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Cha-cha-cha-cha Changes

Pebble Beach officials excited about ‘reimagined’ event with signature status, dramatic changes

January 28, 2024
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Jamie Squire

Of all the alterations to the 2024 PGA Tour schedule, perhaps the most dramatic set of changes can be found at this week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. The tournament once known as the Crosby Clambake, having been started by famed crooner Bing Crosby, begins its run as one of the tour’s eight signature events, a designation not without irony. If there was one tournament that possessed its own signature, it was the celebrity-fueled golf spectacle on the Monterey Peninsula.

That’s not to say that the tournament anchored at picturesque Pebble Beach Golf Links won’t be compelling. The field of 80 players features 49 of the top 50 finishers on last year’s FedEx Cup points list. The lone exception is Masters champion Jon Rahm, who makes his LIV Golf League debut at this week’s season-opening event in Mexico. Nick Dunlap, who turned pro following his win as an amateur last Sunday at the American Express, gives Pebble an added boost, as if it were needed.

“We already had one tremendous field. Everyone that’s eligible is entered. Then we add a player like Nick Dunlap, tremendous story, and we’re just very excited about what this event will be,” said Steve John, tournament director and chief executive of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation.

The field is profoundly stronger even though it has been whittled from 156 professionals (in a bygone era it had 180) to 80. Reinforcements arrive to bolster a roster that was short on marquee names beyond AT&T spokesman Jordan Spieth, though former U.S. Open champion Justin Rose was a welcome champion last year when the tournament featured just 21 of the top 100 players in the world. Probably has something to do with a no-cut format and a purse that has been more than doubled—from $9 million to $20 million. FedEx Cup points are increased, too, with 700 going to the winner.

Instead of a three-course rotation that included Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula Country Club’s Shore Course, the event is confined to Pebble Beach and Spyglass. Eighty amateurs will compete for only two days before a pro-am team is crowned, whereas in the past some could play up to four rounds if they made the cut of low 25 scores. Bing wouldn’t recognize the makeup of the amateur contingent; other than a few athletes, NFL elites Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers among them, there are few “celebrities.”

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Ezra Shaw

Without the usual roster of glitterati, the Celebrity Shootout traditionally held on the par-3 Hay Course on the eve of the event has been eliminated.

The tournament is billed as “reimagined.” Some might say it lacks imagination with only the professionals competing the final two days, one of four signature events without a cut. Remember, the now-defunct World Golf Championships were no-cut deals. But the reception to the changes is showing approval, with ticket sales about $200,000 ahead of last year. Fans apparently welcome the chance to see world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, No. 2 Rory McIlroy and popular figures like Spieth, Max Homa and Rickie Fowler and not just settle for the antics of Bill Murray or the star power of Andy Garcia or Kevin Costner.

“I know we’ve had U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach. This is about as good as a major tournament with this field,” said John, who has seen to having increased grandstand seating in several locations. That includes the area around the 18th green and in the triangle where holes 6, 8 and 14 converge.

CBS Sports, the longtime broadcaster of the event, plans to give it elevated treatment, including the use of its fly-cam and mini dragonfly camera to showcase the scenic views along the Pacific Ocean.

“We always have that quote—that Pebble Beach is the greatest meeting between land and sea. And now all of a sudden we have the stars attached to it, and I couldn't think of a better place to showcase a signature event than Pebble Beach,” said CBS golf producer Sellers Shy. “It deserves a field like this. The best course in the world deserves a field like this, and we're going to match that level with our coverage.”

Anchor Jim Nantz, preparing for his 39th Pebble Beach Pro-Am, was eager to see what could unfold with a field that hasn’t been this strong since Tiger Woods was a regular participant, and before him Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

“I want to check to see what our quality of field is versus what the U.S. Open quality of field was in 2019,” said Nantz, who calls the Super Bowl the week following Pebble. “I'm not trying to minimize the importance of the U.S. Open, but we know the Open is open, and you can get a lot of players that maybe fans are not familiar with. Well, everybody's going to be familiar with our field. I think it might be the highest quality field to ever compete at Pebble Beach, and that says a lot.”

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Ezra Shaw

Nantz, who has a home near the course, also expressed hope for the continuation of a perennial strength of the tournament, its philanthropic mission. Last year, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am donated $18 million to area charitable organizations.

“I love what this tournament has represented,” he said. “I personally know the most important side of this tournament … it is a huge lifeline to our community, to Monterey counties, that pumps so much money into our county. It's phenomenal. People would never believe it's the second poorest county in the state. So it is a magnificent thing.”

John believes the tournament might equal or even exceed last year’s $18 million figure. That’s one thing that won’t be changing, he said. Going forward, this format isn’t changing either. While he was quoted recently as saying that Pebble will be a signature event “in perpetuity,” he qualified that remark to Golf Digest as simply meaning that with the support of AT&T and presenting sponsors, that is the goal.

“That is our intention and that is the intention of the PGA Tour and AT&T, but we don’t know what will happen in the future,” he said. “Just look at golf the last few years. All we can do right now is prepare for a great week and a new chapter. And we’re excited.”