s Dream Week, Trip of a Lifetime, One-of-Kind Opportunity. Then you tack on more impactful words: Pebble Beach, 17-Mile Drive, Monterey Peninsula, Laguna Seca, and of course, our friends at Lexus, and you can get somewhat of an idea of what our adventure was like at the 2019 United States Open Championship, held where Jack Nicklaus famously said: “If I had only one more round of golf, I’d play at Pebble Beach.” (For good measure, the first three days of the Championship also feature two other favorites and equally tricky Monterey Peninsula courses; The Links at Spanish Bay, and Spyglass Hill.) Golf, it would turn out, would only be one of the many activities during this trip.
I must confess, I am a golf nut. I play, watch, and play some more, enough to have my wife question my sanity, or my commitment to our free time. So, when the great folks at Lexus and UNYTD (the agency responsible for this extravaganza) asked me to join them on this trip, I had to pinch myself to make sure that the email was directed at me. Much to my happiness, it was.
As I’ve mentioned, the trip was a lot more than golf, and on a beautiful Tuesday morning in June, I found myself flying to San Francisco, where a fleet of brand new Lexus awaited us. Our destination? Cavallo Point Resort, a spectacular resort in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. This property, in the historic Fort Baker, is beautiful and scenic and was home for our first night in the Bay Area. After a fantastic dinner at Murray Circle (which may or may not have included a bit too much wine… it would become a theme for our stay,) we got some needed rest as the morning would find us driving up the coast to Half Moon Bay for a round of golf at the famous Half Moon Bay Ocean Course, where one can easily be distracted from the task at hand by such visual beauty.
One word about golf. When you are paired with a bunch of very competitive people—not to mention golfers—one needs to come ready to play. Our various level of skills made for unusual pairings, and I, for one, will not ever forget the muscular (some would say misguided) swing of one of our hosts, the inimitable Chad Harp, who doesn’t believe that a golf course cannot be beaten to submission. While our overall scores shall remain a secret, the laughter and friendships we developed over chasing that little white ball will forever stay with all my fellow travelers and me.
It was only the beginning, as we jumped back in our brand new sports cars (Lexus produce some of the most wonderful and underrated performance cars in the industry) for a drive back to Monterey. Once again, secrecy prohibits me from disclosing whether or not the speed limit was adhered to. Driving the highways of Northern California would not be our only adventure inside an automobile. Wednesday morning arrived, where we made our way to the famous WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca for an unbelievable day at their performance driving school. I was a bit nervous since I had never “tracked” a car—as racing aficionados would say—not to worry, the very professional car racing instructors would walk us through it.
After a rather simple safety briefing (keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times, keep your eyes on the road, etc.) We quickly got in the car, where my pro driver showed me how it was done. First of all, no one should drive this fast while casually chatting; the corners come at you awfully quickly. The one thing I quickly discover is that there is real science behind racing. Words like “apex” and “acceleration” become part of your adventure lexicon. After a few laps with the instructor, it was my turn to get behind the wheel. I’m not a big racing fan, and I had never really thought about driving on a track, but I must say that I was quickly converted. What fun! It’s like nothing I’d ever done before, and while I certainly didn’t drive the fastest (a couple of the guys were car guys, and it showed), I acquitted myself rather well and found myself wanting to do more. I was able to drive a couple more of the high-performance race cars; however, before too long, our time at the track came to an end. I will be back. One last thing about the Laguna Seca adventures: I took a “hot lap” with an actual race car driver, and I don’t think I’ve completely recovered. While he laughed rather ruefully at the look of fear on my face, our trusty Lexus responded in ways I never thought possible. It gave me a whole new level of respect for those doing this for a living.
This, in itself, could have been a complete and satisfying trip, but we were far from done. That afternoon, we played golf at Tehema Golf Club, where we spent some time with PGA Tour pro, Wesley Bryan, who took time from his rehab from a fairly serious shoulder injury, to give us a very practical chipping lesson (which may or may have not helped.) Tehema is owned by a very famous golf fan, who may have been waiting for someone to “go ahead and make his day.” Since we were sworn to secrecy, you may reach your own conclusion, but let’s say that the golf course is spectacular and challenging. It is not the faint of hearts.
After a thoroughly exhausting day, we found ourselves in downtown Monterey for a dinner for the ages at the Whaling Station, where (believe me) meat comes in all sizes and styles. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten (or drank) this much. After this feast, we made our way back to Pebble Beach, where we checked in at what is probably my very favorite resort, The Inn at Spanish Bay. It is an unbelievable hotel, complete with incredible ocean and sunset views, where a lone bagpiper will serenade you. This, and the fact that Jack Nicklaus was casually sipping on a drink at the firepits, was worth the trip.
As you will notice, I have not mentioned being able to watch my favorite golf tournament at my ideal golf course. Well, fear not, NOBLEMEN, Thursday and Friday would be a full-access visit to watch the best players in the world compete for this most prestigious of trophies. Pebble Beach is a dream. The smell of the ocean, the perfect views, the most famous golf course. I don’t think I was able to capture everything I wanted, but let’s say that my memories will carry on forever. Lexus was the most perfect of hosts, with a fantastic chalet on the 18th fairway, where food and drinks were abundant, and the laughter, omnipresent.
Friday was yet another unforgettable day, with a morning round at Poppy Hills Golf Course, for more golf shenanigans.
After the round, we found ourselves back at Pebble for more viewing, then dinner at PortaBella in Carmel, where, you guessed it, fabulous food and wine were the stars, and we, the willing participants. Saturday came rather quickly, and as I made my way to the Monterey Airport, still filled with excitement, it dawned on me that this incredible adventure was ending. It is a trip I’ll never forget. Newfound friendships, the discovery of a new favorite hobby (more track time please!), and witnessing the US Open in person. Who said that the life of a journalist is mundane? Not this one.
Photos: Michael Troutman (unless otherwise noted)