20 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY february 1-7, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com To the casual observer, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am week will seem much the same for local residents this year. Bars and restaurants will be more crowded. Hotels will be filled to capacity. Golf fans will flock to the Monterey Peninsula for one of the most anticipated annual events on the local calendar. But a closer look at this year’s tournament field and format reveal changes that will make this year’s pro-am a far cry from the “Bing Crosby Clambake” of old. As a result of the well publicized shake-up in professional golf, the PGA Tour underwent sweeping changes in an effort to stop its players from defecting to the upstart LIV Golf tour. And while some tournaments on the PGA Tour calendar remain largely the same, our local pro-am has gotten a heavy makeover. “It’s definitely going to be a different feeling this year,” says Central Coast resident and world-renowned golf writer Alan Shipnuck. “They’ll only be playing two courses”—Pebble Beach Golf Links and Spyglass Hill Golf Course, with Monterey Peninsula Country Club being removed from the rotation—“and there won’t be as many theatrics involved, but for the true golf fan I think this could be a good thing.” Organizers are expecting big crowds in Pebble Beach again this year, but the demographic might look a little different. With more of the top players in the professional field, and the reduced amateur field, Shipnuck expects the local spectators to include fewer star gazers and instead draw the more serious golf fans. “I expect you’ll see more fans in quarter-zips and Footjoys in the galleries this year,” jokes Shipnuck, alluding to the serious golf fans who insist on dressing as though they’re teeing it up themselves. “There will be a much more serious vibe.” Shipnuck is no stranger to golf fans or area residents. The Salinas High School graduate once drove golf carts at Pebble Beach. After nearly three decades covering professional golf for Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine, Shipnuck has established himself as one of the premier golf writers. He can count dozens of cover stories for national publications, awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, and has two bestselling books to his name. The decision to make this tournament a signature event had to be approved by both the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, which hosts the tournament, as well as the presenting sponsor, AT&T. Both entities are hoping that the new format translates into more revenue. The impact locally remains to be seen, but Shipnuck expects a positive impact on the national level. “There are many folks around the country who are snowed in and spending a lot of time indoors,” Shipnuck says. “I think the [television] ratings could be better than in years past, especially if some of the bigger names are in contention come Sunday.” But, as Shipnuck concedes, he will miss some of the old shenanigans, like contestants crowd surfing near the 15th tee, or Bill Murray holding babies before hitting another shot out of the rough. “It’s a little bit of a bummer, obviously. Some of the charm and character of the tournament might be lost,” says Shipnuck, who remembers attending his first Pro-Am as a 10-year-old back in the early 1980s. “But it will probably be a good thing for the tournament overall.” With a host of the world’s top players playing in the AT&T for the first time, Shipnuck expects the eyes of the entire golf world to be locked in on Pebble Beach. “This tournament will be a big opportunity for the PGA Tour and its product,” Shipnuck says. “With all that’s happening with LIV, there is an ongoing battle for the soul of professional golf. The PGA Tour is fighting for its existence, and these signature events will play a key role in determining the future of professional golf.” As for who he expects might win this year’s record payout for first place ($3.6 million), Shipnuck doesn’t mince words. “With all the rain we’ve been getting, the courses will be playing soft and long,” he says. “That’s a perfect setup for Rory [McIlroy]. He can fly it long and attack the pins. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him hoisting the trophy on Sunday.” Going Pro Local golf writer Alan Shipnuck weighs in on big changes to the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. By Jeff Mendelsohn AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am Golf writer Alan Shipnuck reads from his biography of Phil Mickelson at a 2022 event at Pacific Grove Golf Links. Mickelson abandoned the PGA Tour for big money on the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour. “There is an ongoing battle for the soul of professional golf.” A group finishes the 7th hole during play at the 2023 Pro-Am, the last—for now—featuring celebrities. Daniel dreifuss