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Transforming the Jewel

Transforming the Jewel With posh restaurants and a luxurious spa, Pebble Beach has become more than just a renowned golf resort
Bruce Schoenfeld
From the Print Edition:
Greg Raymer, Sept/Oct 2004

(continued from page 1)

Every room in the Inn and the Lodge was renovated earlier this year, at the cost of $15 million. Furnishings that used to look like your grandmother's apartment have been replaced by decor you'd be proud to own yourself. Even the custom-designed soap in the rooms is a mission statement. "We spent a lot of time arguing about the right scent," says Janine Chicourrat, the manager of the Lodge. "It had to be manly enough to appeal to our traditional clientele, but also feminine enough to appeal to women."

Like any resort with character, Pebble Beach is an extension of its owners. At a corner table of Club XIX on a quiet Monday night, Ueberroth, Eastwood, Ferris and Perocchi, four of the resort's seven board members, talk quietly over dinner and a modestly priced Gary Farrell Pinot Noir. Along with the absent Palmer, they represent the most iconically American group of business investors who ever have combined on one project. Consider that Palmer is one of the best-loved American athletes, the first golfer to attract a mass following. Ueberroth was not only the guardian of the national pastime as baseball commissioner, but also produced the unrelentingly patriotic 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Eastwood is this generation's John Wayne. When they reclaimed Pebble Beach after a decade of Japanese ownership, Americans cheered.

Beyond that, all four of the celebrity owners were Pebble Beach regulars who had been coming to the property for years before they purchased it. They understood the balancing act that would be necessary to maintain its tradition and history and to attract today's customers. "When you have a property like Pebble Beach, you need to be very cautious," says Ueberroth. "Bill Perocchi has brought together a group of leaders that can both respect the past and improve the property for the future. Doing that is an art form."

Club XIX is a case in point. It was set for demolition until a bright, young manager named Ed Swartz was hired from a Mississippi casino in early 2003. Swartz asked for three months to prove himself with the old concept. A year later, revenues in the room are up 40 percent. "And profits," Perocchi says with a Cheshire-cat smile, "are up 200 percent."

That pays for a lot of sand traps.

Swartz's Pebble Beach is an epicurean's delight where the rarest, most exalted—and expensive—treats can be found. His wine list is replete with old Bordeaux. Kobe beef, flown in from Japan, is served with a mélange of 19 vegetables. Krug Champagne flows freely. And Swartz has added profit centers such as a $1,200-a-pour 1937 The Macallan single-malt Scotch, a $525-a-pour Hardy's Perfection Cognac that dates to 1850, and a cigar list that includes Gurkha His Majesty's Reserve at $450.

It seemed like a gamble at the time, but now he can hardly keep the rarities in stock. Only Las Vegas's Bellagio sells more Hardy's Cognac than Swartz, and the comparison is apt. Pebble Beach now celebrates the spirit of glorious excess almost as well as the Vegas casinos, but with golf taking the place of gaming. Once upon a time, this publicly accessible resort had more rules and regulations, stated and unstated, than most private country clubs. Today, it is governed by an attitude of personal accommodation. "If they want a Caesar salad," Swartz says, "we give them a Caesar salad. Whether it's on the menu or not."

At the Inn at Spanish Bay up 17-Mile Drive, Roy Yamaguchi's fusion cuisine hardly calls out for a 1970 Pichon-Lalande, a 1998 Domaine de la Romanee Conti Richebourg or some of the other gems on the wine list. But that hardly matters. In the same spirit as the Vegas high rollers, guests come to Pebble Beach with money to spend and only a few days to spend it. They want a terrific bottle of wine with dinner, no matter what dinner happens to be.

During this year's AT&T golf tournament, food and beverage manager Roberto Arjona put together a private meal for 14 guests at Casa Palmero that included 1982 Château Margaux, 1966 and 1970 Château Lafite, six more bottles of first-growth Bordeaux—and a stack of $13 hamburgers from the Tap Room bar. "These people know exactly what they want, and they can afford it, whatever it costs," Arjona says. "If they feel like having hamburger with a fine French wine, they do it."

One guest called Arjona aside during the meal service. "Forget all these fancy wines," he whispered. "Bring me a Budweiser."

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