Thursday, February 1, 2001
For the sakes of those who don''t know, the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am started long ago and far away. The year was 1937, and crooner Bing Crosby thought it would be fun to get together with some friends for a round of golf and a clambake at Rancho Santa Fe in Southern California. He also invited some golf professionals and Hollywood celebrities to that first get-together, with the legendary West Virginia golfer Sam Snead taking the top prize: $500.
That''s a wee bit different from today''s booty of $720,000 for the winning professional and $100,000 for the victorious pro-am team. Aside from the size of the purse, the move to the Peninsula in 1947, the fact that no cameras are allowed except those of credentialed professionals, and the name change to incorporate AT&T as the main sponsor, the tournament still looks a lot like the old Crosby Clambake.
For one thing, it still features a four-day pro-am round (the only stop on the PGA Tour that does so), a star-laden field and the best players on the Tour. The tournament also has something that fewer and fewer Tour events have these days: a long-standing history.
There''s nothing more ludicrous than a first-year tournament calling itself "The (you fill in the blank) Classic." Shouldn''t "classic" mean that an event has some kind of history? Or at least that it has been played more than once? In the case of the AT&T, not only has the tournament been played since 1937, but many of the celebrity invitees come year after year. Witness Jack Lemmon, who has been trying to make the 54-hole cut and advance past the first three courses to the finals for some years, at least since the 1960s. Unfortunately, Lemmon will not be playing this year due to bad health.
On the other hand, crowd favorites such as Clint Eastwood and Bill Murray will be playing again this year. Celebrity faces such as Reggie Jackson and former Celtics ball player Bill Russell will be playing for the first time. The tournament''s organizers have even gone so far as to invite a well-known fascist right-wing radio talk show host to play. Talk about tipping your hand: Many observers expect this conservative apologist to play alongside gun-toting conservative Clint Eastwood.
Historically, 20-30 celebrities are invited to participate, a tradition that dates from the days of Crosby, although in the early days most were in the field of entertainment--Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and the like. This weekend, the Hollywood luminaries will join captains of industry and just plain rich folk on the fairway.
How it Works
A total of 168 professionals and 168 amateurs are paired together for three days. The 60 best professionals and the 25 top pro-am teams play the final day. Amateurs can play through to the last putt on the final day--provided that they, like the pros, make the final cut.
The cost for an amateur to play is $7,500 per golfer. Pairings are done on a completely random basis, according to tournament officials, but if this is random, then very strange forces are at work: Bill Murray has been paired up with professional Scott Simpson for many years. Simpson seems genuinely to enjoy Murray''s antics. Invariably the actor hobnobs with the gallery, makes jokes, and wears clothes more suitable to Caddyshack than the PGA Tour.
Though the assignment system may not be one in which the highest bidder gets to play with Tiger, we''re just guessing that neither will Tiger get stuck playing with a big fat nobody (or a big fat idiot, for that matter). Word from the Monterey Peninsula Golf Foundation, the tournament''s governing body, is that officials "make every effort to accommodate the professionals."
The question begs to be asked: Even though it has a rich history, does the AT&T show adequate reverence for its colorful past? Originally conceived as a means of bringing much-needed cash to the area in a traditionally slow time of year, the tournament has become so large that, strangely, it may have leapfrogged the towns it was intended to assist. Many Carmel, Pacific Grove and Monterey merchants complain these days that they are not seeing any of the cash. This started, they claim, when tournament parking was shifted to Fort Ord and many tournament patrons did not come back into town for accommodations, dinner and shopping. In short, the feeling in some circles is that Pebble Beach wins and everybody else loses.
But in one arena at least, that is most assuredly not the case. Although Tiger Woods is the defending champion, the real winner of the tournament is local charity. Since its inception, more than $28 million has been donated to worthy causes in the area. Beneficiaries include the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am Youth Fund, originally set up by Bing Crosby. The fund channels money into youth-oriented programs and scholarships.
Now that''s something that would make Bing proud.