Phil Mickelson clinches his fifth victory at the 18th hole at Pebble Beach during the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and a homeless family is given permanent shelter. Actor Ray Romano sinks a putt, and an injured dog gets surgery for a broken leg—surgery the dog’s parents could not afford. The tournament, often called “The AT&T,” pumps tens-of-millions of dollars into nonprofit services almost exclusively in Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito counties. The tourney will hit a milestone in 2021, marking three-quarters of a century in Pebble Beach, and is being celebrated with the motto, “75 Years of Golf and Giving.”
The biggest stars in golf, film, television, music, and athletics congregate in our hometown area for a blissful (even when inclement) week in early February to play the hallowed grounds where Palmer and Nicklaus, O’Meara and Woods, did before them. Where Bing Crosby and his celebrity buddies once lured the curiosity of a young Fort Ord solider named Clint Eastwood, who’s spoken of sneaking into the “Crosby Clambake” in the early 1950s by hopping a fence and mingling with the group of stars. He never dreamed that, one day, he’d be one of them. He couldn’t have fathomed that he’d end up leading the whole darned thing.
Now, well over a half-a-century later, Clint himself is the “Bing” of the tournament as the Chairman of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation which runs the event. Last year alone, the Foundation donated more than $12 million to local causes, including Dorothy’s Place, which gets people off the streets and into homes.
“Our grant from the Monterey Peninsula Foundation allows us to provide 24 units of transitional housing and a program that is effective in assisting chronically unsheltered people out of encampment living and into permanent housing. It’s so very helpful to have non-governmental funding that allows us flexibility in truly meeting our consumers’ needs,” says Executive Director Jill Allen.
Dyana Klein of Max’s Helping Paws is thrilled that her nonprofit is a new recipient. “A grant from an organization as esteemed as the Monterey Peninsula Foundation not only directly impacts the fate of the pets and families we serve; now, more than ever, it confirms for us that we’re doing right by members of this community, and filling a need that’s grown exponentially this year,” she says.
Monterey Peninsula Foundation CEO Steve John says making that kind of impact is the overall goal. “I have a passion for golf and giving. The whole staff does. I love what I do,” John says. He, himself, played the tournament nine times before taking over as CEO in 2011, and affirms that the players—both the pros and the amateurs—aren’t just in it to win it, but to be part of something bigger than the game.
“It’s the only celeb pro-am still in existence and we keep squeezing the accelerator, making it better and better every year,” John says. “We’ve got a cult-like group now, our players and sponsors, and we’re at about $175 million in giving. It’s the most on the PGA tour.”
The donations are raised by sponsorships, whether from corporations or player entry fees as well as from spectator admissions. But it’s not just the dollars and decimals that impress Steve John, it’s the dedication. “All these guys and gals who come to play and to volunteer are constantly asking: ‘What more can I do to help?'” he says, proudly.
Actor Michael Peña is one of those guys. Peña, the star of Netflix’s “Narcos: Mexico” is a much-loved recent addition to the tournament, joining in 2017.
“Some say it’s an honor, but I really mean it,” he says. When giving interviews during the tournament, Peña makes sure to say the names of the volunteers who’ve assisted him that day, whether they’ve driven him to the course or helped him locate an errant ball. Gratitude seeps from his voice when he talks about being part of it all.
“To show up and play is one thing,” he says. “It’s another—and this is the important part—to show up for the locals, the causes, and the volunteers who work so hard on this tournament.” Peña started golfing 20 years ago as a young, broke actor. He got his break from Clint Eastwood, playing a boxer in “Million Dollar Baby,” and has enjoyed steady success from there, eventually leading him to the rolling fairways and “postage stamp” greens of Pebble. A six handicap, Peña has shot a shockingly low 76 during the tournament.
“There’s a mystique around playing Pebble Beach,” he says. “I’ll never forget the first time I played; it was even so much better in person. To be honest, what happened with me rarely happens, meaning I’ve surpassed my dreams. Not just realized them. I never could have dreamt this; I didn’t think it was in the cards for me to play this tournament.”
In fact, when players get talking, they often reference the dream and the camaraderie. They’re also proud to carry the torch lit by tournament founder Bing Crosby in the late 1930s.
“Overall, the group recognizes their roles and responsibilities—giving back to the community and to the volunteers,” says Steve John. “But, it’s also the hanging out, the buddy stuff, the clambake (now an opening night pairings party). We’ve been able to continue that with guys like Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson. Toby Keith, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Wayne Gretzky, Jake Owen, Ray Romano, Bill Murray. The list goes on. It’s historical. This is what Bing wanted. Bring your friends from Hollywood or form new friendships at the clambake.”
Chris Harrison, the popular host of “The Bachelor” franchise, can attest. He’s one of the more recent celebrities to have joined the select group, and he gives the AT&T Tournament his final rose.
“As a child growing up in Texas, watching the old Pebble Beach clambake transported me to a magical destination,” he says. “To a mystical place filled with Hollywood’s biggest stars. It never remotely entered my mind that I would ever see a place like this, much less have the honor to walk inside the ropes and participate.”
Harrison, a respectable nine handicap, is entering his fourth year with as much wonder as ever.
“As a man who talks for a living, I’m embarrassed to say that words fail me to fully describe the beauty and the magic that surrounds Pebble Beach and the AT&T Pro-Am,” he says. “The best way to describe it for me is, it’s like waking up and entering a dream and living out that dream for an entire week. Just please don’t pinch me and wake me up.”
Movie and television star Ray Romano says he still doesn’t sleep for several nights before the tournament, all due to excitement.
“As an obsessed lover of the game, to be able to play side-by-side with the pros is a thrill that sometimes overwhelms me,” he shares. “And the fact that you are playing with them as they compete for a real PGA tournament win is amazing. Imagine if you can, that the SF Giants let you play in centerfield during a real game! It’s nuts.”
Romano will no doubt keep fans laughing when he plays his 21st AT&T in February. “I’ve only made the cut three times in 20 years and it took me 11 years to get the first one,” he says. “But I’ve said this many times, to borrow a phrase someone once said about another pastime, ‘My favorite thing to do in the world is to play Pebble and make the cut. My second favorite is to play Pebble and miss the cut.'”
The spirit of the tournament is one of the main reasons that broadcaster Jim Nantz calls this area home. “The AT&T was always my favorite tournament as a kid growing up—the beauty, the camaraderie, the revelry—I could feel it as a viewer,” says the lead CBS sports anchor, who will enter his fifth decade of announcing the tournament in 2021.
“All of my suspicions—given birth in a daydreamer’s mind—were proven true,” Nantz says. “Pebble Beach was gorgeous. Everyone involved with the tournament was experiencing the same warm, communal vibe. And yes, the tournament was a weeklong celebration of golf and friendship. You can’t imagine the joy that came with discovering that the event exceeded my wildest expectations—the thrill it was to learn that the coziness that it imbued on a young viewer was all that I could have hoped for and more.”
The impression made on Nantz by the locale and the locals propelled him to relocate here, getting married on the seventh hole at Pebble. Nantz is thrilled to be raising his two youngest children in the very neighborhood where Bing Crosby and his cohorts once had a dream of sharing a little money with people and projects that most needed it.
“You could say that the radiance of the AT&T has shone strong enough to change lives,” he says. “We Nantzes are so grateful.”
No doubt, so many others are, too.
The 75th AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am takes place February 8-14, 2021. For more information, go to attpbgolf.com.