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Pebble Beach proves hard to improve upon

Well, we know the holes, and the historic moments where they took place

Well, we know the holes, and the historic moments where they took place. And we're well aware of the bone-chilling coastal morning fog, the howling winds, and the hellish poa annua greens in the late afternoons. Five times before, the U.S. Open has been held at Pebble Beach, and practically each of them is indelibly intertwined with some of the great shots and events in golf history.

So, what is it that makes this year's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach so compelling, so special, so anticipated?   

"The setting is pretty much the same," admits John Bodenhamer, executive director of USGA
Championships. "But we're endeavoring this to be the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach as it always has been — I mean if you look at the film from everywhere back to 1972, '82, '92, 2000, and 2010, it's gonna look eerily the same. In fact, the fairway widths are identical to 2010."

Granted, Pebble is one of the most breathtaking settings on the planet, the site of 12 previous USGA championships. But perhaps this time it's the storylines going in that (for the moment) set this one apart.  

"It is important to the guys where they win a major," says Bodenhamer. "And to win a major here, and to add your name to that list of champions is something pretty special."  

This year, Brooks Koepka attempts a U.S. Open three-peat. No longer the Rodney Dangerfield of big-time golf, he's ranked No. 1 in the world, his game is in great shape, and he very well could pull it off.  

Then there's Phil Mickelson, who's won at Pebble Beach five times, including in February. He even won the 1998 AT&T in August, when inclement weather in February forced the final round to be pushed back six months. This could be Mickelson's last great shot at the career Grand Slam, and would be one of the game's most popular victories — right up with Tiger Woods' win in April at the Masters.

Woods is also a viable contender, another multiple Pebble winner whose 12-shot victory in 2000 punctuated his early dominance in the game. Behind Koepka and the two popular aging foils is a long list of other possible winners.

But beyond the storylines, there is a special marriage and bond with the USGA and the Pebble Beach Co. that only adds to the mystique.


"It's a national treasure" said Mike Davis, USGA chief executive.

Said Pebble Beach Co. CEO Bill Perocchi: "It's exciting to see what happens as our little property turns into a city."

Perocchi says the championship is supported by 1,800 Pebble Beach employees, as well as some 800 temporary hires and 5,000 volunteers. The impact to the local economy is nearly $175 million.

To be fair, some things have changed at Pebble Beach since the 2010 U.S. Open. There are now renovated greens on the ninth, 13th, 14th, and 17th holes. They were historically restored using photos to emulate what they looked like years ago.  

"We've moved the fairway on number 11 a little bit to the left of where it was in 2010, and we've got a new tee on number nine," Bodenhamer said. "It's a little bit longer hole, the guys are gonna hit drivers, which we think is a good thing. The way that hole was intended to be played will be played."

Pebble Beach was the first public course to host a U.S. Open in 1972, and according to Perocchi, "one of the company's core values is to always improve, to always get better."  

To that end, Pebble Beach has added a major-league practice facility, a new visitor center, the new Fairway One guest structure, and significantly enhanced fan experiences including technology and apps connecting both attending spectators and fans around the world via
digital media.

For those who relish old-school, it's still juicy rough, tiny greens and volatile weather in one of the most beautiful settings on earth. It's simply another preciously rare U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and that's what makes it all so special. 

Barry Salberg, based in the San Francisco Bay area, has written about golf for over two decades. As a freelancer, his work has appeared in virtually every major golf publication, including Golf Digest, Golf Magazine, Golfweek, Golf for Women, Links, the USGA's Golf Journal, and the NorCal Golf Association's NCGA Golf.
Twitter: @BarrySalberg