Pebble Beach, the storied and magnificently appointed golf course where the 100th US Open is being played through Sunday, is the best course in the world in the admiring eyes of many.
That's why the folks who run what is an unlikely public golf facility can get away with charging about $300 for a round of golf, plus cart, plus tips, plus, plus, plus.
It's outrageous. And absolutely fair.
The price charged for anything is never too high if the value is there. No place gives value like Pebble, located off 17-Mile Drive, on California's Monterey Peninsula.
Other courses have their defenders, and properly so. Nearby Cypress Point is a course of many glorious colors itself, but it is so private that most visitors are treated with somewhat less warmth than a kitchen cockroach.
Then there are the likes of elegant Pinehurst Country Club in North Carolina, scene of last year's Open, and the wild beauty of Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, N.Y. Of course, there's St. Andrews, Augusta National, and many more.
But if golf courses could talk, they'd all defer to Pebble and address it as "Sir."
The 18th hole, for example, is the best-looking finishing hole in the world, bordered on the left by the crashing surf of Carmel Bay. Indeed, the first hole is gorgeous and then everything improves dramatically.
It almost wasn't so. In 1915, the land was on the verge of being divided into small lots for homes when it was rescued at the last moment for the greater good.
But the lights-out beauty is only a backdrop. This is a course that demands a numbing variety of shots be executed precisely or else the ball is apt to find a very wet or otherwise unplayable resting place.
Most of all, the vagaries of the weather can make otherwise composed men fall to muttering. This is a course where the wind can make a par 3 hole play like a long par 5. In 1992, the last time the Open was here, high final-day winds blew the average score to more than 77 strokes. Twenty humiliated players shot in the 80s. Then there is the heavy rough and slick greens. No wonder Tom Watson says of playing the course, "It takes a lot of heart."
And it takes a lot of composure. The winner will be the one who doesn't curse the wind but who instead will calmly light a candle to lead himself safely along the rocky shores. The winner will be the one who best understands that par is a good score and that greedily pushing for birdie often will produce a double bogey.
To win obviously takes dedication. Legendary Harry Vardon suggested decades ago, "Don't play too much golf. Two rounds a day is plenty."
It would be fitting if dedicated Tiger Woods could win his first Open here - best player on best course. Nice bookends. After all, whenever Woods plays, it seems likely he'll win. In his last 25 tournaments, he has been out of the top five just twice. He has played only 10 tournaments this year, won four, finished second three more times - he leads the PGA in almost everything - and has banked about $4.1 million.
Worse for all the other competitors, Woods plays Pebble well. He thinks along with the course instead of railing against it.
Should Woods fall apart - come on, it could happen - then there are 25 or 30 others with decent chances to win. Maybe Phil Mickelson, David Duval, or Ernie Els. And it won't be nearly as much fun.
That's because the US Open at elegant Pebble Beach should be won by exquisite Tiger Woods. There will be no defending champ for the first time since Ben Hogan was in a car wreck and couldn't compete in 1949. Last year's winner, Payne Stewart, was one of six killed in a plane crash last October. His best friend on the tour, Paul Azinger, admits that "the shock of it all" makes playing on difficult.
Somehow, the beauty of Pebble makes Stewart's absence all the more poignant.
The course will be way too much for many, who probably should heed Sam Snead's advice about golf when the game is going badly: "Lay off for three weeks and then quit for good." There will be much excuse making, especially if the weather turns crabby.
But as the excuses spew forth, keep in mind the Hindu proverb: "He who cannot dance puts the blame on the floor."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society