Actor Jack Lemmon never made the cut in countless playings of the Crosby Clambake.
Over the years the tournament has been called the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the Bing Crosby National Professional Amateur and other names. Whatever called, Lemmon’s game soured down the stretch as the television viewing audience and playing partner Peter Jacobsen felt his pain.
Lemmon passed on without the thrill of making the cut, yet time and again he spoke of how lucky he was to compete in the event.
Golf is unique in many ways, but most of all it’s a game which all levels of player can compete at the same time on the same layout.
In contrast, imagine going one-on-one against Shaquille O’Neal on the hardwood floor or stepping into the batter’s box with Randy Johnson firing 100-mile-an-hour fastballs.
Forgetaboutit. Just can’t happen.
Each week there is a golf event where only your checkbook balance can keep you away from playing with and against national and local golf pros.
Once in that competition, some amateurs will fashion masterful games, while others stumble and fall.
“I remember playing in the pro-am of one of my first Western Opens,” said Larry Wadkins, winner of 21 PGA Tour events and now a television analyst and member of the Champions Tour. “After meeting with my playing partners and warming up, we stepped to the first tee. I could tell this guy was nervous as all get out. He was playing those old Executive clubs, the ones which had a scooped out look to them.”
“He just wanted to hit the ball and get off the tee. He was shaking. I don’t think he aimed his tee shot, but he took a mighty swing, whiffing. He swung again, and the club went under the ball and popped it airborne. As he followed through he hit the ball again and it fired backward, past his head, and into the crowd behind the tee. Luckily nobody was hurt.”
The man may not have realized when paid his entry fee to play with the pros he just might embarrass himself or his pride.
That experience is the exception rather than the rule, yet even seasoned golfers can have a case of nerves when playing in a group which includes a professional on a course which has real life fans standing nearby.
How much you pay goes a long way toward who you might play with. Howard Lutnick played 18 holes with Tiger Woods a couple of years ago after his wife Allison made a staggering $51,000 bid for the day of golf. It has been reported that England’s Prince Andrews might make himself available to round out foursomes at the Windsor Castle nine-hole course for a few hundred pounds.
Playing in a PGA Tour pro-am can set you back more than $8,000. Yet local section PGA of America pro-am slots cost a mere fraction of that. A couple hundred dollars and you can play a great course with an outstanding PGA professional.
The PGA Tour’s Saturday Series, which is priced about $2,000 and up depending on the event, features players who missed that week’s 36-hole cut at a week’s Tour event. Former U.S. Open champions Scott Simpson and Corey Pavin, Masters’ champion Sandy Lyle and Larry Mize, and tour winners such as Ben Curtis, Mark Brooks, Billy Mayfair and Robert Gamez and players who have won more than 250 PGA Tour events in total have competed in the Saturday Series.
“We feel the Saturday Series is an affordable way for amateurs to play along with PGA Tour pros,” explains Gary Hallberg, a Tour winner and one of the founders of the Saturday Pro-Am Series. “It’s a great day, and it helps support charity.”
You can golf alongside Hollywood stars and professional athletes by playing in a Celebrity Players Tour pro-am. Charles Barkley, Maury Povich, Jack Wagner and Michael Jordan have competed on the celebrity tour.
The biggest bargain of all might be the National Oldsmobile Scramble Tournament. Local qualifies advance to sectional competition, where they will be paired with a local professional. All for a mere entry fee of $50 plus green’s fees.
Generally, your tournament fee covers golf, cart, tee gift, prizes and a day of camaraderie with the professional. Depending on the entry fee, it may also include breakfast or lunch with the pro, an elaborate gift package and opportunity to earn a berth in a future tournament.
Great competition, friendship and golf stories await you at a pro-am, although there are those situations, which one actually would like to forget about. “I remember playing in a pro-am and this fellow swung and nearly missed the ball. It somehow came off the club and hit him near the belt-buckle,” said Wadkins with a smile.
Wadkins offers these hints for potential pro-am players:
First and foremost, have fun!
Get to the course early. Meet your playing partners and warm up. There’s nothing worse than getting to the first tee, slipping on your golf shoes and trying to hit the ball in front of a crowd.
Feel free to ask the pro for a golf tip or two, but not to re-work your entire swing in one fell swoop.
Autographs are fine, but not to your entire wardrobe.
John Mahaffey adds that making an entire day of it makes the true experience. "Playing in a pro-am isn't for those with their minds on business or home," said the former PGA Champion. "Remember, it's your fantasy day. Enjoy the course, the competition and your professional. Feel free to ask questions. Make it a day to remember."
There are countless opportunities to play alongside a man who has won a PGA Tour event or a woman who has claimed an LPGA Tour event.
Check it out!