Monterey Peninsula Foundation CEO Steve John isn’t the only one already looking ahead to this year’s Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach.
So too are the players.
While the Champions Tour event is still a ways off–Sept. 27-29 at Pebble Beach Golf Links and Del Monte GC–a slew of pros have already committed including Olin Browne, John Cook, Fred Funk, three-time winner Jeff Sluman, defending champ Kirk Triplett and local favorite Bobby Clampett. Players expected to still join the field include Rocco Mediate, Tom Lehman, Steve Elkington and Colin Montgomerie. Vijay Singh, who’ll be eligible and was cleared by the PGA Tour of any doping charges on Tuesday, could also be in the mix.
“We’ve never had a commitment list like this so early,” John said.
While it’s hard for anyone to pass up playing at Pebble Beach, a huge factor in the player surge has been the event’s date change. The last two years, the tournament, which features Champions Tour members playing side by side with juniors from The First Tee, has been held Fourth of July week. Prior to that, it was played over Labor Day weekend.
Along with potential better weather, the date change fits better into players’ schedules. This year, they’ll compete in the newly formed Pacific Links Hawaii Championship before heading to Pebble. In 2012, the First Tee Open was sandwiched between the Senior Players Championship in Pennsylvania and the U.S. Senior Open in Michigan, leaving players crisscrossing the country.
“I’m sure we lost a few players due to that,” John said.
The two majors and The First Tee Open were also all events where players cannot use a cart.
“I think following Hawaii is going to be great,” John said. “It’s a huge benefit for the juniors playing as well. You want them to play with a great player, so we’re ensuring a better experience.”
Along with celebrating its 10th anniversary, this year’s First Tee Open could also see some new partnerships with the San Francisco Giants and San Jose Sharks.
“There’ll be more pre-tourney build up, and we’ll be doing a lot of things commemorating the event’s 10th year,” John said.
Of course, the biggest benefactors of it all are The First Tee kids.
“People realize what they’re doing for The First Tee youth by participating,” John said. “Bottom line, it’s all about the kids.”