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Clambaking it old school: The Callaway Golf Pebble Beach Invitational

Zachary Michael JackBy Zachary Michael Jack,
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Mark Brooks - Johnny Miller
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A smiling Mark Brooks accepts the hardware and a few good-natured quips from Honorary Tournament Chair Johnny Miller. (Zachary Michael Jack/WorldGolf.com)

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - Forget "inside the ropes." How about "no ropes at all."

At the Callaway Golf Pebble Beach Invitational, nary a thread separates fans from faves Rocco Mediate, Bubba Watson, Rich Beem and a motley crew of linksters from four professional tours who lace up their late-season spikes in hot pursuit of the $300,000 purse.

While a Callaway Invitational winner has never come from the ranks of the LPGA, Nationwide or Champions Tours, the 2009 staging offered up some sensational, inter-generational competition, as 48-year-old Tour veteran Mark Brooks closed out 20-year-old phenom Rickie Fowler with a Sunday birdie at Pebble Beach Golf Links' closing par 5 to post a 12-under 276.

The contrast between the chain-smoking, black-clad Texan - Brooks - and the white-and-orange bedecked, sun-tanned, long-locked, painter-capped Fowler exemplifies the Callaway, which elevates uncanny combinations to an art form. It's a good-timing battle royale, a free-for-all still somehow governed by USGA rules, one where the final putt falls just a few days before the Thanksgiving turkey gets stuffed and one where jolly pros dispense with the usual shackles slapped on them by their respective tours.

Out come the golf carts. Out come the cigars. Out come the range-finders and good cheer.

"It's not really about the golf," Bubba Watson said. "It's about having fun, relaxing. And you get to play golf at Pebble ... that's the extra."

The delightfully surreal world of the Callaway perennially gifts spectators with the improbable. A case in point: This year, teenaged Monterey Peninsula-native Mina Harigae bested U.S. Open runner-up Rocco Mediate by an incredible 15 shots, while Champions Tour pro Scott Simpson finished a mere two strokes back of young lions Fowler and D. A. Points in second.

"(Pebble) is pretty easy from the golds," Harigae said of the tournament's innovative tee-placement system, which is based on the average length of shots in each tour. "I've played Pebble so much, I don't really need a yardage book."

In presenting the crystal trophy to Brooks, Tournament Director Bill Sendell called the Callaway "the best spectator experience in golf."

For Brooks, it may well be the best player experience, too. "I feel like a fixture here," he said. "I've been coming [to Pebble] for almost 30 years."

Brooks' win gave him an unprecedented three Callaway titles and a motivational springboard to qualify for the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble.

The Callaway's a pretty sweet deal for amateurs, too. In their six-day stay, amateurs, approximately 300 of them, previewed the changes made in the U.S. Open links, including 16 rebuilt bunkers, 11 enhanced tees and ramped-up yardage of 7,040 yards. In an open letter written to participants and spectators, Chief Executive Officer William Perocchi summarized, "All amateur players will leave with once-in-a-lifetime memories to share with friends as they watch history made in June 2010."

Participating amateurs also scored free, one-on-one lessons with the instructors of the Pebble Beach Golf Academy, unlimited range balls and complimentary video analysis. For the final round, amateurs in groups posting the low 10 team scores and ties contested their own tournament-within-the-tournament while paired with a pro who missed the cut.

The Callaway climaxes each year with crowd favorite, cause celeb and honorary tournament chairman Johnny Miller emceeing before a throng of spectators admitted free of charge and treated to low-key, high-quality professional golf after the fashion of the famed Crosby clambake.

Far from rolling over in his grave, Der Bing is more likely whistling a tune at the annual success of the Callaway, an old-school shindig that happily manages to break every rule.

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Former newspaper sports writer and editor Zachary Michael Jack is the editor of many essay collections on the environment and outdoor life. He specializes in writing about golf. Zachary is the author of "The Links of Evalon" and edited "Inside the Ropes: Sportswriters Get Their Game On."

 
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