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The Volunteer Engine Behind the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

Krista Almanzan

The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am is in full swing after a rain delay Thursday.  Each year this charitable tournament raises millions of dollars for Monterey Bay Area non-profits, in large part thanks to thousands of volunteers.

In a small trailer about a twenty minute walk from the first tee at Pebble Beach, four volunteer drivers sit waiting for the phone to ring.   Tournament players call here when they need someone to take them from the airport or hotels to the golf courses.

As they wait,  it quickly becomes clear that the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am has a way of making volunteering a habit.   There’s Mike Nussbaum.  He flies out every year from Philadelphia.  “I’ve been doing this for, this is my ninth year,” said Nussbaum.

Next to him, Josh Fleischer has taken the week off work for the past 12 years. “As long as they’ll have me, I’ll keep doing it,” said Fleischer.

Monterey Firefighter Buzz Cole started volunteering as a teenager. “1969 we started in high school, and we came out and volunteered then,” said Cole.

And the patriarch of this group is 85-year-old Ted Bell. He has been driving the pros and amateurs around for the past 55 years.  Along the way he’s met all sorts of celebrities: Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

"As we like to say, without our volunteers, we couldn't run our tournaments."

But it’s the time spent here, making friends, that keeps him coming back.  That and the fact that he’s helping raise money for local charities.  “I wouldn’t be doing it for 55 years if it was anything different.  It really is a wonderful thing that this tournament does for the community,” said Bell.

Each year the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am raises millions dollars for the Monterey Peninsula Foundation.  Last year it brought in more than $10-million, which the foundation then awarded in grants to hundreds of non-profits throughout the Central Coast, including  CSU Monterey Bay, KAZU’s parent institution, Friends of the King City Library and the Santa Cruz Teen Center, to name a few.

Susanne Overton is Volunteer Resources Manager with the Monterey Peninsula Foundation.  She says none of this would be possible without the tournament’s 2500 volunteers.  “Even if we paid them minimum wage, there’s no way we could pay people to do what they’re doing.  So we depend on them 100%,” said Overton.

The story is the same at PGA Tour tournaments across the nation.   “As we like to say, without our volunteers, we couldn’t run our tournaments,” said  Andy Pazdur, Chief of Operations for the PGA Tour. 

Pazdur says while the PGA Tour has a long history of raising money for charity, in 1976 it became a requirement that all tournaments raise money for local non-profits, making volunteers essential.

“We could look out the window here at the first tee at Pebble Beach and there’s going to be 8 volunteers managing that T-box, controlling the crowd, helping the players and caddies and so forth those are all critical functions,” said Pazdur

Annually it takes about 100,000 volunteers to run the 100 plus on the PGA’s three tours (PGA Tour, Champions Tour and Tour).  Collectively the events have raised more than $2-billion dollars. The money comes from things like ticket sales, merchandising and sponsorships.

The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is one of only two tournaments that has crossed the $100-million mark. It has raised more than $110-million for local charities since 1937, back when it was still the Bing Crosby Pro-Am.

As Ted Bell gets ready to head out on a call, this weekend’s rainy, Crosby weather doesn’t faze him.  “1962 the year it snowed, that was the year that was really, really something. It snowed out the tournament,” said Bell.

The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am continues into the weekend with the final round slated for Sunday.