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 across the access point 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.

The two of us 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 Stilwell, an Executive Vice President at the PBC. He’s a descendent of the famed General Stilwell – 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 on 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 for other users, 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 most of the shoulderless road that leads to the Pebble Beach Lodge.

Obviously, if you run the trails, you’ll need a map. Mark provided some at the Carmel gate for runners to pick up upon request, and he mailed us a stack of maps – so if you’d like a map, send us an e-mail and we’ll get one to you.

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, neither 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.

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