18 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY february 1-7, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com Watching the 2022 event, retired tour pro with 13 wins to his credit Mark Calcavecchia tweeted, “I think Bill Murray is an amazing actor. Huge fan of his movies. But this golf course act is getting SOOO tired.” Last year, only 21 of the professionals ranked among the world’s top 100 took part. The 2023 tournament champion, Justin Rose, was a former world no. 1 who had hit a slump. Pebble Beach marked his first win in four years—and it was a victory over less accomplished competition. Much of the field was padded by those falling below 300 in the world rankings. One of the ways that golfers without the points, ranking or wins necessary to be exempted into a tournament are Monday qualifying rounds for any remaining spots in a tournament. Last year, when severe weather postponed play on Saturday, forcing the Pro-Am to drag on into Monday, 14 pros chose to bow out in order to make it to the qualifiers for the following weekend’s Phoenix Open. While John admits that it was difficult to shed the past—he heard from many that celebrities and the fun atmosphere were the soul of the old Crosby Clambake—ticket sales by the beginning of January were $200,000 ahead of last year. The organization has also doubled the number of grandstands available to the crowd, even adding seats at the driving range. “We will see more ticket sales,” John says. “The week before the tournament is always a big week. If we have good weather, we’ll break a record.” Because of the changes, tournament staff made personal phone calls to all the event’s celebrity regulars, names like musician Darius Rucker, actor Jason Bateman, chef Thomas Keller, in the past stars of the Clint Eastwood magnitude, more recently rappers like Macklemore and, seemingly always, Bill Murray. Even tour pros addressing rumors a year ago admitted that Murray had become the heart of the Pro-Am, making his first appearance in 1993. John says that breaking the news to Murray was difficult. “Bill understood; Bill was fine,” he adds. “It was quite a run. I think it’s the right decision.” The timeline to pull off such a major overhaul was tight. In March 2023, Monahan informed tour members of the plan to create a series of signature events—then called designated events. However, it wasn’t until August, months later than normal, that the full 2024 schedule was confirmed publicly. “Waiting for a decision,” John says, noting that the delay was the hardest part of the process for the Monterey Peninsula Foundation team. “There are a lot of people involved, and each decision triggers other decisions.” There are sponsorship partners and television rights to consider. Pebble Beach Company would have to agree to dates. The Monterey Peninsula Foundation organizes the event and relies on money from fees and ticket sales for the $18 million it provides to local charities each year, so there was concern over a potential loss in contributions. And those were just some of the bigger items on the agenda—starting with the title sponsor. “AT&T is a longstanding partner, for the tour and for the event,” Norris points out. “You have to make sure they are good [with the decision].” The communications company committed to covering the increased purse, which started the process rolling. But there was more, of course. “There are a number of constituents,” Norris says. “And it all has to fit in the puzzle of the tour schedule. We still wanted to make the season opening swing on the West Coast.” According to Golfweek’s Adam Schupak, in addition to AT&T bearing the brunt of the ramped-up purse, the amount donated by amateurs for the right to participate jumped from around $40,000 to $70,000. As a result of this and increased fees for some secondary sponsorships, as well as booming ticket sales, John believes the foundation will meet or exceed $18 million in contributions again this year. None of the invited amateurs balked at the lofty contribution. “It’s always been a golden ticket [for amateurs],” John explains. “But this year, what a golden ticket.” The Pro-Am has weathered changes in the past. It was first played not at Pebble Beach, but in Rancho Sante Fe, moving to the Peninsula following World War II. It has been contested at Cypress Point and Poppy Hills, as well as the more recent course lineup. Yet there is the long history of celebrities and professionals in an almost casual atmosphere to contend with. Bing Crosby himself noted in his prologue to Dwayne Netland’s The Crosby: Greatest Show in Golf that he counted the Pro-Am as his greatest achievement—a difficult statement to top. Although Norris says the tour will have to see how the 2024 edition goes, he believes they have come up with the right formula, bringing an elite field to an iconic course. “It had a long history of success; how do you still keep that Pro-Am experience?” he says. “We found the perfect combination.” Heading into tournament weekend, John can barely contain his excitement. “The best of the best,” he says, ticking off some of the PGA Tour star power set to tee off. “Pebble deserves it.” 2024 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am Thursday, Feb. 1. -Saturday, Feb. 3 tee times begin 8:30am. Sunday, Feb. 4 tee times begin 7:30am. The tournament is played at Pebble Beach Golf Links and Spyglass Hill Golf Course Thursday-Friday and at Pebble Beach Golf Links Saturday-Sunday. Gates open 7am each day. Tickets $100-$425. 649-1533, attpbgolf.com. *Times subject to change. AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am “Bill [Murray] understood; Bill was fine.” Chef Thomas Keller once won the celebrity hole in one challenge. This year there are no celebrity events with the field of amatuers cut to 80. The cookies Keller passed out will be missed by many fans. “Me too,” says Pro-Am organizer Steve John. Former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is a celebrity fixture playing again this year. His longtime pro playing partner, Kevin Streelman, did not qualify. Daniel dreifuss Daniel dreifuss