News & Opinion

Pebble Beach deserves better fate with PGA Tour

The Tour’s most gorgeous setting awakens early in the season for this week’s pro-am with too many wrinkles. Barrels of laughs, piles of money and some of golf’s best views won’t change this fact: The site needs a better date. Why not the Tour Championship?

A golf tournament at Pebble Beach in February is like Christmas in June. The festive nature of the occasion becomes severely compromised when held six months too early, so instead of hosting a premium event in glorious conditions on prime-time television, Pebble peddles a Saturday full of Bill Murray in a multi-venue pro-am featuring some of the most inclement weather known to golfkind.

Bah humbug?

More like Barf City, dude.

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am
The par-5 18th hole at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links doglegs left around Stillwater Cove in one of the most picturesque finishes in golf.

The oceanside gem deserves so much better. Pebble Beach is an American landmark, peering out over the Pacific like a proud papa, and yet the PGA Tour continues to treat it like just another commodity, another stop on the West Coast Swing. The reason, as one might suspect, is money. Camp Ponte Vedra will generate beaucoup bucks this week, thanks to the celebrity portion of the hit-and-giggle division and the pro-am factor in general.

Although the celebs aren’t actually charged a fee to participate, they are strongly encouraged to make out a check to their favorite charity, which might be the only upside to playing this thing in the dead of winter. Given AT&T’s standing as a longtime title sponsor, the Tour sees additional dollar signs it can count on year after year. And now that football season is over, TV ratings should only get stronger, especially when Tiger Woods shows up to drive the bus.

The problem in this case is that Woods doesn’t play in his event. He’s never been a fan of the pro-am experience in a competitive atmosphere, nor is he high on 52-degree days with a 70-percent chance of rain or a 25-mph wind whipping in off the Pacific. A fair number of top-tier tour pros aren’t fond of the interminable rounds that accompany the inclusion of amateurs, which means foursomes instead of threesomes and days when 18 holes can require more than five hours to complete.

Of course, there is also the issue of the Poa annua putting surfaces, which are mystifyingly tolerable in the summer but downright cruddy in February. Back in his prime, David Duval walked into the media center one afternoon and said he was tired of an event where he hit 65 or 70 greens in regulation and shot 8 over par. Duval delivered the line with his typical droll sense of humor, but his point was crystal clear. A 4-footer at Pebble Beach is a jigsaw puzzle in a blindfold. Eventually, that can take its toll on even the sturdiest competitive psyche.

Other than that, this tournament is perfect. Perhaps someday, the Tour finally will acknowledge the wisdom of purveying Pebble’s multitude of charms for something other than just money. The sexiest scenario involves it supplanting East Lake as the site of the season-ending Tour Championship. Commissioner Jay Monahan’s condensed schedule was an obvious success in its 2019 debut, but the idea of completing the FedEx Cup playoffs in sweltering Atlanta every year comes with a few obstacles in terms of the product’s growth.

Small galleries, the oppressive heat and humidity, the lost opportunity of a prime-time TV audience in late summer, when there is virtually no presence among mainstream sports…. Playing for $15 million in gleaming August twilight on golf’s largest postcard turns common sense into the ultimate no-brainer. You want a big bang for all those gigantic bucks? You want to compete with the four majors on measures regarding prestige and transcendent viewership? Pebble Beach is the answer.

The irony of this proposal is that the Champions Tour plays one of its best events at Pebble Beach in late September. Its format includes 78 junior golfers and a strong tie with the First Tee program, which sounds a lot healthier than inviting Ray Romano out to chop up some of the game’s most vaunted ground. If Monahan wants to hold on to the February shindig and preserve those millions in revenue, fine, but at least give the game’s core fan constituency something to appreciate by returning to Pebble six months later with a more significant product. A project with much greater potential.

Talladega Superspeedway hosts multiple races each year. So does Daytona, the granddaddy of ’em all in NASCAR. Pebble Beach is worthy of far more than one day of cartoon golf and a few hours of the real thing on Sunday. With all due respect, the old Crosby Clambake probably didn’t look anything like the tournament it has become. By coupling the Tour Championship and Champions Tour/First Tee gathering in back-to-back weeks, you’re magnifying all the good stuff the 21st-century version of pro golf has to offer.

The requisite riches. The most beautiful setting in all of sports. And the ageless appeal of a game in which 15-year-old kids can team up with a 59-year-old maestro who still plays simply because he loves it.

Oh, never mind. It all sounds too good to be true. Like Christmas in December.

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