Ever since Bing Crosby hosted the first National Pro-Am Golf Championship in 1937 at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club in San Diego, celebrities have flocked to what affectionately became known as the “Crosby Clambake.”
That is, until last year.
Because of concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, amateurs – even the celebs – were excluded from the event, now called the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, for the first time in 81 years. The tournament, which typically employs a three-course rotation and 54-hole cut, was turned into a two-course competition, as Monterey Peninsula Country Club’s Shore Course was shelved for a year, leaving only Spyglass Hill to co-host with Pebble Beach Golf Links. The cut, meanwhile, was changed to after 36 holes. And as for fans, they weren’t permitted, either.
“It wasn’t the same without the fans,” Steve John, tournament director and Monterey Peninsula Foundation CEO, told The Mercury News earlier this month. “Part of the lure of the tournament is allowing fans to interact. We got through last year. With this virus, we know where we are today. We don’t know about tomorrow.”
There is one certainty: Despite the omicron variant and high – but also falling – case numbers in California, the Pro-Am will have both fans and amateurs back this week. That includes celebrities, new and old.
There just won’t be many big names on the professional side.
Just 10 of the world’s top 50 players will tee it up at Pebble this week. Patrick Cantlay (4), Jordan Spieth (15), defending champion Daniel Berger (16) and Matt Fitzpatrick (25) are the only top-25 entries, while rising stars Will Zalatoris, Min Woo Lee and Maverick McNealy add some luster to the event.
According to the Official World Golf Ranking site, the strength of field for the Pro-Am is just 212. Granted that’s higher than the paltry 142 that this tournament accrued last year, but it’s also a far cry from the 392 number at the 2018 Pro-Am. For further comparison, last week’s Farmers Insurance Open had a strength of field of 486 while the Sony Open, previously 2022’s weakest field, was 282.
This while the Asian Tour’s Saudi International lured many big names this week – 21 of the world’s top 50 to be exact – despite the tournament losing its sanctioning by the DP World Tour because of several issues, mainly the country’s poor human-rights record. While PGA Tour allowed its members, including Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Xander Schauffele, to participate, it also stipulated that players who compete in Saudi Arabia also play Pebble twice in the next three years.
“It’s sort of one that’s still being ironed out,” Schauffele said of the new rule. “I’ve had my reservations about playing at AT&T, so it’s definitely a tricky one to handle that situation. So, we’re still navigating that with my team and we’ll kind of see what happens.”
Other players seemed OK with the requirement.
“I’ll be back at Pebble in the next couple years and looking forward to it,” Tony Finau said. “Pebble’s a special place, a golf course that I think we all love. Great champions come off Pebble; it’s a place where you want to win.”
And a place where fans want to see winners, whether they’re golfers or movie stars or athletes.
The debut Pro-Am, a shortened 18-hole event won by Sam Snead, featured such celebs as Fred Astaire, Zappo Marz and Clark Gable. Through the years, the amateur division has included likes of Clint Eastwood, Jack Lemmon and Bill Murray.
Murray returns to headline this year’s celebrity field. He won the pro-am portion with pro D.A. Points in 2011, his only title, famously telling the San Francisco Chronicle that he’d wished he’d dropped breadcrumbs every step of the way, “so I can find my way back.” Mostly, though, Murray has been known for his antics. Like him or not, there aren’t many dull moments with Murray, who has worn everything from an Elmer Fudd cap to a camouflage outfit, told jokes and hit exploding golf balls, and even once, in 1993, dragged an elderly woman into a bunker and danced with her before she lost her balance and crashed into the sand. (He later called then PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman a “screwhead” after Beman denounced Murray’s behavior.)
Joining Murray this week are several staples, from actors Don Cheadle, Ray Romano and Alfonso Ribeiro to former NFL players Steve Young, Larry Fitzgerald and Alex Smith to musicians Huey Lewis, Darius Rucker, Jake Owen and Macklemore. Golf Channel reporter and former Miss America Kira K. Dixon will also make another appearance.
There are several new celebs, as well, including Dodgers star Mookie Betts, Bills quarterback Josh Allen, boxer Canelo Alvarez, U.S. soccer legend Mia Hamm and Eastwood’s son, Scott Eastwood, an actor and producer.
“There is always considerable excitement around the tournament but with the spectators and celebrities on hiatus last year, the buzz is even greater with their return for 2022,” John said. “It promises to be memorable for the players, fans, volunteers and the deserving charities that will benefit.”
Last year’s event, even sans fans and amateurs, managed to raise more than $10 million for charity. This year, the expectation is over $14 million.
So, while many of the Tour’s best, in a concerning trend, won’t be making the annual pilgrimage to the Monterey Peninsula, the return of fans and celebrities should inject some energy back into the “Clambake” after a quiet year.
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