PEBBLE BEACH, Calif – There are few golf thrills like teeing-up for the first time on Pebble Beach Golf Links. Recently, this expensive ($495) honor and privilege came my way and the borderline “religious experience” failed to live up to the hype. The hype included gushing reviews such as “the history makes you shake from nerves” and, “as good as it gets” and, “once before you die” and, “most stunning course on the planet.”
Finding someone to bad mouth their experience at Pebble Beach is almost impossible. Throughout its 96 years, this spectacular property on the Monterey Peninsula has hosted more players of more skill levels than perhaps any other. Jack Nicklaus said if he had only one course to play for the rest of his life, he would choose Pebble Beach. The editors of Golf Digest and Golf Magazine annually award the iconic destination the “greatest public golf course in the world.”
So what is the allure and magic of Pebble Beach that annually attracts over 60,000 well-heeled players? To the first-time visitor, the overwhelming image of ocean, forests, dunes and mountains is indescribably momentous. You sense the presence of golf’s biggest legends, as well as anticipate each and every storied hole, especially the 543-yard, par-5 eighteenth with the Pacific Ocean bordering my entire left side. The course, designed in 1919 by Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, hugs the rugged coastline, offering wide-open vistas, cliffside fairways and sloping greens.
Pebble Beach Golf Links has been the site of some of golf’s most prestigious tournaments, including the annual AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, teeing off this year Feb 11-14. It has hosted five U.S. Open Championships and plans for the 2019 U.S. Open is confirmed. Last year, Brandt Snedeker shot 22-under to beat Nick Watney by three shots and pocketed $1.2 million from the $7 million purse.
In 1947, Hollywood entertainer Bing Crosby funded the first tournament purse of $10,000, featuring a star-studded field of 76 professionals including Ben Hogan and Sam Snead. Crosby invited an equal number of wealthy business amateurs and Hollywood stars and the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am was born. Cypress Point and Spyglass Golf Club were added due to popular demand. The event reached phenomenal popularity in 1958 when NBC television began broadcasting the fun and games, forever known as “The Clambake.”
Champions Tour veteran Brad Faxon, with a 28-year golf resume including 8 victories, calls the tournament, now known as the AT&T National Pro-Am, one the most important events he participated in every year of his career.
“First, I would never pass up an opportunity to play Pebble Beach,” Faxon recently told Jim McCabe from Golfweek. “My first tournament at Pebble Beach was the 1982 U.S Open and I was steamed at shooting an opening 79. The golf was truly a learning experience, but it also was the start of a 25-year streak of forming long-term personal and business relationships with successful, important and influential people, whom I otherwise would have never met.”
Faxon said he feels blessed for each chance he had to play in the Pro-Am and it pains him to think that younger players don’t see the intrinsic value of the tournament. Perhaps golf’s major championships pack the most prestige, but Faxon believes the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am ranks highest on the list of where every PGA Tour member should play because of the business connections. The PGA Tour is a massive business and because the format allows key players from Corporate America to participate, the connections and friendships can last a lifetime.
“I can pick up the phone if I ever have a question about a business deal or a financial question,” said the 53-year old Faxon. “And there are guys who will take my call because of the relationships I’ve made through the years at this Pro-Am. Of course, I was not thinking about those things when I was 22, but I do now.”
The Pebble Beach Pro-Am has a wait list of amateur partners, many from Forbes’ list of the top 400 richest people in America. Money aside, what’s not to like about spending time in the company of hugely successful people? For five decades Pebble Beach Golf Links has served as an unprecedented stage with supporting actors who are captains of industry and people who shape the world, which is one reason Faxon proclaims, “Playing Pebble Beach is truly an experience that all golfers should savor at least once in their lifetime.”
My takeaway, “It’s Pebble, quit groaning about the price.”
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