It's 7 AM on a crisp fall morning in Palm Springs, Calif., and I'm going through that morning ritual that happens to me once a week. I wake up, shower, and prepare myself for what I always prepare myself for when I'm picking up the strap of my golf bag and heading out the door; a head-to-head battle with whatever golf course has drawn me for the day in hopes that today will be the day I figure it all out.
But it isn't a normal day of 18 holes. Today I show up to a golf tournament that doesn't ask the question, "do you want a drink," it hands you one, along with a new golf shirt, pants, a matching belt, a hat and "ohbytheway, here are a pair of the best sunglasses in the business don't forget to wear them on the course!"
Welcome to the Oakley Pro-Am, the coolest golf tournament in the world, and one that doesn't matter who you are, just that you've come with a smile on your face and a positive attitude.
The Oakley Pro-Am series isn't golf, it's golf the way a lot of us wish it would be. This game has long been known to be a bit uptight, and if there is any thought that your day with the "O" on your hat was going to be normal, that is quickly tossed out the window when you see the deejay on the driving range and the Bloody Mary bar with the longer line than that of the breakfast buffet.
Started 15 years ago in Scottsdale, Ariz., the Oakley Pro-Am has turned into an event that spans the nation, hitting up places like TPC Scottsdale, Halfmoon Bay and PGA National. Show up to bang some balls before your round and after the swag-reconstruction of your outfit, you might run into Ken Griffey Jr., Gary Sheffield or Chris Duhon on the range, preparing for an event that they simply show up at because they love what the company is about.
"It gives me a chance to meet people that want to go out there and play golf and it's a good time," Griffey Jr. said about showing up to the events. "Oakley works hard at what they do and this gives them a chance to give back and say thank you to everyone that supports them."
Golf isn't supposed to be cool. It isn't. There is a great quote from "Happy Gilmore" as Adam Sandler's character is introduced to golf when the young man representing a hockey jersey bluntly says of a man in plaid pants and a goofy hat, "If I saw myself in clothes like those I'd have to kick my own ass," and as a diehard golf freak, I tend to agree. But this past year has made me accept something; with the right people, and the right company, golf can be as fun and as interesting as tailgating before the AFC Championship game.
The idea behind the Pro-Am started as a way to give back to Oakley's eyewear accounts and has turned into a year-long challenge that ends during Waste Management Open week in something called the Skull Cup, an event that pits all the winner's of the Pro-Ams against each other in a two-day match play event that is the "cool kids" corner of the lunch room. On the first tee this year there was James Nitties, the Australian Web.com player, teeing it up in competition and Parker McLachlin, the 2008 Reno-Tahoe Open champion, providing entertaining commentary.
"It's such a cool vibe," McLachlin said of the Skull Cup. "Guys that are grinding, playing hard, partying hard, and it's just a unique vibe where everybody's in it and into the competition but everyone's not taking anything too serious that they can't go out and have a great time at the Waste Management Open after they play golf."
My first experience with the Oakley Pro-Am came at a lazy resort in North Carolina just a $20 taxi ride from Pinehurst. Waking up that morning, I was surprised to hear my room thumping as I got ready and was anxious to get outside to see what was happening. The event was just starting but that didn't mean that Dax, the traveling deejay, wasn't on Oakley's branded golf cart, set with more speakers than the back of a high-school Civic, along with a custom turntable set that pulls out of the back of the cart. This music will be routinely driving by your round of golf that runs anywhere between $300-400, but you easily get that back with golf, gear and whatever special perk that comes at your location (North Carolina had cooks at the turn, drinks on the golf cart).
In Palm Springs, around the third hole I remember asking the beverage cart if I could have a water and the reply was typical - "The only thing that isn't taken care of by the event is bottle water."
"Okay, fine, force me to have fun," I thought.
It's hard to grasp how much different these events are than your regular pro-am. Not only are you going to run into a celebrity here or there at every event, but these people come voluntarily. One round I was sharing a golf cart with Goose Gossage (who hits it pretty darn good, I might add) while a friend of mine was experiencing his first Oakley Pro-Am at the mercy of David Wells behind the driver's wheel.
In the golf world, the Oakley culture is a unique one. The stable of golfers this company has put out of the years has changed, from young guns like Rory McIlroy and Keegan Bradley to major winners like Zach Johnson and Bubba Watson, and the company once known solely for their eyewear has used the pro-am as a chance to show a ton of aspiring young golfers and older gentleman just looking to have some fun on the course that what they're making is as good as anything on the market.
Never have I seen a golf tournament that prides itself on their logo as much as these events do, and from the parking lot to the "O" tee markers to the flags and anything in between, you feel like this is something special the moment you arrive on the grounds.
It doesn't hurt that the group that puts this on has as much fun as one team can have that prides themselves in being professional. Oakley likes to call themselves a family, but there are plenty of companies out there that use this term. At these events, it's true, and you see it simply by the way they interact with not only themselves, but the people that showed up that day to go through the Oakley experience.
It's the last day of the Skull Cup, and while the International team looks like they're going to be trounced by the Americans, guys are still grinding out their matches. The Oakley Pro-Am draws some really solid golfers each event, and to win one of these you better be able to golf your ball, so the Skull Cup isn't lacking in talent. It's the 5th hole, I'm tied in my match against the head pro at Gainey Ranch Golf Club and while we're both having fun, neither of us want to lose no matter if the Cup is over or not. I'm standing over a difficult tee shot, one that forces me to turn the ball over left to right on a par-5 that's reachable if you pull it off, and as I'm going through the mental motions of my pre-shot preparation, I hear the music start to grow louder. I back off, look over and a familiar song starts pumping out of the Oakley golf cart that will be in hibernation for a few months before the next season of Pro-Ams kick off. I go back through my motions, a smile on my face, and music now pumping through my veins. I boom a drive, drawing perfectly over the trees down to a spot I didn't even know I was capable of reaching. I look over as the deejay whips by, on to the next group to give them an experience they won't soon forget.
It's a culture, a community and an event not worth missing. Golf is supposed to be fun, right? The Oakley Pro-Am never lets you forget that motto.
(For more info, and future dates, click here.)