Picture the scene: snow is falling, adding flake by flake to the three feet already piled up against the front door on this midwinter Sunday afternoon—that will have to be dealt with before work in the morning, but for now there are more pressing matters at hand. As the temperature hovers in the low twenties, a crackling fire keeps that comfortably at bay in this cozy Midwestern American home. A pair of overstuffed armchairs are positioned in front of a big screen TV in the den, with snacks and beverages at hand. As the screen shows an aerial shot of lush green grass bordered by a deep blue ocean, looked over by a cloudless sky, the mellifluous baritone of veteran CBS Sports announcer Jim Nantz booms from the audio system. “Hello, friends,” he says. “Welcome to the 2023 Pebble Beach AT&T Pro-Am.”
“The AT&T is the postcard for the PGA Tour,” Nantz says. “People sitting at home in the snow see these gorgeous images we send them, sit back and dream about being here.” And it’s not just the viewers who feel that pull. World famous actors, musicians, comedians, professional athletes and corporate figures dream of the day when a FedEx envelope from the Monterey Peninsula Foundation (MPF) lands in their hands bearing a coveted invitation to tee up at the Pebble Beach Golf Links. “This is the only tournament on the PGA Tour like it,” says Steve John, MPF CEO and Tournament Director. “It’s a great mashup of golfers wanting to be in the same place, at the same time and for the same reason.”
“To me, the AT&T is the most important tournament on the tour,” says retired PGA Tour pro Peter Jacobsen. “It was the first PGA event I ever played, in 1977. It has a special place in my heart.” It was the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am then, and he’s since played it 32 times, including when he took top honors in 1995. Jacobsen was paired with Jack Lemmon for 20 years, at the late actor’s side while he pursued his famously quixotic quest to make the cut. Another 11 years found him paired with rock star Huey Lewis. “I always looked at it as a learning opportunity, to be playing with people who are a lot smarter and more important than I am,” he says. “These people run multi-million-dollar corporations and entertain millions.” Far from distracting him from his game, however, the amiable Jacobsen took his responsibility seriously. “As a touring pro, I’m representing the game and it was incumbent on me to make sure my partner had the best day of golf they’ve ever had.”
Before Steve John came to MPF in 2011, he owned a Santa Cruz Chevrolet dealership. “I was invited to play the Pro-Am nine times,” he says. “My wife would call me at work every time the FedEx arrived, saying ‘guess what arrived today?’ That never got old.”
Bing Crosby created the tournament model of pairing pros with high-profile amateurs that endures to this day. “Obviously the pros are great,” John says, “but it becomes magical when you mix in the celebs. It’s a great tournament to witness firsthand.” In 2022, ticket sales hit an all-time high.
Jim Nantz has called the AT&T every year since 1986, but has he ever put down the microphone and picked up a club? “Years ago, while having lunch with [MPF Board Vice Chair] Doug Mackenzie at the Tap Room, he asked me to play. I thought about it for a minute but realized the idea of putting my game on national television mortified me,” he laughs. “But it was truly an honor to be invited.” Yes, Nantz was on the golf team at the University of Houston. Yes, he roomed with legendary PGA pros Fred Couples and Blaine McCal-lister. “Everyone knows that, and they draw the wrong conclusion that my game is in the 70s. It is, but that’s when I get to the seventh hole.” That invitation gave Nantz an idea, though. He dreamed up the popular event known as The Cisco Million Dollar Hole-in-one-For Charity (see sidebar on page 114).
Monterey businessman and avid golfer Ted Balestreri has been honored with an invitation to participate in the AT&T several times. “I was thrilled when it came,” he says. “It’s a chance of a lifetime to play with some of the greatest players on the greatest golf courses in the world.” That opportunity does come with some trepidation, however. “I knew a lot of people in the stands. I saw all those local people cheering for me and I was nervous as hell. I recall one time on the very first tee I was so anxious. I swung and hit the ball about 90 feet.” Balestreri was mortified. “But I kept playing.”
As co-owner of The Sardine Factory, one of the Monterey Peninsula’s signature restaurants, Balestreri plays host to many tournament participants during the week of the tournament, including, in the old days, the founder of the event, Bing Crosby. “Bing used to come and sit in the Captain’s Room with his son. He was the most popular guy in the house.” Balestreri says that many celebrities stop in during the week, but one of the most coveted events is a seat at the annual party Jim Nantz puts on in the restaurant’s wine cellar. “Jim is truly the host of hosts,” Balestreri says. “The cellar only seats 28 and the attendees are a who’s who of the golf, athletic, entertainment and business worlds.”
The real star of the show, however, is the location. When the weather is just right, the pictures beamed to those Midwestern televisions provide a glimpse of the paradise that is the Monterey Peninsula. “Also, in my opinion,” says Peter Jacobsen, “Pebble Beach is the greatest spot for golf in the world.”
The tournament’s web site provides updates on what pros and amateurs have accepted invitations to the 2023 event. For more information, visit www.attpbgolf.com.