Celebrating the Clambake


The 2010 PGA Tour schedule was released on Tuesday. It was unveiled a little later than normal, and was a little lighter than status quo, but all things considered not a bad lineup in a Bear market.

Among the highlights is a new date for the Turning Stone Resort Championship, the belle of the Fall Series ball which will be played opposite the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Not sure the event will get a better field, but it will assuredly get better weather.

There also appears to be a general architectural upgrade, with new ballparks at the Texas Open (TPC San Antonio), AT&T National (Aronimink), Canadian Open (St. George’s) and The Barclays (Ridgewood), which are all improvements, or in the case of Aronimink no-less than a lateral move, over where the events were played in 2009.

There is one tournament, however, that should be fighting the urge to celebrate Christmas in November. Although the date (Feb. 11-14), sponsor (AT&T) and general location (Monterey Peninsula) remain the same, Bing Crosby’s old “Clambake” may be the most anticipated early-season event not named the Masters.

After years of wanting fields and Crosby weather, the National Pro-Am began its upgrade earlier this summer when it dumped oft-maligned Poppy Hills from its rota in favor of Monterey Peninsula Country Club’s Shore Course in what we can only assume was the first “cash for clunkers” exchange in golf.

The Pro-Am was already going to serve as a U.S. Open prelude for players who have avoided the Monterey Peninsula like a 6-10 split in recent years.

Although the seaside gem has changed little in the decade since Tiger Woods lapped a stunned field by more than two touchdowns (15 strokes) for his first national bottle cap, Ollie Nutt, president and CEO of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, believes subtle tinkering will be enough to woo the curious star back to an event that has pulled more of Hollywood’s top players than those off the World Golf Ranking in recent playings.

Specifically, there will be three new teeing grounds at Nos. 9, 10 and 13 that will “put driver back into their hands,” said Mike Davis, the U.S. Golf Association’s top setup man.

Stillwater Cove will also be pulled closer to the action, with fairway adjustments at Nos. 6 (which was shifted 20 yards to the right and toward the scenic cove), 8, 9 and 10, which will feature a wider fairway for the Open than it does for resort play.

“Pebble is an awesome test because we can make it firm and fast (in June), you have the wind and you have some of the smallest greens we play,” said Davis, who plans to be among the masses drawn to next year’s “Clambake” with an eye toward June.

Of course the elephant on the “Crosby” tee sheet has always been Woods, who has played the event six times since 1997 but not since 2002 citing long rounds and bad weather, to say nothing of bumpy greens.

Officials also helped their cause when they announced this week a reduction in field size for next year’s event from 180 to156. Nutt also says the Shore Course will favor faster play, particularly among high-handicapped amateurs.

“It’s something we had been looking at for some time,” said Nutt, who will lose revenue from 24 pro-am partners with the move ($14,500 per amateur). “That takes two groups off each nine. If you got behind on a tee the group coming around the turn would have to wait. This should help that.”

Woods’ history should also help. In 2000, the year he shattered Old Tom Morris’ record for margin of victory at a major, he prefaced that masterpiece with a back-nine 31 on Sunday and a two-stroke victory at the Pro-Am. The world No. 1 may not be superstitious, but that’s hard history to ignore.

Yet even without the engine that turns the Tour wheel, Nutt knows 2010 is an opportunity.

“We have to show them that they need to come back in 2011,” he said. “The schedule works in our favor, the new venue, the field size, it’s all things that help us.”

Nutt has already noticed an uptick in interest, if not among the circuit’s elite than at least from the Tour’s high-profile core. Sergio Garcia, Zach Johnson and Chad Campbell – a group that has a collective total of four starts at the Pro-Am – all recently indicated interest and during a recruiting trip to last month’s Presidents Cup Japanese phenom Ryo Ishikawa said he wanted to play.

Baby steps to be sure but steps in the right direction, and a reason other than Bill Murray’s shenanigans to tune in next February.