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December 10, 2008

Banned From Pebble Beach

Let’s say you happen to live near one of the most famous and beautiful golf courses in the world – a course that’s nestled along the most spectacular ocean shoreline that anyone’s ever seen.

Let’s say that you also happen to be a runner who wakes up early to do long weekend training runs, and this majestic vista provides the most perfect backdrop to a long run that you could ever imagine. And let’s say that on the other side of this golf course is one of the most scenic roads in America, one where drivers are charged $10 per car just to get past the gate and travel through paradise.

Finally, let’s say that the alternative to running across the beautiful golf course is that you have to run on a narrow, winding, heavily trafficked road where drivers are often paying more attention to the scenery than to potential hazards nearby. And if you start your run early enough, you can usually make it across the greens and off the course before the first golfers of the day have completed their first few holes.

Oh, one more thing: the golf course is kinda, sorta, technically ... private property. The question now is, would you run across it?

If your answer is yes, you’d fit right in with the Monterey Peninsula’s regular Saturday morning running group. Shortly after starting at Carmel Beach, the group cuts across the 11th fairway of the esteemed Pebble Beach golf course to avoid running on the most frequently traveled portion of 17-Mile Drive. Once you get through the course, 17-Mile Drive is very quiet, and it’s the kind of road that makes you want to run forever. Runners have been crossing the Pebble Beach links to begin their Saturday morning long run for more than 30 years.

At least, they did until a few months ago.

This summer, the Pebble Beach Company hung a sign at the access point declaring that trespassing across the course was prohibited. Of course, nobody paid the sign any attention – so shortly afterward, the PBC hired a guard to deter runners from crossing.

We took a couple jabs at the PBC at the end of a Monterey Herald column in October – and that’s when things got interesting. Last week, we devoted a whole column to the situation, trying to present both sides of the issue without appearing too biased towards our own interests. The article follows below; the only change I made here was to take out the PBC guy’s last name, in case he's concerned about increasing his Googlibility (Has anyone invented that word yet? You knew exactly what I meant, right? Can I get credit for this?).

The article generated the most e-mail we’ve ever received in response to a column - I'll leave it for you to guess whether or not the feedback was favorable. And later, after reading the article, ask yourself the question again: would you run across the course? That’s the dilemma facing Monterey runners nowadays.

Running Life 12/4/08 “Banned From Pebble Beach”

You may recall a recent column when we took some shots at the Pebble Beach Company for restricting our running club from an access point to the Pebble Beach Golf Links, even though the club had been using the route for nearly 30 years. They even went as far as stationing a guard at the crossing, which – in light of the PBC recently issuing nearly 30 layoffs – seemed quite excessive in its severity.

Needless to say, the crackdown made very little sense to us. So you can imagine our shock when, shortly after our column ran, the PBC constructed a giant fence at the crossing that says “access prohibited” in large red lettering. The guard was gone (perhaps one of the layoffs?), but the message remained clear: runners were personae non gratae around the Pebble Beach links.

That's when we shifted into attack mode. We decided to do a little bit of muckraking, and sharpen our journalistic teeth on the meat of the soulless corporate monster. It would be an investigative report to make Woodward and Bernstein proud.

It was a great plan, until we actually picked up the phone and started talking to people.

In particular, we had a long conversation with Mark [omitted], an Executive Vice President at the PBC. He’s a descendent of a legendary Monterey County general – which is mildly impressive – but more impressive was that the first thing he told us is that he’s a runner. He runs in local races and exercises with his kids, and enjoys running and hiking the roads and trails of Pebble Beach.

What was MOST impressive (to us, anyway) was that he actually reads our column – and he was aware of the Headwind razzie we gave the PBC last month. So, while we felt a little guilty about that, we were happy to have apparently found a sympathetic ear to our running club’s plight.

Then Mark started telling us the difficulties he’s dealt with from the access point just inside the Carmel gate. Golfers – many of whom travel here from all over the world, and pay several hundred dollars to play a round on the famed course – frequently encounter runners, off-road bikers, and equestrians at all hours of the day.

Most of this public traffic crosses the 11th hole fairway, sometimes as golf patrons are playing on those very same holes. Tournament play doesn’t deter some headstrong folks, either – as Mark reported that runners took to the Pebble Beach course during last month’s Callaway Tournament.

As a result, the PBC now enforces a rule that has been on its books all along: no foot traffic on the links while the course is open to golfers. Since the course opens at 7:30, and the running club departs Ocean Avenue in Carmel at 7:15, there’s no practical way for runners to cross and exit the course by 7:30.

There are also liability concerns from runners crossing the links, as they pose unexpected hazards for golfers and runners alike. The thought crossed our minds that a runner hit by a car on 17-Mile Drive could still leave the PBC potentially vulnerable to a lawsuit - but Mark disagrees with this, as standard rules of the road (sharing the roadway, staying alert from others, etc) apply within Pebble Beach borders as they would in any neighboring municipality.

As a runner, Mark appreciates our dilemma – and during our conversation, we discussed some practical suggestions for the Saturday running club. Since he’s a trail runner, his main recommendation was for runners to get off of the roads, and onto the 26 miles of public trails that crisscross Pebble Beach.

The trails are a combination of fire roads, equestrian trails, and single track, offering steep climbs and breathtaking views within a few miles of Carmel Beach. There is a trail entrance close to the intersection of Carmel Way and 17-Mile Drive, so runners can avoid the shoulderless road that leads to the Pebble Beach Lodge.

Another option is for runners to run south from Carmel instead of north. The views are still quite impressive from Scenic Drive to the Carmel River Beach area. From there, runners can head past Mission Ranch to the Mission trails, or across the river (except in high water, of course) on the trails to Monastery Beach and Point Lobos and back.

We understand that there’s no substitute for running along one of the most fabulous roads in the world, so we’re not saying that runners should stay out of Pebble Beach. Realistically, it’s only the half-mile stretch of 17-Mile Drive between Carmel Way and Live Oak Road (or the quarter mile between Carmel Way and Crespi Lane) that is especially dangerous – so if you’re cautious, there’s no reason to deny yourself the pleasure of running amidst the mansions and majestic beauty of 17-Mile Drive.

Unfortunately, crossing the golf course links at the 11th fairway will likely become a thing of the past. We don’t have to like the decision (honestly, none of us do – let’s just say we’re not revoking their Headwind award), but we should abide by it. Hopefully, the change of routine won’t detract from what is an otherwise perfect way to spend a Saturday morning.


Thomas 12/10/08, 3:30 AM  

After reading the intro, I expected a rather different article.

I expected the liability excuse to feature right on top, but Mark [omitted] seems to be a rather sensible guy fro an Executive Vice President. The runners have only got themselves to blame. If they had constricted themselves to running across the 11th fairway at 7:30 am, I don't think anyone would have really noticed. But to disrupt tournament play really is a step too far - take the runner's equivalent, none of us would be impressed if someone kept blocking the road during a road race.

I guess you guys really have to find an alternative route.

Anne 12/10/08, 6:13 AM  

Kudos for your balanced reporting on the issue. I can certainly see Mark's point and tend to agree with him. Just because you've always done something wrong doesn't make it right. And allowing runners and not others to legitly enter and exit is not fair either (nor legal).

After 9/11 San Diego erected this eyesore of a fence at a resevoir dam that prevented runners, walkers and cyclists from going fully around a very popular lake. City officials were trying to protect the water supply, but over time one of the unintended consequences were increased injuries from more traffic going in both directions on the accessible paths and more crime, specifically rapes and assaults along the more deserted parts. A compromise was reached and a new fence with an open gate replaced the prison-like one.

It likely won't work for a private club, but maybe your running group and the PBC can come up with a compromise if accessing that portion of the course is that important.

Lesser is More 12/10/08, 6:17 AM  

Seems to me that the runners are being a bit selfish in the situation. It is, and always has been a private course, so running along the course should have been met with respect for the grounds and those who pay to play there. It is likely those few who abused the PBC lax security who should be blamed, whether they be runners or off-road cyclists. You are left now with the fact that you either need to run much earlier so you can be off PBC's grounds by 7:30, or find an alternate route.

don 12/10/08, 7:43 AM  

Golfers travel all around the world in order to enjoy the unique challenges that each course represents. Even if that includes dodging runners or equestrians on one hole. Besides, it's only golf!

Spokane Al 12/10/08, 8:28 AM  

I appreciate your balanced post and also agree that the Mark seems to be a reasonable man.

To those who disagree I wonder how they would feel if the situation was reversed and every Saturday they found a group of runners taking a shortcut and creating a worn path across the middle of their yards.

Backofpack 12/10/08, 8:29 AM  

Don't you hate it when you are all girded for battle, ready to duke it out, and the other guy is calm and reasonable? I think you have to respect the fact that it is private property and that others pay to play there. If it was someone's backyard you wouldn't cut through - and really, it's the same principle. It's a bummer though.

209Mike 12/10/08, 10:39 AM  

All this won't matter when Pepple Beach falls into the Ocean. I'm not a fan of the private beach - whether it's the "stars" in Malibu or a hotel/golf course on the beach. Time for the group to go stealth mode and head out at night.

triguyjt 12/10/08, 11:03 AM  

hard to hate a guy like that exec vp dude....

Victoria 12/10/08, 3:32 PM  

Totally unrelated, but on an earlier topic-- did you see our friend and idol Malcom "Big G" has a new article in the New Yorker? And it's about teaching/teachers-- could things be any more perfect for me?

And you know, trails are more fun than roads, anyway! ;-)

Annette 12/10/08, 6:12 PM  

Wow - stirrin' it up on Pebble Beach! What a rebel you are! :) Good luck finding a new route. What a bummer!

Rainmaker 12/11/08, 5:00 AM  

Well balanced. I can certainly see both sides of the issue. It is too bad however, as that area was astounding when I drove through it last year while down there for a tri. :(

David 12/13/08, 2:08 PM  

1. Private property has its privilege.
2. Stupid abusers of said property ruined it for the innocent trespassers.
3. The sign said no "joggers." I am a runner!

I'd be crossing before 7:30 and leaving Carmel a little earlier.

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