What’s the solution for a PGA Tour event at Pebble Beach?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

The field for the Pebble Beach Pro Am was considerably weaker than usual given that some players opted for the Saudi International, many top players are looking at the schedule and seeing four elevated events in the next five weeks, and some just don’t like the pro am format. The event even had a large number of WDs so players could get to Phoenix and try to Monday qualify for the Waste Management Phoenix Open with its $20 million purse. While the Crosby Clambake was considered a must play 30 years ago, it certainly isn’t anymore. Perhaps the only thing allowing it to hang on is the golf course, perennially ranked as one of the best in the world. Is there a solution going forward for the tournament and Pebble Beach?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Yeah, here’s an interesting idea: change the name of the tournament to the “Bing Crosby National Pro-Am” and let only wives/girlfriends of the players play as the amateurs.  Seriously, I don’t know what can be done, because the whole “elevated” status thing has me quite confused about which is and which isn’t.  I kinda lost interest in this event after being repulsed for years by the asinine behaviour of Bill Murray, and the recurring appearance of no-talent hams like George Lopez.  BUT, I was delighted to see Justin Rose win it this week!

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): The event certainly needs some freshening up. I did see viewership for the event was also down 26% from last year. I tried to watch some of it early on, but I have ZERO interest in the AM aspect. I did enjoy the Sunday and Monday Pro only finish though. Is it the “Pro-Am” that throws my interest? Yeah, I think it is, because it’s too many corporate CEO’s vs “real celebrities”. But why would I watch bad golf when I could be out playing it? I’m not sure I love the fact that the tournament is played over three courses either, but I understand the logistics. It certainly has lost its glory days.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: Geoffrey Chaucer was a poet who died in 1400. In his poem Troilus & Criseyde, he wrote, “But at the laste, as every thing hath ende.” All good things come to an end. When the Crosby was first played it was rich movie stars who enjoyed the company of a struggling, travelling road show. Bing Crosby invited a few friends to play golf and provide a lucrative purse because he liked the Pros and saw a need for them to earn more than they could in other events. At the time, several movie stars earned over $100,000/year and while Babe Ruth earned $80,000 in 1930, in 1950, the average American earned $2800.00 and the average salary in major league baseball was $13,000. Today, the 100th player on the PGA TOUR earned $1.3M.  and combined with off-course earnings several earn close to $10M/yr. The point is the best golfers no longer need help from people like Bing Crosby and his friends.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I hope there is because that field was disappointing.  I love watching tournaments at Pebble because the course is iconic and great to see on tv.  That being said, I could do without the celebrities playing, I’m just interested in seeing good golf.  Perhaps if they bring Cypress back into the rotation they can draw more players and certainly more eyes on the tourney.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: The Clambake was so much fun, but that died with Crosby. It used to be comical cheering on Jack Lemon to finally make the pro-am cut. That was long before the unfunniest-ever ‘celebs’ like Bill Murray and Ray Romano made it unwatchable. Then it became just a tourney on a photogenic layout. Now the celebs are NFL superstars with indexes that indicate what they do in the off-season. Created by Crosby to get the pros a payday and introduce them to rich folks who might be able to get them some more money, it’s well past its best before date despite what Jim Nance keeps saying. The charity aspect is considerable, the CEOs lineup in the pro-am impressive, and the ratings solid (mainly because of sunshine shots of the 18th at Pebble) with a deep-pocketed sponsor. It doesn’t have to change, so it probably won’t.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): The amateur field holds little interest for most golf fans. Maybe back when they had real movie stars it was a nice draw but the CEOs are not. The real draw here is Pebble Beach. Ditch the other two courses and make Pebble the main attraction. Elevated purse or not, it’s worth watching.

On a recent podcast, Butch Harmon suggested that the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf need to get together and host four or five events with top players from each tour playing for very large purses. These would not replace the majors but be in addition. Apart from the fact that the Tours and LIV Golf are involved in legal issues and aren’t talking, this might be something to consider after the dust settles. Good idea or not?

Deeks: No interest for me. The last thing I would get excited about is players playing for even more “big money”.  It’s obscene as it is.  I get zero thrill knowing that a player won over $2 million for winning a tournament.  The one reason the majors are so compelling is because there’s a sense that they’re playing for honour and prestige, more than just money.

Loughry: Yes, I think long term, this is something that happens (UH…the PGA Tour used to call these WGC events). I think this will inevitably happen (not within 5 years though, no chance). But it would be great to see the best of the best compete a little more frequently, it draws interest and eyeballs.

Schurman: Of course, talking is a good idea. The USA isn’t the only place people play golf. They might be the biggest TV audience but what if someone built a stadium course that held 3 or 4 hundred thousand people, made arrangements for transportation, lodging etc. and organized a league that competed once per month? I wonder if there’s a country with thousands of acres of empty land. In that case, they might not need a huge TV audience.  The Romans did this over 2,000 years ago.

Rule: That would be a start, I guess.  But the dust has to settle on the legal battles first, unless one of the parties steps up and agrees to some sort of discussion on compromise.  To be honest I’m not that interested in watching 90% of the players that play on the LIV tour, but it would create a lot of interest I suppose.  So, I guess Butch has a point!

Quinn: Is that what golf needs? More $20 M (US) events? Haven’t the long-suffering loyal events (hello Canuck Open) been downgraded enough? Four or five more monster money events would punt a few more loyalists out the door. Anyway, the “top players” on the PGA Tour already have full calendars and retirement plans for their grandkids. No amount of Saudi money is going to entice them to play with the LIVers.

Mumford: They can talk all they want but more big money limited field events are not the answer. All this tinkering, with new money and new tours just makes the four majors that much more special.

Not getting a lot of attention at the moment but Austin Country Club and the PGA Tour look like they’ll part ways after the 2023 playing of the Dell World Match Play. The Match Play is the last of the World Golf Championships and its Spring date is likely to be filled by the Houston Open, another 72-hole stroke play event. With the Match Play gone and the Pebble Beach Pro Am on life support, the PGA Tour will not have any variety on its schedule. How will that play out for the players and the fans?

Deeks: Losing the Match Play will be unfortunate, for sure, and not having Pebble Beach on the annual schedule will be, too.  As far as I’m concerned, these scenarios wouldn’t be happening if so many selfish “stars” hadn’t bolted for dirty Saudi money.  And I hope the Tour doesn’t welcome them back after the LIV Tour finally dies on the vine (my guess, before 2025.)

Loughry: I think all these other “special events” will take the place of the other formats (match play) that the Tour runs. The Tiger vs Rory Monday night TV special, these teams they’re creating, whatever is being put together in these “bowl” like series.

Schurman: In 2016, I wrote an article about the impending demise of the PGA TOUR. My basic thought was it is becoming boring because Tiger ruined it. In his prime, he was so popular and so good, nobody cared about anyone else. People walking past a TV in a showroom featuring a tour event instantly asked “How’s Tiger doing”?  It was a one-man show.  In the 1930s we had Jones, Hagen and Sarazen. In the 1940s and 50s, we had Hogan, Snead and Nelson. In the 1960s and 70s, we had Nicklaus (who was the best but didn’t dominate like Tiger), Palmer, Player, Casper, Trevino, Watson, Miller, Floyd, Ballesteros etc. Every week was a tug-of-war and the TOUR grew as did golf. The 80s into the 90s saw lots of colourful competitors and guys like Norman and Faldo but not a real ‘dust-up’. Then came Tiger and that was that! Now Tiger is gone! Post Tiger, we are seeing a more level playing field due to technological changes to equipment. What remains is 50 players who are closely matched. Some are a bit better than others but they can’t separate themselves from the pack. With modern clubs and balls, young elite players grow up using game-enhancing equipment, sophisticated measuring devices and teachers who all teach a similar method. The result is unanimity at the top. I have proposed a worldwide league played in a Ryder Cup format with a combination of PGA and LPGA players for a long time. It might not be ‘the’ answer, but it is ‘an’ answer. LIV shook everyone up. Now it’s time to wake up.

Rule: The match play tournament is a tough one.  I love watching match play but it greatly reduces the number of players to watch, particularly on the weekend.  Watching the final match on Sunday is like watching paint dry.  So, give me the stroke play events, I’m fine with them.

Quinn: A lot of the guys at the Clambake, including winner Rose, pointedly mentioned that it’s a pleasant change from the Tour routine. That’s one of the main attractions of the Ryder Cup for players and fans. The demise of the Match Play can’t be welcomed by players or fans. Guess we’re stuck with Eldrick and Rory’s Top Golf knockoff for variety, and interest.

Mumford: I’ll miss the Match Play if it’s dropped but I’m ok with a steady diet of PGA Tour events punctuated by the majors. I don’t have to watch them all but at least they’re not contrived made-for-TV displays. If I want variety I can find a LIV Golf event or a replay of any Ryder Cup.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

One thought on “What’s the solution for a PGA Tour event at Pebble Beach?

  1. I very much enjoyed all the comments about Pebble Beach. Its demise as an event is a microcosm of the foundational problems besetting the PGA Tour itself. Getting Cypress Point on the tour would be great. Anything, as long as we do not have to see Bill Murray, NFL superstars and CEOs any longer. Oh for the days of Jack Lemon and Bob Hope!

    Pebble Beach is downright boring, as it stands now!

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *