There are really not many opportunities for fans of a sport to play amongst their idols and professional players, but in the field of golf there are a whole range of competitions that offer just that chance. Pro-Am tournaments (Professional and Amateur) give people with a love of golf the chance to play alongside professionals in a range of events across the sport’s calendar.
These events tend to run alongside professional tournaments, particularly on the PGA tour, in which a Pro-Am tournament occurs alongside most stops on the tour. Often a more friendly form of competition, these events help golf courses raise funds to pay for hosting a tournament and also raise the profile of the game. There is lot a to explore when looking at Pro-Am golf tournaments and here we explain what they are and take a look at some of the most famous events of this nature.
Of course, not all Pro-Ams are created equally, far from it in fact. The most notable Pro-Am golf tournament, the AT&T Pebble Beach Tournament on the PGA tour, was first played in 1937 and was organised by the famous singer Bing Crosby. It has hosted the best professional players across almost a century, as well as some of the most famous celebrities, from Bill Murray to Justin Timberlake to Tom Brady, as well as a number of US Presidents including George H.W. Bush and Donald Trump. In addition, whilst anyone can play in most Pro-Am tournaments, Pebble Beach is by invitation only and is considered to be a celebrity event.
Of course, when we say “anyone”, that is anyone provided they have the cash to pay the large entry fee that many locations charge. It is hard to get accurate up to date figures but back in 2011 it would have set an entrant back $25,000 dollars to compete in the Pebble Beach tournament. Whilst other pro-am events across America command smaller fees, for many you are still talking a substantial figure.
No matter what Pro-Am you want to enter, it is also generally rather difficult to get selected, due to the limited number of spaces available for prestigious tournaments and over subscription from some of the wealthiest and most elite members of society. However, if lucky enough to be selected, playing in a Pro-Am tournament is surely one of the most prestigious events on the sporting calendar that a fan is able to actively take part in. Moreover, you stand a big chance of helping your favourite player find form before a top event and can even help them take home some extra prizemoney, if you play well enough.
Who Can Play in Pro-Am Tournaments?
The beauty of a Pro-Am golf tournament is that anyone can take part. They accompany almost all American and European tour games, with the top European game taking place at the home of golf itself, St. Andrews, at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Famous German footballer, Michael Ballack, actually won the Pro-Am at St. Andrews in 2015, alongside fellow countryman and professional golfer, Florian Fritsch. At the most famous Pro-Ams, spots tend to be filled by the crème de la crème of society within the major events across the year, but there are many minor Pro-Am competitions where for a fraction of the price (normally between $2,500 and $10,000) you would be able to compete with the same professional golfers.
In the Pebble Beach tournament there are 156 teams, made up of one professional and one amateur, and there are just 20 teams allowed to play in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. This variation shows how difficult it can be to get into some tournaments where you play as a twosome. However, a lot of the games on the PGA tour allow the professional player to make up a fivesome with four amateurs, meaning more people get a chance of glory. This helps the competition raise more money, which often funds the upkeep of the course over the year, and also goes towards a considerable charity donation made by the tournament hosts.
How Are These Tournaments Formatted?
The AT&T Pebble Beach tournament is the model that all Pro-Am competitions try to follow. It takes part over four days, with three rounds being played over the first three days, allowing the teams to be ranked over these holes. The lowest 25 out of the 156 teams make the cut for the final round, played on the fourth day, with one winner being announced at the end of that fourth day.
The professionals still count their standard score to the main part of the event, with the Pro-Am using a better ball format. Obviously this mean’s the pro’s score is often key to the success in the team event. The professional from the winning pair gains a significant share of the prize pool, $1.4 million in 2021 and 2020. Meanwhile, the amateur gets the amazing story of having won a Pro-Am event and having played with some of the biggest and best names in the sport they love.
Other tournaments have different formats, with the event taking place over just one day in most PGA tour locations. Lots of tour spots offer two Pro-Am events, one on the Monday before the tournament, featuring lesser-known players at a cheaper buy-in price. The other is on the day before the tournament starts (normally a Wednesday) and acts as a final practice round for the professionals taking part, giving them a final chance to run through the course before the real competition begins.
In these competitions the professional normally plays with four or five amateurs, who get to use their handicap, and this normally results in the games being extremely low scoring – giving the amateurs even greater bragging rights once the tournament is over. Amateurs are also given plenty of chances to take part in meet and greets with some of their favourite players, with the buy-in to Pro-Am events providing access to the rest of the tournament, and the various parties and receptions that occur over the week.
The Pro-Am golf games make excellent watching, even if it is not possible to take part, so it is worth exploring the main events across the calendar year, and what they have to offer.
Alfred Dunhill Links Championship
As already alluded to, this is probably the second most exclusive and most famous Pro-Am golfing event within the calendar. The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is so exclusive that it is almost impossible to even find out how much it costs, let alone actually be privileged enough to be allowed to stump up the cash! Amateurs and professionals team up in pairs and each play all 18 holes of the round, with the best score on each hole being the one put down on the scorecard. Four rounds are played, with the lowest score over the 72 holes being the winner, in front of the large crowds at one of the European tour’s biggest events.
One of the real highlights of the Alfred Dunhill Championship is that it is played on three superb links courses, meaning players only play on the same course twice, creating a dynamic and thrilling event taking place over some of the most prestigious courses in the world. Aside from the frequent celebrity appearances from the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Murray (he loves his golf), Wladimir Klitschko and Gary Lineker, players also get the chance to play with the likes of Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka over the four-day event.
AT&T Pebble Beach National
This mainstay of the Pro-Am golf schedule is the highlight of the year, although average Joes are extremely unlikely to get a chance to watch it in person, let alone take part. At a cost of over $25,000 it is an extremely expensive competition to try and buy in to, yet few who have attended the event doubt that the week is well worth the money.
Mixing with the biggest names in sport, and A-list celebrities alike, amateurs get the chance to party with them before and after hitting the links (one of the world’s best courses) in front of thousands of onlookers.
Taking part in a pair with a top professional golfer, the amateur gets a great opportunity to develop their own skills whilst networking with the brightest and best. On top of that, everyone’s favourite American comedian and actor, Bill Murray, takes part in the Pebble Beach competition every year. His fashion sense and on course antics are worth the watch alone.
Zurich Classic of New Orleans
At the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, on the PGA tour, amateurs can get the chance to play with two professionals for prices in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Three amateurs team up with two of the top professionals playing and in 2019 this included Sergio Garcia, Tommy Fleetwood, Bubba Watson and many other legendary golf players.
Whilst playing the round of golf in New Orleans, local restaurants supposedly set up shop along the course, wining and dining the players as they make their way through the 18 holes. So, if playing a round of golf with the best players in the world does not appeal to you, the feast you are provided maybe will.
Tournament of Champions
For a slightly more exotic Pro-Am golf experience, you could compete in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, in Hawaii.
If someone was bored of taking in the beautiful beaches, active volcanoes, and diverse wildlife, they could play a round of golf with some of the world’s best. That is because the Tournament of Champions, kicking of the PGA tour calendar, only invites those players that managed to win a tournament in the season before.
The event resembles more of a luxurious retreat, with players being invited to parties and daytrips, before rounding things off with the reason they are there – golf. For $7,500 the dream could be yours.
Waste Management Open
With a slightly less appealing name, the Waste Management Open certainly does not lack any of the golfing quality offered by other Pro-Am events. Taking place in Phoenix, Arizona the tournament gets its name from the long term sponsor, Waste Management Inc.
It is one of the best attended golfing events in America, with the course’s proximity to Arizona State University significantly bolstering visitors to over half a million fans each year.
This helps to create an electric atmosphere that amateurs can take part in for $13,000, a sizeable cost but probably the event that would most make you feel like a real golfing professional.
Can you handle the pressure of the baying crowds at the 16th, famously dubbed The Coliseum?
Gary Player Invitational
Named after the South African great, and organised by his charity, the Player Foundation, the Gary Player Invitational is an event in which all proceeds are donated to charity. The British leg of this six-location invitational series takes place at the iconic Wentworth in Surrey and has evolved from the Nelson Mandela Invitational that used to take place in South Africa. Player organised that original event and has managed to scale it up to huge success, all in the name of helping those less fortunate.
Teams of four are made up of a professional golfer, a celebrity, and two amateur players that can afford to donate at least $25,000… which rules us out. These teams compete over a round of golf, but the real reward from this event is mixing with not only golfing elite, but stars and celebs from various areas of life at the main dinner, as well as at other receptions that correspond with the tournament.
Only the best European and American golfers play from both the European and PGA tour, and this makes it an extremely attractive event. This is the reason why the Player Foundation has managed to raise over $65 million to donate to affiliated charities across the globe, spreading education and raising quality of life throughout the world.
So What Does This All Mean?
Pro-Am golf tournaments are fairly exclusive events, but if you have the money and love of the sport, taking part in one must be a life changing experience. There are very few opportunities in any sports where amateurs freely get the chance to play alongside professionals, and aside from the golf, amateurs buying into the Pro-Am events normally get the chance to socialise with all the players, being able to properly meet their idols. With Pro-Am tournaments usually taking place alongside a number of professional events, there are plenty of opportunities for any budding golfers to play alongside some of the most successful sportspeople in their field.
Many associate Pro-Ams only with the most famous, celebrity examples, such as at Pebble Beach or at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. These are certainly the biggest such tournaments and the ones where you are most likely to spot stars from film, TV, music and other sports. They are also events where the amateurs get to play alongside pros in “live” tournament play.
None the less, the smaller Pro-Ams that typically take place prior to sanctioned tour events are far more accessible and affordable. If golf is your sport, such Pro-Ams are certainly well worth checking out.