The most famous public golf course in America was the destination for Camden and Gary Mills, along with friends Dax and Aaron Anderson
It was a golf journey that was years in the making.
Only, at first, it was just talk.
Then, when it actually started to become a reality, it probably seemed like years to make one flight to California. So much was already paid for down in California, after all, and there were no refunds. Then the flight got cancelled.
Camden Mills and his dad Gary, with the help of Titleist Hat Man, made it on time to Pebble Beach with an hour to spare.
Then they spent the next three days playing at a golfer’s paradise.
This was Camden’s graduation gift after completing his senior year at Union High School. His dad is the boys and girls golf coach, and the girls basketball coach at Union. While the seeds for this trip were planted long before COVID-19, this adventure to one of the most famous golf courses in the world also became a celebration of enduring the 2020-21 pandemic school year.
The Mills father-son combo, along with Aaron Anderson and his son Dax, an incoming sophomore at Union, played Pebble Beach, Spanish Bay, Poppy Hills, and Spyglass — 72 holes in three days.
“It still doesn’t feel like I did it,” Camden said, a little more than a week after returning home. “But now I look through my photos, and I see all the videos I took, ‘Wow, we really did that.’ That’s really cool.”
Gary and Camden talked about this years ago, when Camden was in the sixth grade.
“We made the joke, ‘We’ll go to Pebble Beach when I graduate,’” Camden said.
That was about the end of it until this past spring.
“Around March of this year, ‘Oh, are we still doing that?’” Camden asked.
Gary got on it, a little later than advised to make such a trip to the most famous public golf course in North America. But by making calls and more calls, inquiring about tee times and cancellations, Gary was able to create an itinerary that would work. Fly to San Jose, Calif., on a Thursday morning, relax, then tee it up at famed Pebble Beach on Saturday. Then Spanish Bay and Poppy Hills on Saturday. And Spyglass on Sunday.
No problem, right?
Well, the first part of this trip turned into a major problem.
The Anderson family was already in California, but the Mills duo was at Portland International Airport for a flight scheduled for 10:20 a.m. Thursday. The flight was officially delayed at 9 a.m. No need to worry. A couple hours later, Gary became a little bit concerned. A few more hours, and the stress was real.
“At this point, I’m starting to panic. I pre-paid all of this trip. I could be out thousands of dollars here,” Gary recalled.
The flight was cancelled at 6 p.m.
“I’m as stressed as I can remember being right now,” Gary remembered at that very moment.
Most of the passengers scrambled to get in line at the desk, asking how to get to San Jose. Everybody believes they have good reason to get where they feel they need to be, including the Mills family.
“I called Pebble Beach. They’re saying there are no refunds,” Gary said, adding that the course will give credit to be used in the future. “That’s not going to help us. They’re booked all through the summer.”
For the record, while it might be a public course, Pebble Beach is not cheap. It costs more than $500 per person to play there in the summer.
Another stranded passenger overheard the phone call. He was wearing a Titleist hat. He had found a flight on another airline at 5:40 a.m. on Friday morning. Camden got his phone, saw the availability, and Gary booked it.
“The guy in the Titelist hat is the hero of this story,” Gary said.
Still, they had to hope for no traffic the next day. It is about a 90-minute car drive from the San Jose airport to Pebble Beach.
They caught a break. No issues with traffic. The Mills made it to the course with about an hour to spare before their tee time.
“The trip was well organized,” Gary promised. “It just didn’t come together at first because of this harrowing airport experience.”
Once at Pebble Beach, though, they did not care about the stressful trip. They just wanted to take in every moment of the next three days.
“It was crazy,” Camden said. “Ever since I was a kid, I played a video game that had Pebble Beach on the roster. I had always seen it that way. Then coming up in person and seeing the first hole … it was surreal.”
The starter on the first tee told the group they had just missed Tom Brady. Oh wait, there he is, the starter said. Yes, Tom Brady was getting ready to play. The group took a picture, with Brady in the background.
As far as the golf, Gary beat Camden that day. Not that it mattered too much.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him play not so good but still smiling the whole time,” Gary said. “There are just so many parts to it. We’d stop and say, ‘Can you believe this?’ And we’re just laughing at each other.”
They came to the famous, short par-3, No. 7. Green in front of them. Ocean behind the green. They both hit the green and recorded pars.
Another legendary hole, the 17th. Both had bogeys, but they saw where Tom Watson holed out from the rough to win the 1982 U.S. Open.
And the 18th hole, with the ocean down the left side of the hole. Camden, with his draw, aimed right but then hit it straight into a bunker. At least it was dry, right? And Gary hit the drive of his life, right in between the water and the famous tree in the fairway.
In all, the round took about five hours. After all, every group was stopping to take pictures along the way. And the folks at Pebble Beach understand.
The marshalls are even saying, ‘Hey turn around, take a look at this. Soak it in,’” Gary said. “Nobody is rushing you. Nobody’s saying you’re behind.”
The employees there understand how much it costs, and for many players it is a once-in-a-lifetime event.
“When you’re there, they just want you to enjoy it,” Gary said.
For the record, Camden did claim victory over his dad at the next three courses.
Next for Camden is college at Brigham Young University – Idaho, where he will study computer engineering. There is no official golf team there, but the university does have a club team. Camden said he will check it out.
As a sophomore at Union, Camden made the cut at the state tournament. There was no state tournament his junior year. Then, as a senior, no fall season, and another state tournament was called off. He, his dad, and the Titans did get an abbreviated season.
Playing competitive golf in February certainly was not the norm.
“It wasn’t the best I had played, but it was still nice that I was able to take it in,” Camden said. “I was able to appreciate it a lot more.”
Gary has had an extraordinary school year, as well. He coached the boys golf team in that fall season that started in February. Then he coached girls basketball and girls golf at the same time, to the conclusion of the academic year. He is also a teacher at Union.
“I can’t think of a better job to have for 12-hour days,” Gary said. “As everyone said, the kids got to play. That was awesome.”
Still, with no state tournaments, high school sports did not feel truly complete for everyone.
“I think that’s why this trip was so memorable for us as well,” Gary said. “It was kind of like a balm, a little bit of healing on what was lost.”
Camden said he and his dad have done a lot of things together through the years. This, though, was extra special.
“We’ll always look back on that, ‘Hey remember when we played Pebble?’ ‘Yeah, that was great,’” Camden said.
“When we got done playing Spyglass the last day, when we finished that 18th hole, we put our arms around each other and said, ‘We did it. We pulled it off. The trip of a lifetime,’” Gary said. “I’ll always remember that.”