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As a rule, I like to play my golf early, when there's still dew on the grass. But at Pebble Beach I took a different approach: a two-hour massage before tee time. Yes, one of the country's great golf resorts has added a spa—which may not sound like much, considering that 45 of the top 60 golf resorts in the country have them. But the 22,000-square-foot facility represents a broader plan at Pebble Beach, now well under way, that also includes a stylish 24-room boutique hotel and significant improvements to its two best layouts, the Golf Links and Spyglass Hill.

The spa, just off the first fairway of the Links, is a comfortable place where men and women mix easily, lounging in the Conservatory as fountains gurgle. There are 21 treatment rooms (two with their own fireplaces), including 12 designed specifically for massage—the cranio-sacral and the golfer's massage are excellent. Four wet rooms are given over to exfoliation, body wraps, and hydrotherapy; and there are four facial rooms and a full-service salon. The superb technicians not only work wonders on the mind and body but also turn previously cranky golf widows—and widowers—into sudden fans of the game.

Next door to the spa is the new hotel, Casa Palmero, which has the sumptuous, intimate feel of a Mediterranean estate. The rooms, which can be booked individually or by a single group, are done in natural colors like cinnabar, rosewood, and goldenrod. Many have large patios with Jacuzzis, fireplaces, radiant-heat floors in the bathrooms, and daily deliveries of fresh flowers. The trellised walkways and window boxes full of bougainvillea give the place the feel of a private villa, which part of it had been. One of the original owners built the estate here in 1927.

But golf still rules at Pebble Beach, and for many fans of the resort, the improvements to the courses will be the reason to return. I saw one such subtle upgrade to the right of the 11th hole on the Golf Links. There's a new, 17,000-square-foot maintenance complex that was championed by co-owner Arnold Palmer (Clint Eastwood is also co-owner). Nearly three times the size of the old building, its primary benefit is better conditioning, which is critical for a track that absorbs 60,000 rounds a year.

Two other improvements to the course were on No. 18, a long, sweeping par-five that runs along the Pacific and ranks among the best finishing holes anywhere. First, there is the new cypress tree to the right of the green, replacing one that had died several years ago and putting the ocean back into play. The water was a formidable obstacle on the original hole, but the absence of the tree allowed players to bail out well to the right and avoid the treacherous hazard. The tee shots have also gotten tougher now that the company has built a new fairway bunker on the right of the fairway. It provides a more intimidating hazard and also keeps the ocean in play.

I tried not to think of these "improvements" as I hit my drive on 18 and then nailed a three-wood with my second shot, leaving my ball about 100 yards from the pin. I punched a wedge close, and after two-putting for a par, followed my caddie back to the pro shop. I had shot a fairly low score, but what I thought about most was how physically good I felt. Before I made my usual, post-round visit to the 19th hole, I did something I had never done: I pushed my next tee time back a couple of hours and set up an appointment at the spa.


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