One thing about Crosby weather, there's lots of it," Bing Crosby
once said of the perennially bad climate at his Clambake. Bing
died 21 years ago, and his tournament now carries the clunky
title AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, but nothing much has
changed. For the second time in three years the weather was the
Though most of the first three days of the event featured
chamber of commerce blue skies, the Pro-Am was an exercise in
crisis management after a wicked storm blew through the area
early Thursday morning and another squall followed on Friday
night. Only 36 holes were squeezed into the first three days,
and play was suspended early on Sunday when it started raining
sideways. Ignoring a storm and flood warning from the Monterey
County chapter of the American Red Cross, the PGA Tour called
for a restart on Monday morning, with predictable results. The
unrelenting rain and saturated courses put the kibosh on that,
and just when it looked like the Pro-Am was going to get washed
out, again, the Tour came up with an inspired solution: The
third and final round will be played on March 2, the day after
the Nissan Open in Los Angeles and the West Coast swing come to
an end. While some of the leaders at Pebble played as many as
seven holes on Sunday before the rain came, those results will
be stricken from the record, and the round will begin anew.
"It's good for me," Tom Watson said on Monday. "I'll be back to
10 under par and tied for the lead." (On Sunday, Watson
three-putted on his second hole at Poppy Hills to fall two
strokes behind Tim Herron, who had birdied his second hole at
Spyglass Hill.) Nipping at their heels on March 2 will be Tom
Lehman and Phil Mickelson at nine under and Paul Azinger, Jim
Furyk and Davis Love III at eight under--assuming all of them
"I'm sure there will be no-shows," says Watson. "But whatever
date you pick there will be conflicts." As of Monday morning
only eight of the top 21 players at the Pro-Am had committed to
play in the Nissan, which after decades at revered Riviera
Country Club is moving to an untested track in Valencia. The
L.A. event is often skipped anyway because it falls in the week
before the kickoff of the Tour's Florida swing at Doral. Expect
a rush of players to commit to L.A. and its $2.1 million purse
and then catch a Sunday-night charter flight to Monterey
provided by the Pro-Am. After all, Pebble Beach upped its prize
money by $600,000 this year, to $2.5 million, a purse exceeded
only by the four majors, the Players Championship and the Tour
There was a particular sense of urgency to get in this Pro-Am
because of the debacle in 1996, when one unplayable fairway at
Spyglass Hill forced the cancellation of the tournament after 36
holes, the first washout of a Tour event since 1949. That
judgment call in '96 was wildly unpopular, and the decision not
to attempt to brave the elements this year was also jeered by
February 9, 1998
"This is a golf tournament, so let's play golf," Jack Lemmon
said while relaxing in a hospitality tent off Pebble's 1st
fairway after rain had stopped play on Sunday. Clustered around
Lemmon's table was a breathing history of the Pro-Am, including
his partner Peter Jacobsen, Clint Eastwood, Huey Lewis and Tommy
Smothers. "If there's a puddle on the green, then pull out an
eight-iron and chip over it!" Lemmon said. "If it's blowing 100
miles per hour, then lean into it! These golfers are so soft. I
tell ya, Clint was more pissed off than I was. He called 'em a
bunch of p------."
Added Jacobsen, "When is the weather not horrible around here?"
Indeed, the very first Bing Crosby Professional-Amateur, in 1937
at Rancho Santa Fe Country Club in San Diego, was hit by such a
deluge that an on-course bridge was washed away. After the
tournament moved to the Monterey Peninsula in 1947, things got
worse. In Crosby lore 1952 is known as the Year of the Big Blow,
which refers to 45-mph gales that forced the cancellation of the
final round. In 1962 the finish of the tournament was delayed a
day by snow, and on three occasions since, foul weather has
shortened the Pro-Am to 54 holes.
This year's tournament was all wet before it even started,
thanks to a tempest that hit Wednesday at midnight and continued
unabated until midmorning, felling five trees and dumping 2 1/2
inches of rain. After a morning of furious squeegeeing on Pebble
Beach, Spyglass Hill and Poppy Hills, a restart was called at
high noon, four hours after the tournament was supposed to get
under way. This gave the first few groups almost six hours of
daylight, and even with the glacial pace of the amateurs they
could have squeezed in 18 holes. Still, most of the 336-player
field would not have been able to finish their rounds, and that
was the rub. Getting a couple hundred players back onto the
courses on Friday morning to complete their initial 18 holes and
then moving them to different courses to start the second round
would have been a logistical horror. "You would have had
two-hour traffic jams," R.J. Harper, the Pebble Beach Company's
director of golf, said of the area's byzantine roadways. "There
would have been pros missing their tee times and getting DQ'd,
and on top of all that there wouldn't have been enough daylight
to finish the second round, so it would have meant doing it all
over again the next day."
Taking all this into account, the Tour decided to cut its losses
and play nine holes on Thursday and nine on Friday. "It's weird.
I feel like a high school dropout," Lehman said on Thursday
after tying for the "lead" with a 32 on the front nine at Pebble
Lehman was bummed about having to call it a day while he was on
a roll and the wind was at his back for the long and treacherous
10th hole. The complaints turned shrill on Friday, when the
weather was perfect, but the Tour didn't budge on its decision
to play only nine more holes. "Hell, I like to play when the sun
is shining," Fulton Allem said. "It's like everybody is
expecting us to play in the rain. God forbid we play in the good
It should be pointed out that while the sun was out, the courses
still looked like the grounds at Woodstock. "Sloppy," said Tiger
Woods, whose play was just that, leaving him at four over when
the tournament was suspended on Monday.
"Soggy," said Lehman.
"Mucky," said Azinger.
"Mushy," said Zinger.
"Gross," added Woods.
By Friday afternoon rumors were running rampant that the final
two rounds were in jeopardy because of another big storm brewing
out in the Pacific. About this time an innocuous gray trailer
parked off the 17-Mile Drive between Pebble and Spyglass was the
most important piece of real estate in Del Monte Forest. This
was the war room where various officials were meeting to
determine the fate of the tournament, under the counsel of Greg
Quinn, a meteorologist with an outfit called Mobile Weather
Team, which works with the Tour. In a corner of the trailer
Quinn had a pair of laptop computers that were receiving
real-time radar data every six minutes, producing color models
of the bad news.
Huddled next to Quinn was Arvin Ginn, the Tour's on-site
tournament director and the man with the final word on all
decisions regarding the playing of the Pro-Am. Pointing toward
one of the multicolored blobs on the computer screen, Quinn
said, "The bull's-eye is looking like it's going to hit 50 miles
south of here, which would mean some light rain for us. But any
little variation in its path could mean trouble."
Ginn had the stricken look of a man who was going to have to
cancel Christmas. "You get in these situations, and it's a
nightmare," he said. "It's nerve-racking, gut-wrenching. Your
mind is racing in every direction at about 90 miles per hour.
You're trying to protect your responsibility to the players;
you're trying to preserve the integrity of the game; and you're
trying to look out for the needs of the tournament, the sponsors
and television. And you know that anything you decide is going
to be wrong."
He's right about that. Friday night's light rain (Quinn was on
target about the bull's-eye) polarized sentiments about the
Jesper Parnevik floated the idea of moving the event to the
fall, when the peninsula enjoys a glorious Indian summer. The
Pro-Am could easily swap dates with October's Las Vegas
Invitational, which would fold nicely into the Tour's West Coast
swing. Lou Russo, the tournament director at Pebble, shot that
one down. "The tee times are booked solid, and your daylight
hours--the revenue hours--are much longer than they are now," he
said. "It wouldn't be financially feasible for Pebble or anyone
here to run a tournament that time of year."
Another popular proposal (with many of the Tour players, anyway)
is to further reduce the number of amateurs in the field so it
would be easier to play around the rain. (Responding to the '96
disaster, this year's field had been trimmed from 180 to 168.)
Not that it mattered, but after Sunday morning's suspension the
amateurs were dumped from the tournament, a move designed to
speed the Tour players around the course.
"What we'd like to do," says Lance Barrow, the coordinating
producer of CBS's golf coverage, "is dome all three golf courses."
The Pro-Am is one of CBS's marquee events, and the weather has
seriously watered down the network's coverage. The Sunday
telecast in '96 earned a dismal 2.9 rating and 6 share, about
half the usual numbers, because of the rainout.
Normally the pairings are rigged so the A-list golfers and
celebrities play Pebble Beach on Saturday, providing what's
known as giggle golf, and then the pros all play Pebble on
Sunday and duke it out for the title. This year, with the
second-round tee times in effect on Saturday, CBS lost its
yukfest, and Barrow was forced to deploy makeshift teams to
Spyglass and Poppy Hills to shadow the leaders and then show
most of the coverage on tape because many of the golfers were
nearly done with their rounds by the time the telecast started.
Still, with the Tour struggling to get in the 54 holes needed to
have an official event (all the pros had to play each of the
three courses for the tournament to count), the CBS brass knew
better than to ask for help in rejiggering the tee times for
either the Saturday or Sunday rounds. "It's just the usual
craziness," Barrow said wearily. "What can you do about the
Bing's sentiments exactly. "Maybe that's the part of the
character of the area and the tournament that makes it unique,"
Crosby wrote 23 years ago. "Nobody asks me who won the event.
It's always, 'How was the weather?'"
"I'm sure there will be no-shows," Watson says. "There will
always be conflicts."