The Deer Don’t Have to Pay a $275,000 Membership Fee to Play at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club on the 17 Mile Drive

This ‘lone cypress’ is almost synonymous with the 17 Mile Drive and serves as the logo for the Pebble Beach Resort. I am pretty sure that it is the most photographed cypress in the world and it is certainly the most cared for.Check out the rock-work.  The tree probably has its own arborist.


Monterey and Carmel take me back in time, back to the 60s and 70s, back to when the world somehow seemed more promising— it was, after all, the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius. I used to drive down to Monterey humming the tune in my Volkswagen Camper, Van-Go, and free camp at a surfer beach just south of Carmel. The surfers are still there riding the waves, but the free camping has long since disappeared, a victim of the times. The welcome sign has been taken down. The hospitality industry prefers that tourists pay for their lodging and the locals prefer that their visitors drive Mercedes.

I considered myself lucky that I could still find a campsite for $32 a night last week when I visited California’s Central Coast. Maybe that’s because the water was unpotable at the Laguna Seca Campground. I noticed the signs after a couple of days of happily drinking away. Turns out the water is laced with arsenic. (If I seem a little strange… But, hey, how would you know the difference?)

The Laguna Seca Campground is located up in the hills here, hidden away among the trees.

While green grass was still growing in the valley, it had turned a ‘California gold’ next to my campsite.

I liked the trees. Our grandkids would have been all over this one.

The campground is operated by Monterey County and nestles on top of the beautiful coastal hills that surround Monterey-Carmel. If you are a car racing fan, you will recognize the park as home to the Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway. I stayed there until I had to vacate the premises. People had signed up to pay $120 per night for my $32 site. It provided an excellent view of the raceway and the Ferraris were coming to town for the Ferrari Challenge.  I watched as 18-wheelers rolled in carrying their precious cargos.

The Ferrari Challenge was the first major race of the season. Crews were out preparing the track.

This site of the track was about 50 feet away from my camp. You can see why it was prime territory.

All of the 18 wheelers you can see in this photo were carrying Ferrari race cars. There was close to a parade of them going by my camp the morning I had to leave.

I don’t know what a Ferrari race car costs, but you can pick up a classic Ferrari 250 GTO for the tidy sum of $57 million. It’s a bit out of my price range— and my imagination. Somehow, I can’t picture myself running down to the store to pick up a carton of milk in one.

Laguna Seca is about 7 miles outside of Monterey on Highway 68, the road that connects Monterrey with Salinas. It’s hard to imagine two more different worlds. Salinas is prime agricultural land and the one-time home of John Steinbeck. (Be sure to visit the Steinbeck museum if you are in the area.) As I drove through, migrant workers were busily harvesting crops, probably hoping to get though before ICE agents showed up to arrest them. I suspect the farmers were even more eager for the workers to finish their job. If the price of your veggies skyrocket this summer, you’ll know what happened.

A trip along the 17 Mile Drive,  which runs along Monterey Bay and connects Monterey with Carmel, provides an excellent example of how the other half, or make that the one percent of the one percent, live. There are folks here who live in mansions perched on the ocean’s edge who can afford to go out and buy one of those Ferrari 250 GTOs— and pay cash.

The 17 Mile Drive is golfer heaven. Think Pebble Beach. Or, if you go back far enough in time, the Bing Crosby Pro/Am Golf Championship. Today it is known as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro/Am. There are several golf courses in the area. If you are an avid golfer, you can purchase an inexpensive golf club membership for $18,000 plus a couple of hundred a month in dues. If that doesn’t strike you as inexpensive, you may want to compare it with a membership at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club for $275,000 with $1045 in monthly dues. Of course, membership is by “invitation only.” How else are you going to keep out the riffraff?

The Bird Rock Hunt Course, #9 on the map below, was once used for equestrian hunt and steeplechase competitions. In the 1920s it did double duty for riding and saber practice for the US 11th Calvary. Now it serves as the Shore Course for the Monterey Peninsula Country Club. Here, deer and golfers share the course.

A green on the Shore Course just below the small grassy hill has its hole marked by a flag. The cypress on the granite rock behind the green adds beauty to the course. The fog adds mystery. Numerous sand traps come with the territory at the golf courses along the 17 Mile Drive.

This cypress was also on the course, just off the road.

A happy, obviously well-fed buck, whose antlers are still in velvet, munches down grass on the course. He is welcome to eat all of the grass he wants and is not required to pay the course’s $275,000 initiation fee,

I’m having a bit of fun here; my apologies to golfing fans. I’m not one. In fact, the only C I ever got in PE was for golf. I was not happy. I’ve held it against the sport ever since. Peggy did much better. In fact, she was goofing around at Mary Baldwin College (or was that golfing a round) and hit a hole in one. The golfing coach happened to witness the event and immediately recruited her for the college team.

I have watched my share of golf matches on TV, however. It turns out that father-in-law number one and father-in-law number two both loved the sport. Bonding included many an hour of listening to the announcer whisper in awe at the difficulty of a particular tee shot. Exciting stuff. I classified my TV golf time as part of my marriage vows under ‘and other duties as required.’

If I were a golfer, or even if I just watched golf on TV for fun, the 17 Mile Drive is an incredibly beautiful location for the sport. The brochure for the route is justifiable in declaring it “one of the most famous scenic drives in the world.” Since the area is privately owned by the Pebble Beach Resort, you will pay a $10 per vehicle fee to visit, but it is definitely worth it. The resort is owned, btw, by an investor group headed by Clint Eastwood, Arnold Palmer, and Peter Ueberroth. They bought it from a Japanese company, possibly in a fit of patriotism.

Clint, you may recall, was mayor of Carmel in the mid-80s. He also owned a pub/restaurant in the town known as the Hog’s Breath Inn.  Being a fan of his spaghetti westerns, I ate there once in the early 70s shortly after it opened. Eastwood wasn’t happy. Apparently I resembled riffraff. He walked over to my table, pulled out his .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 29 and said “Are you feeling lucky, punk?” Just kidding. Eastwood was off making a Dirty Harry movie and we were more than welcome at the restaurant.

Of course there is much more to the 17 Mile Drive than manicured golf courses.  A restless ocean, graceful Monterey Cypress, impressive rocks, and abundant wildlife are all part of the scenery. Following is a map and some of the photos I took.

I borrowed this map from Google. There are several entrances. This time I came in through the Highway Gate on Highway 1 and drove down past the Poppy Hills Golf Course. My first stop was to admire the ‘Restless Ocean’ at #6.

The marker at the site told me that the ocean was restless because of all the rocks that the waves had to break over on their way into shore.

A wave cooperated with me by breaking over a rock.

The fog reduced my view of Bird Rock at #10. Cormorants were the main birds I could see. Harbor seals with sea gulls in between can be seen on the lower right. Fortunately some sea gulls flew over to see if I had any food to offer. I call them my galley of gulls.

Definitely a “Do you have any food?” look.

A bit more laid back.

The feathers on this fellow caught my attention.

I don’t think I have ever seen a darker eye.

Here we are back at the Lone Cypress at site #16. It has hung out on its perch for 250 years. A number of guy wires holding it up are meant to assure that it continues to hang out for many more years.

The road itself is worth the trip. Here it has a bower of tall cypress trees next to the Ghost Tree Stop at #17, which was my last stop.

This is the tree on the left from the above photo. I can see where it might be considered ghostly.

I am not sure which tree was ‘the ghost tree’ but I found a number of candidates.

Another candidate…

One of the 17 Mile Drive Mansions overlooks the Ghost Tree site. This is a different perspective on the tree shown above.

Maybe not ghostly, but I liked the way this ancient downed cypress seemed to drape itself over the rock.

Speaking of rocks, I felt these might have been something that Druids would worship.

The rock in the ocean seemed to fit right in!

Another perspective.

I liked the combination here of a shadowy cypress, rocks and the restless sea.

Another photo featuring a cypress tree, rocks and the ocean.

This cypress, another candidate for the Ghost Tree, seems an appropriate end for this post on the 17 Mile Drive.

28 thoughts on “The Deer Don’t Have to Pay a $275,000 Membership Fee to Play at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club on the 17 Mile Drive

  1. Ahhh, you captured it!
    This is probably, next to Antarctica, Patagonia, and the far northern arctic (which I have yet to see, and will in September) the fourth runner up for the most beautiful stretch of coastline in the world. I saw it first when I was six, which would have made it 1962. We did the 17 mile drive. It was even rich territory then, and I came from La Jolla.
    But who the fuck cares? The rich people don’t own the California coast, and I almost feel sorry for them that try.
    I don’t know if you were born in California. I was. California is protected by those who love her most.
    You are clearly such.
    Rockin post Curt.

    • First. Thanks Cindy.
      I, too, was introduced to the Central Coast of California at a young age. My grandparents lived in Watsonville. I don’t think we ever made it to the 17 Mile Drive but we certainly explored the rest of the area. It was my introduction to the Pacific Ocean and the beginning of my love affair with it.
      I was actually born in Oregon but was raised in the foothills of California from a young age on. So I’ve always considered myself to have dual citizenship. 🙂 –Curt

  2. Nice pictures, I especially liked those rocks. I am going on golf tour to Scotland again this year – £350 for five rounds and six nights accommodation at a University campus which sort of puts thing into perspective. I will be driving there in my Volkswagen golf and will leave the Ferrari in the garage!

    • Yes it does, Andrew. I doubt that golf is as expensive anywhere else in the world than it is along the 17 Mile Drive. One thing I will always recognize golf for, courses are planned in some of the most beautiful places in the world! Scotland is always hard to beat when it comes to natural beauty. –Curt

  3. I think that Ferrari is a tad out of my budget as well Curt, but I prefer the Nature shots of the deer and cypress anyway!! Even the rocks and dead branches make for interesting shots. I’m glad Clint didn’t actually pull the gun on you, some PC would have sued!!

    • Laughing about Clint. I’m thinking it would have just made a heck of a story, G. I like Eastwood movies. My favorite is Every Which Way but Loose.
      It is gorgeous scenery. One more example of the West Coast from Big Sur to Washington.
      I prefer nature shots to raceways, too. 🙂

  4. I spent time there too in a Volkswagen bus. Years later, I proposed to my wife in Carmel. You mentioned John Steinbeck but let’s not forget Ed Ricketts, a man whose soul lives in every rock, tree root and wave that splashes ashore in Monterrey.

    • I remember reading the book that Steinbeck wrote about the trip that he and Ricketts made to Baja.
      My honeymoon with my first wife was in Monterey. We had to fit it in between graduating from Berkeley and going in to Peace Corps training. It all took place in one week. –Curt

  5. A beautiful coastline so rugged and raw. The cypress perched on top of that rocky outpost. Such show of survival and bravery.
    I am with you on golf. I usually ward off anyone who mentions the word ‘golf.’ I suppose it is so much part of the news and I should really try and become more tolerant.
    Loved your photos, Curt.

  6. Some beautiful photos here Curt, and what a stunning coastline! Best of all is that lone cypress – it’s pure poetry. I remember “Hair” and singing the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius. It was such a hopeful time.

    • I suspect that the Lone Cypress is one of the most photographed scenes in the world, Alison— for a reason. Those old songs continue to bounce around in the back of our minds. It never takes much to bring them out. 🙂 –Curt

  7. I had no idea where Pebble Beach is, really. But I spent many an hour watching televised golf with my mother, who also was a fan. She played in her younger days, too. When I was in high school, I never played, but I caddied for her a good bit.

    Those last photos of the coastline are gorgeous. The third from last is my favorite, with the parallel lines between tree and rock.

    • Miniature golf is about as close as I get. (Grin) I usually have to resign myself to the fact that Peggy is going to beat me, however.
      The cypress provide a unique touch to the area. The rocks and the ocean provide drama. It’s hard to beat, Linda, and has provided me with years of pleasure dating all the way back to my childhood when my grandparents lived in nearby Watsonville. –Curt

    • I’ve always loved the magnificent shoreline in the area. The towns of Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel are also interesting, but I don’t cover them in this series. Next up is Pt. Lobos and lots more beauty, however… 🙂 –Curt

  8. simply magnifique, Curt… nice memories for me, as I was in Monterey and Carmel last year for the 2nd time in 30 years! 🙂
    * * *
    tomorrow we’re gonna be “somewhere” between Southern Italy and Northern Africa… 😉 ciao, arriverdeci e a presto! 🙂

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