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Swinging With the Swells in Monterey

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It might have been some kind of world record. Almost eight minutes into the press conference for the upcoming AT&T Pebble National Pro-Am before the name Tiger Woods was even mentioned. And it came not from one of the media members in the audience, but from the outgoing Chairman of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation and Tournament Director, Ollie Nutt.

On the heels of Tiger's recent win at the Chevron World Challenge, and the announcement of his first trip to the AT&T in a decade, I expected the conference to be largely all Tiger talk. Well-known for his disdain for the long rounds, the inclusion of amateurs, and the winter poa annua greens, Woods, for the last several years, has been loath to return to the tournament, where he was once quoted something to the tune of "I see the greens are up to their old tricks again."

But with a shortened field, and the much heralded Monterey Peninsula Country Club now included again as part of the three-course rotation, Tiger's return to Pebble and the AT&T was clearly big news.

And certainly it does have an effect, with an increase already in ticket sales of some 35 percent.

"If he's in the mix on the weekend, we'll see a bump in TV ratings too," said Nutt, who added that one of the biggest issues with Tiger would be cell phones and cameras, as mobile devices are now allowed for on-course spectators. But aside from the almost obligatory and short discussion of Tiger, the rest of the conference was virtually business as usual -- something more kindred to a State of the Union Address than an homage to the old Crosby Clambake.

Nutt introduced new Foundation CEO, Steve John, and other attending dignitaries, and then went through the figures and various promotional and logistical aspects of the event. Included in the agenda, were references to the Giants-49ers shootout, military appreciation, Eagles for Education, 3M Celebrity Challenge, the Grey Goose Lounge, and the Chevron Science Zone.

Last year's event raised over $8 million, benefiting 225 local charities, with a cumulative total since 1946 of some $94 million. Nutt referred to the upcoming drive to reach $100 million, with a goal of $200 million in 10 years. Hardly a little gathering of Bing and boys for some golf and revelry with a PGA party and some charity donations thrown in, this now is clearly the corporate big time.

Representing the celebrities on the dais were actor Anthony Anderson and former coach for the Kansas City Chiefs, Herm Edwards. "I did beg and plead to get the invite," admitted Anderson. "It's hands down the best celebrity pro-am." Perhaps the only acknowledgements to the tournament's Clambake legacy were in the clubhouse of the Monterey Peninsula CC clubhouse, where various posters and memorabilia from the event going back to the 1940s were posted on the wall and presented in a permanent showcase display at the clubhouse entrance. MPCC was among the original course rotation, and its return as one of the premier courses in the country adds considerably to the overall cache and elegance of the event.

The re-modeled Mike Strantz Shore Course is superlative, and viewers would hope that it's reflected as such in the upcoming telecast.

Meanwhile, also on stage at the press conference was last year's winner, D.A. Points, who spoke of his pairing and subsequent friendship with Bill Murray, who attended the Masters to follow Points, and then joined Points one evening at a corporate outing for Electrolux. Points also talked about his new entourage (including multiple coaches, a psychologist and a nutritionist), whereupon one writer asked about the costs involved in terms of a monthly nut. "It's peanuts," replied Points. "I only pay $800 a month for the psychologist." Once again, punctuating in vivid terms, that no, this is not your father's Clambake anymore.

Perhaps the biggest buzz on the amateur side (at least locally) is the inclusion of 49er coach Jim Harbaugh, who'll join the likes of regulars Huey Lewis, George Lopez, and a host of CEO and key execs from some of the top corporations in the country.

With former winners Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus Tiger Woods, and Phil Michelson, and some of the most eye- popping scenery on the planet, the AT&T is always a treat.

This year's event runs from February 6-12, 2012.

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