In the weeks leading up to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Ollie Nutt has more action items on his to-do list than a golf ball has dimples.
Nutt, president and CEO of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, which operates the tournament, has to keep each organizational stroke right down the middle of the the fairway on his drive towards the Feb. 5- 11 event. That means ensuring the presence of celebrities and top-name pro golfers, hitting application deadlines for the millions of dollars in grants from charities and nonprofit
agencies, and preparing the army of volunteers, which the tourney heavily relies upon.
If all that wasn’t challenging enough, this year Nutt has to pull it off while recovering from hip replacement surgery.
But the man’s a pro and there’s no doubt that by the time the event begins on Monday with practice rounds at Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Poppy Hills, the organizational ball will be in the hole under par.
“Ollie’s job is like being on a teeter-totter, but he’s got an excellent staff who help him stay balanced, including two people who are key—Executive Director Cindy Zoller and Director of Marketing Cathy Scherzer,” says long-time foundation board member John Anton, a retired Monterey County Superior
Here’s how Nutt sums it up: “We put on a world-class tournament and raise money for charity.”
The tournament format pairs each of the 180 amateurs with a professional. Unlike any other event on the PGA Tour, amateurs, if their pro-am teams survive Saturday’s cut, play on Sunday. Many amateurs are business leaders, but fans flock to watch the celebrities.
The impressive field this year includes Michael Bolton, Glen Campbell, Kevin Costner, Carson Daly, Kenny G., Andy Garcia, Huey Lewis, George Lopez, Craig T. Nelson, Chris O’Donnell, Ray Romano, Emmitt Smith, and Clay Walker. Among the first-timers will be an eclectic trio: Oscar-nominated actor Don Cheadle (“Hotel Rwanda”), world surfing champion Kelly Slater, and Las Vegas impressionist and singer Danny Gans.
And then there is Bill Murray, who for years has embodied the free spirit of the tourney and is famed as much for his byplay with fans as his play on the courses. His sometimes zany behavior is as much a part of the AT&T as a pro lining up a long putt on the 18th at Pebble Beach on Sunday afternoon.
The purse this year is $5.5 million, and the field features five of the top eight money winners from the 2006 PGA Tour: Jim Furyk (2), Vijay Singh (4), Phil Mickelson (6), Luke Donald (7) and Padraig Harrington (8). Others include 2006 tourney winner Arron Oberholser, John Daly, Peter Jacobsen, Justin Leonard, Davis Love III and Tom Watson, winner of eight majors, and Crosby champion in 1977 and 1978.
Tiger Woods, who won the AT&T in 2000, won’t be present, but Nutt is optimistic that he will return within the next few years. His last appearance at the AT&T was in 2002.
Starting in 1947, when Bing Crosby invited a few friends to play Pebble Beach, the annual mid-winter event has raised more than $60 million for charities and nonprofits.
That’s a stunning figure, but what does it mean?
At the Carmel Foundation, which provides services and programs for seniors and received $30,000 in the past two years, here’s the reaction:
“It felt terrific because it was really community support for the work we do, and it helps us to continue to keep the prices of lunches for our seniors low,” says Jill Sheffield, the nonprofit’s president and CEO.
Although amateurs covet invitations, even at $12,800 each, Nutt, who is 66, offers this caveat for those who seek entry into this exclusive gathering: “You can be very successful in the world of business or entertainment, but make sure you know what you’re asking for.”
Clay Larson, the president of First National Bank of Central California, who played in the tournament six times, says what is most important for an amateur is “not to embarrass yourself and not to get in the way of your professional partner. All you really want to do on the first stroke is just try to get the ball in the air somewhere down the middle of fairway.”
That’s not always accomplished.
Larson’s friend George Robinette of Monterey, who caddied for him several times, recalls how one local TV executive, teeing off before a throng, hit his first tournament shot into an electrical box barely 20 feet away. “It went clang, shot up into the air and landed on the front of the tee. He was a basket case for the next half-dozen holes.”
But there’s one thing Nutt and his strong staff can’t prepare for—the tournament’s reputation for raging rains,
whistling winds, toppled trees or surprise snowstorms—what is known as “Crosby Weather.” But then, as Nutt knows, sometimes in golf all you can do is have faith.