Since Bing Crosby moved his clambake from Rancho Santa Fe to Pebble Beach, the annual party, now known as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, has been going strong. But in its 75th celebration year, something was missing.
Due to COVID-19 and the stringent regulations imposed by the State of California, plus the PGA TOUR’s own protocols, there were no spectators, no amateurs, no celebrities.
The golf was pure, the hole locations were set up for the top professional golfers in the world, and, true to form, the finish was dramatic.
But with only a handful of credentials allowed for media, the 2021 media center was eerily quiet. Gone were the paper interview transcripts and pairing sheets, the much-heralded media buffet, the frisbee-sized chocolate chip cookies. There was no hum of socialization, same-time-next-year greetings, and general camaraderie. The few stalwarts who did show up set their sights on story lines, filed by deadline, and returned quietly to their hotels. Night after night after night, rinse, repeat.
Hats off to the tournament organizers, though. The Monterey Peninsula Foundation staff made the best of the situation and, despite so much, raised the bar on many fronts. But without much coverage, you probably missed it.
The tournament’s “75 Years of Making Memories” contest gave fans and volunteers the opportunity to submit their favorite stories. It uncovered a treasure trove of tall tales and classic images from the vault, all showcased on social media in the weeks leading up to the tournament.
With less fanfare and antics than we’re used to, a few celebrities still managed to sneak in, lending their support by playing in the “AT&TEvery Shot Counts Charity Challenge.” This $1.6 million event featured six celebs in a five-hole scramble on the famous course, broadcast live on Golf Channel and underwritten by AT&T to the tune of a $1 million purse with another $600,000 pledged by Cisco, Chevron, and 3M. In keeping with the moment, food, healthcare, and educational causes received the much-needed aid. Playing under much calmer conditions then they’re used to, Bill Murray paired with football standout Larry Fitzgerald, Golf Channel’s Kira K. Dixon paired with actress Kathryn Newton (whose pure swing earned lots of attention), while musician Macklemore and entertainer Alfonso Ribeiro rolled in the big putts to the big bucks for worthy causes.
Part sporting event and part Northern California social event, the AT&T has a devoted following, including thousands of volunteers who give their time year in and year out. In a touch of class and creativity, the tournament returned the love, producing a virtual concert for the volunteers featuring top musicians and celebrities in a 40-minute heartfelt performance of thanks.
Without the stars to steal the spotlight, Pebble shined. From the blimp, drones, and every television angle, the course looked glorious, pure and natural (free of grandstands, tents, and crowds), and the mowing patterns were flawless. Shorn of artifice, Stillwater Cove, Carmel Beach, and one of the greatest finishing holes in golf looked better than ever and are bound to stimulate the already pent-up golf travel demand.
Speaking of the 18th hole, it played its part to perfection, again. Ask Phil Mickelson, who took a bath twice during Friday afternoon’s round and failed to make the cut. Better yet, ask Daniel Berger, who was tied for the lead going to the 18th tee on Sunday needing a birdie to win. His drive was a beauty and the second shot—a 3-wood from 250 yards—left him with the lengthy putt.
“To step up there and hit a great drive and then one of the best 3-woods I’ve ever hit in my life, and then to make that putt for eagle is just as good as it gets for me,” the newly crowned champion said.
He’ll be back….and so will we.