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Samuel F. B. Morse

Developer and conservationist

There is an historical link between the Yale Golf Course, currently rated the number one university course in the country, and Pebble Beach Golf Links, rated the number one public course: Samuel F. B. Morse, Class of 1908. The namesake of his great uncle who invented the telegraph, Morse was born in Newton, Massachusetts. His mother Clara was an acclaimed artist. He studied painting in Boston and attended Phillips Andover Academy before going to Yale. He was a halfback and captain of an undefeated Yale football team and was named to two Walter Camp All-American teams. Upon graduation in 1908, the father of one of his college friends gave him his first job, working on a farming and irrigation project in the San Joaquin Valley of California.

By 1915 Morse had a new job as the manager of the Pacific Improvement Companies properties on the Monterey Peninsula. These included the Hotel Del Monte that had been built in 1879, a golf course added to the grounds in 1890, and a new real estate development called Pebble Beach, with a seventeen-mile drive through forest, valley, and shoreline totaling 18,000 acres. The owners of the Pacific Improvement Com­pany were the leaders of Western railroading, Charles Crocker, Collins P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Leland Stanford. They were disappointed by the slow sale of lots at Pebble Beach and ordered Morse to find a buyer willing to pay $1.3 million for all of the peninsula properties.

To add value, Morse scrapped the owners’ existing development plan for Pebble Beach, which was to crowd as many houses as possible along the coast. He bought back all the lots that had been sold. The owner of one lot refused to sell. Morse had a different plan for development: “The average developer of land takes a chunk of it, figures out a residential and ­shopping area and leaves what’s left over for a golf course. I approach things a little differently. In the first place I want the whole waterfront to be set aside as a greenbelt. Then I picked a tract and said to the architects, ‘Use as much as you need for a golf course and we’ll put the rest into lots.’” His “vision for the property included larger homes set back from the beach and overlooking a golf course that would meander along the rocky bluff above Stillwater Cove.” He wanted either Charles Blair Macdonald or Alistair Mackenzie to design the course, but the former wasn’t interested and the latter was fighting in World War i. So, two local amateur golfers, Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, along with Morse, designed the Pebble Beach Golf Links. Later Morse himself redesigned the par 4 eighteenth hole to make it a par 5. The course and the adjacent Lodge opened in 1919. That same year, Samuel Morse convinced his employer to sell the entire property to him and several San Francisco financial backers for the $1.3 million, the same price that no one had been willing to pay before these improvements.

For the next fifty years Morse remained the owner of the Del Monte Properties Company, the firm he formed to operate Pebble Beach. Not a tree could be cut or any kind of building erected without company approval, which meant Mr. Morse’s approval. Eventually four public courses were built, as well as a private course, for which Morse did secure the services of Dr. Alistair Mackenzie. Seth Raynor had been hired to design the private Cypress Point Club course and had completed a routing plan when he died in 1926. Using that plan, Mackenzie completed the design and supervised the construction of the course that opened in 1928. Samuel Morse became an inseparable part of one of the most strikingly beautiful areas of the California coast. At age eighty he received the award of which he was proudest: Outstanding Citizen of the Monterey Peninsula of 1965. On that occasion, his son, the painter John Morse, toasted his father as “an artist who spent a lifetime painting a 20,000 acre canvas.”

In 1978, nine years after his death, the property was sold for $72 million. In 1998 the family of the original owner sold the one building lot that Morse had been unable to repurchase in 1919 and Jack Nicklaus designed a new fifth hole on the cliff top site. In 1999, Olympic impresario and former baseball commissioner, Peter Ueberroth, and 132 of his friends and associates, including Arnold Palmer and Clint Eastwood, purchased the Del Monte properties for $820 million. It seems that Samuel F. B. Morse had more vision than his original bosses.

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