PEBBLE BEACH, CA - FEBRUARY 09: Scenic photo of the seventh hole during the third round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at Pebble Beach Golf Links, on February 9, 2019 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR)

2024 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am rolling the dice on format change!

Photo credit: Ben Jared/PGA Tour

The annual trek to the Monterey Peninsula for the PGA Tour is center stage this week as the 2024 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is back in town.

But the only thing alike this year’s event and those in the past is the name of the tournament and that the final round will be played on Sunday at Pebble Beach.

Gone are the days when celebrities from the athletic and entertainment world cascaded into the region to join with a professional golf partner for at least three days of golf.

And the celebrities brought the fans by bus loads into the Del Monte Forest, creating party-time for the area, with celebrity spotting becoming the nightly pastime in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

The tournament is now one of the new Signature Events on the PGA Tour joining the Sentry Tournament of Champions, The Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, RBC Heritage, Wells Fargo Championship, the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday and the Travelers Championship.

As it was, some of the top professionals would skip the AT&T each year, complaining of long rounds mixed in with sketchy weather.

While there is nothing they can do about the weather – and the forecast for this week does not look promising – they can certainly improve the speed of the rounds.

And they have done just that with the new format.

The tournament is a no-cut event with only 80 players. The first two days the pros will play with a select group of amateurs, playing one round at Pebble and one round at Spyglass.

The weekend will consist of two rounds at Pebble Beach with just the professionals playing.

The Saturday party at Pebble with all the A-list celebrities is gone, but the professional field is as good as I have seen it in some time.

Of course, the $20 million purse and $3.6 million first place check doesn’t hurt when it comes to enticing the players.

If someone is still on the PGA Tour, then they are likely in town this week.

Just glancing through the field, you see Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Scottie Sheffler, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau, Brian Harmen, Max Homa, Rickie Fowler, and Collin Morikawa all entered.

I have mixed emotions about the direction of the tournament.

The new format certainly appeals to hard-core golf fans. You get the celebrities out of the way on the weekend and have a huge chunk of the best players in the world fighting it out on one of the sport’s most iconic courses.

You also won’t have as big as crowds, allowing better viewing options as you walk Pebble.

But the old format brought out what I think golf needs to do even more – appeal to the casual fan. By making it an event – more than just a golf tournament – people flooded to the tournament, especially on the weekend.

I spent several years out at Pebble on Saturday, meeting and talking with people that really didn’t know much about golf but wanted to see their favorite actor or entertainer whack the ball around the course.

And they were having a great time because of the celebrities.

As I mentioned before, after the tournament ends each day, places like Carmel-by-the-Sea and Cannery Row would come alive, and the party that started at the golf course would keep flowing.

When Clint Eastwood still owned the Hog’s Breath Inn, he would be walking around and talking with the patrons at night.

There is a lot of competition for the sports/entertainment dollar so by combining sports and entertainment you create a much larger target audience.

The Waste Management Open in Scottsdale each year has figured out the recipe. The tournament – and the concerts after the round each night – has the highest attendance of any Tour stop.

The former Safeway Open at the Silverado Resort and Spa had all the right ideas in place and was building the same type of following.

Fortinet, which took over as the sponsorship from Safeway, now seems to embrace the fan experience as well. Just appealing to the real golf fan is not enough anymore to bring in a lot of fans.

You gave to appeal to the masses not the few. To spend a day at a professional golf tournament requires a chunk of change so you have to add value to the ticket price. Simply getting into the tournament is not enough anymore.

The AT&& had that in a major, internationally recognized way. It doesn’t any longer and perhaps that’s what they are looking for. There is no doubt the field is spectacular and the venue one of the, if not the best, in the world.

I am just hoping the tournament doesn’t suffer as once you lose a base it’s a long haul to get them back.

By Dennis Miller