I've received a ton of phone calls in my life. From friends, telemarketers, ex-girlfriends and bill collectors. I've been hired over the phone, fired over the phone and told I'd be an uncle over the phone. But the phone call I got last week will forever be tough to beat. Lexus was on the other end, and they wanted to know if I'd be interested in participating at their Champions for Charity event ... at Pebble Beach. (My simple thought when this was going on - "Do they really have to ask? Would a golfer in their right mind say no? I'd miss my kid's first Christmas recital for a chance to hit that second shot on number 8!")
So, I was headed to 17 Mile Drive for the first time in my young golfing life, and was heading to a place that everyone, no matter if you can break par regularly or have never touched a Golf Pride grip in your life, has heard of and knows about. This is the place of Tom Kite, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods. This is St. Andrews with a face-lift, an area that makes even the most posh parts of Scottsdale look like 8 Mile.
And why was I there? Because Lexus has sneakily put on a charity event since 1989 that has now raised more than $200 million for charities across the country. How great is this event? Well, as I noted over at Dogs That Chase Cars, people never stopped smiling ... ever. They were doing good, and doing good at a place that makes your goosebumps excited.
I asked a few of the participants what they thought of Champions for Charity, and my favorite answer came from a gentlemen that flew in from Kentucky. He told me that when the auction comes up for a spot in this tournament, he calmly, boastfully tells the rest of the crowd, "Bid as much as you want, boys, but I'm not leaving until I'm headed to Pebble!" Another gentlemen, on his sixth trip to Champions, told me it isn't anything about the golf that he loves, it's meeting the rest of the people set out to make the world a better place.
So there we were, teeing it up at Spyglass Hill, Spanish Bay, and, finally, Pebble Beach. If I must speak for a second, this year has been pretty breakthrough for my golfing resume. Before August, I had never played a top-100 golf course in the United States, but that changed when I was asked to hit up Bandon Dunes with adidas Golf. Now came Pebble, the pinnacle of beauty, history and birdies.
My warm-up for the grandaddy was Spyglass the first day and Spanish Bay on Friday. Both incredible golf courses for their sheer beauty and distinctiveness, Spyglass awes you with the opening holes that give you a glimpse of the ocean, and floors you with the march through Del Monte Forest. It's pure golf, plain and simple, and the type of course that makes you wonder, "Are there really 49 golf courses in America better than this one?" The day was a success, as laughter resonated through the pines and my playing partner, Stephanie Wei, nearly made an ace on the "Give a Lexus away" hole, even though we weren't eligible.
Spanish Bay is a different beast. All along the water, this Robert Trent Jones Jr., Tom Watson and Sandy Tatum design sends you looking around at the view more than it does your yardage. Nothing totally prepares you for the sights you see around the peninsula, but the Bay is one of those golf courses that seems almost made as a buffer for Pebble. It's a great golf course, and forces you to hit the best golf shots to score of the three we played (which I didn't, of course), and when we were done the sights were set. Pebble was tomorrow. Rest up.
There are golf courses, and then there's Pebble. No, it isn't Cypress Point, with its exclusiveness. It isn't Pine Valley, that never gives up for 18 holes. It isn't even Spanish Bay, that forces you to hit a good shot on every tee. Pebble is simply Pebble, a golf course that is set to remind you why golf is the greatest game alive. No, you and I couldn't go play a softball game at Fenway. We wouldn't be allowed to toss together a flag football game at Lambeau, and there is as good a chance I run for president as getting a doubles match together on center court at Wimbledon. But for golfers, places like Pebble Beach are just a flight (and credit card swipe) away. A place that every legend has walked. A course that has hosted major championships, and PGA Tour events, and numerous pro-ams for just about every walk of life. Golf is great because even the weekend hacker can play that second shot Tiger hit into 18 on Saturday at this year's U.S. Open. We all can relate to Phil Mickelson when he hits it in the ocean on the last hole. We can even imagine the wind whipping in your face when you look over the 7th hole, imagining actually having to hit a 4-iron into this short, sumptuous hole.
When you walk off an experience like this, you remember certain things about the round, and none of that really deals with your golf. Just like the Champions for Charity in itself, people don't leave the event harboring over one night or one event. It isn't really about anything more than charity, and relationships you make while doing this. People spend the money to attend this thing because it's a great way to simply be great. You get to spend time at Pebble Beach with others that are supporting things like the First Tee and the Boys and Girls Club.
What memories will I take from Pebble? I'll remember that opening tee shot at Spanish Bay, the winding par-5 that some think is the toughest birdie on a five in golf. I'll remember playing a ninesome on the 6th and 7th at Pebble Beach with Peter Jacobsen and a member of the USGA we will keep quiet about, but who actually suggested the idea (and lipping out a birdie putt to beat Jacobsen on the hole). I'll remember the panic and eventually laughter that came when my fellow playing partner Kirk snapped his tee shot on the second hole at Pebble hard left, nailing our caddie Josh in the foot, the first time he'd been hit in 11 years as a looper (he toughed it out for the remainder of the round, but I can guarantee that thing was as black as the bottom of the Pacific Ocean come Sunday morning). Most of all, I'll remember standing on the 18th tee at Pebble, forced to hit one of the most intimidating tee shots in golf as my first swing of the day. I stood, with a few extra guests watching, and pounding the best drive of my week left of the tree, in the middle of the fairway. The rest of the round was obsolete in my mind; I did what most hope to do when standing there with the ocean pounding against the rocks.
That's Pebble Beach, and the one thing that keeps passing through my mind as I flew back to my regular life without fireplaces in the room and high tech engines under my hood; when the heck can I go back?
(All images courtesy of the great people at Professional Event Images, Inc.)