Fixing the Pebble Beach Pro-Am
Every year, I look forward to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, mostly because the field is usually solid and the courses are gorgeous to look at, but then the coverage comes on and it can honestly feel like a chore to watch the tournament. None of these are new complaints really, but it always just feels like this tournament should be better than it is, so let’s take a look at the problems and attempt to fix them with some (unlikely) suggestions.
I’ll admit that these are going to be from the perspective of the TV viewer and someone who probably watches too much golf, but here’s what I see as being wrong with this event:
- The coverage: Generally, I think CBS does a good job with their coverage of the PGA Tour, but it’s been a bit of a rough go to start 2015 and coming to Pebble, the worst televised event on the calendar every year, was always going to lead to more pain. The format, with pros teamed up with amateur celebrities and powerful businesspeople, has always lead to CBS showing far too much of the amateur players on the broadcast instead of the best players in the world playing on three great courses, and 2015 was no different. Every amateur stopped on 17 to talk with Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo while Peter Kostis analyzed their swing and if you did a tally of the shots from Saturday, I’d bet that the amateurs were shown more than the pros.
- The amateurs: When Bing Crosby started this event back in the 30’s, it was a big deal to see stars like himself and Frank Sinatra tee it up with Ben Hogan and the best golfers of the day, but that star power has really faded with Bill Murray being the biggest name along with country singers, Larry the Cable Guy and faceless CEO’s who could play Pebble on any random day and have the greens fee look like a rounding error in their weekly expenses.
- The time commitment: Jim Furyk started his round on Sunday at 1:05 PM ET and wasn’t teeing off on the 2nd until 1:40. Slow play is an issue in golf on the whole, but the ams in the field make a long day even longer with how much they, save for a few of them, tear up the course.
How It Can Be Fixed
I think the first point can be addressed easily enough. Instead of showing more shots of the celebs than the pros, just treat it more like a regular PGA Tour event. If one of them pulls off a great shot or does something funny, which happened frequently on Saturday, show it off. This event is supposed to be light and fun, and that should be the case on television as well, but seeing repeated shanks from a high handicapper instead of watching Jordan Spieth make a run doesn’t make a ton of sense.
I’m sure that the tournament and the PGA Tour would like to have bigger names at this event every year, and there have been some big stars to play in recent years, but it just doesn’t seem like we’re ever going to be at the point we were at when Crosby hosted 75 years ago. I also think that people aren’t as jacked about seeing celebrities, at least on television, as they used to be because they’re so present and easily accessible now, especially with social media. So, how do we address this? If we want to keep this as a pro-am format, aside from hoping that someone like Justin Timberlake, Niall Horan, or sigh, Justin Bieber wants to tee it up, why not open it up to the public?
Admittedly I haven’t thought much about the logistics, but maybe you have qualifying tournaments at various locations around the country, or there’s a blind draw, or you have people tweet with a #LetMePlayPebble hashtag or something, but at least this would open things up to people who ordinarily might not have the means to get on the course and the quality of play probably wouldn’t suffer much anyway. Unfortunately, this does nothing to solve the pace of play problem, but with this kind of format, that’s always going to be an issue.
An Alternative Suggestion
I threw this out on Twitter during the broadcast on Saturday, and I really believe that it would make the tournament far more watchable for both the television viewer and those on the course:
Obviously this would remove the Pro-Am portion of the event, and I get that that’s what this tournament has been all about since 1937, but it would definitely make it significantly more watchable and you’d probably get an even better pro field than they do already. How much fun would it be to see Adam Scott pair up with Greg Norman or Phil Mickelson with Lee Trevino? I know I’d prefer to see Jack tee it up at Pebble again instead of Chris Berman. Going without the broadcasters and mic’ing the players is something that I’ve always thought the networks should do a little more of and I think this format would do well with this idea.
This would tick all of the boxes above. Swing analysis of Tom Watson now vs. then? Sure. Seeing Gary Player stick one close on the par-3 7th? Great. You’d get way more name talent this way, in the golf world at least, and they’d move at least slightly faster than the guys we’re seeing out there now, reducing some of the slow play problems that we see here every year. Oh, and let’s figure out some way to go back to Cypress while we’re at it. It’s been far too long since the public at least got to see that course live on television.
What are the chances that any of this happens? Pretty much non-existent I’d guess, but we can dream, right?