PEBBLE BEACH — Sunrise would still be a few hours off when a handful of golf enthusiasts began a ritual 18 years ago that became a destination for fans from around the world.
Club 15 turned into the toast of the course on Saturdays at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where an estimated 800 people would flock to the 15th hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links to celebrate with the celebrities and amateurs.
From tributes to golfers before a tee off, to a loud roar when golf balls traveled in the thick air, to even crowd surfing, the place resembled a semi-polite frat party.
“Throughout the day, the excitement just grew,” Club 15 co-founder Scott Larsen of Del Rey Oaks said, remembering. “It was never advertised. Just word of mouth. Each year it got bigger.”
Not this year.
The noise level that accompanies each swing at the 15th hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links for Saturday’s round was missing. There wasn’t a fan on the premises as the pandemic prevented spectators at the tournament this year.
For the first time in nearly 20 years, Larsen is not at the tournament, not sandwiched in between friends and strangers. Instead, he’s home watching the tournament with a subdued feeling.
“It’s brutal,” Larsen said. “I’m getting texts from people about how this sucks. It’s been bad. But moving forward, we believe we can make this event even better than before in the future.”
Galleries around Club 15 would normally be eight deep, spread out nearly 80 feet between the pro’s tee off and amateur’s approach.
The highest point of the Pebble Beach course, the 15th hole offers incredible views of the links with the ocean on the horizon, making it the perfect spot for a “Day on the Green” type event.
“I used to hang out around the eighth hole,” Larsen said. “Then my brother Ted found the 15th hole. Its views are breathtaking. And it was the closest to the road to unload our stuff.”
Sounds of silence greeted golfers Saturday, along with a relatively bare setting. Instead of an overcrowded gallery along the 15th tee, there was wildlife peeking through the trees on an overcast, drizzly morning.
Club 15 wasn’t always popular with officials of the tournament. Yet, it was evident over the years that it was a hub most celebrities and amateurs anticipated and enjoyed.
“It just turned into this thing,” Larsen said. “It’s a little non-standard for golf. But we are quiet when we need to be quiet. We carved out our own little niche. Our slogan has been ‘keep it positive.’”
That electric atmosphere was noticeably missing Saturday. Club 15 was vacant. The only sounds were of the rain dripping off the trees above. The chairs and sofa that usually are brought out are in storage for the year.
Club 15 had more of an Area 51 feeling. Eerily quiet. Like a magical act or an alien movie, the ambiance was gone. The popular hole suffered a mood swing.
There was no toasting Bill Murray this year upon his arrival. No beverages were being handed out to the likes of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, no crowd surfing from Kevin James.
Club 15 had brought the course to life on Saturday’s for the previous 18 years. It added a unique element to the game that made a 20-minute hike from the entrance for fans worth the price, stealing some of the thunder from Pebble’s famed 18th hole.
This year there’s a feeling of loneliness standing along on the hallowed grounds. No gallery buzzing with anticipation as you climbed closer. Not even a scream from the house above the hole. Just these pesky egret birds grazing on the fairways.
Instead of a television crew eager for sound bites, just one cameraman stood alone above the TV tower between the 14th and 15th hole.
The rowdiness was replaced by the sound of a swipe from a golfers’ swing and the ball whistling through the mist, before disappearing into the grey skies.
Club 15 became accepted for its unnatural behavior. Without the crowd Saturday, it felt like the life of the 396-yard, par-4 hole had been sucked out of it. In hindsight, it was just another hole among 18.
“I miss being out there at 4 a.m., and seeing the sunrise around 7,” Larsen said. “I miss going nuts for the amateurs, interacting with them. We made Club 15 wine. Friendships were created. It was just fun.”
Had amateurs been allowed to compete, there was a chance that several of Larsen’s cohorts were going to be televised on a jumbotron, unleashing their emotions. Of course, that never materialized after the amateur portion of the tournament was canceled.
Instead, Larsen is watching the tournament on television, texting his friends, already thinking of ideas to make Club 15 even better next year. He has even met with a handful of tournament officials.
“Moving forward we believe we can be part of something more formal with the tournament,” Larsen said. “One of our goals is to donate money for cancer research. You have to find that silver lining.”
Contributed by local news sources