To have a good time, treat yourself to a Pro-Am golf tournament
It was the Wednesday of Puerto Rico Open week in March and the players were at the tee boxes.
The cameras practiced with each swing and while the full weekend crowd had not yet gathered, onlookers stood on the sidelines. The sun shimmered over the ocean and a gentle breeze swept across the perfectly groomed course.
PGA Tour Pro Joseph Bramlett studied the first hole with his caddy Reynolds Robinson and made a decision.
Reynolds handed him his driver, stepped back, and Bramlett let him. He flew straight and centered – no surprise as his average tee shot of 317.9 ranks among the six longest on the PGA Tour.
“OK, you’re up,” he said, nodding at his partner.
It would be me.
This average-to-best golfer knows the rules of golf well (my golf-loving mom who’s still dating at 87 wouldn’t have it any other way); knows which club to use and when, but may not be adept at using them.
How did I end up on the tee box of an advertised PGA Tour event partnering with a player who was going to play the US Open at Brookline?
Here’s the secret: with planning, entry fees and a bit of luck, anyone can participate in the PGA Tour Pro-Ams that lead up to the tournaments.
For me, it was an invitation from a public relations person.
“But, I’m no good,” I lamented when he gave the invitation.
“Trust me,” he said, “If you know the basics and you have a disability (I do and I do), you’ll be fine.”
The Puerto Rico Open (puertoricoopen.golf) was the perfect place for my first Pro Am.
First, there is the location. The tournament takes place at the Grand Reserve Golf Club in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, a beautiful place to play golf but also to stay: My oceanfront room at the resort’s Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve (hyatt.com) is about 10 steps from a beach and a quick walk to pools, restaurants and more (or via golf cart; they sneak everywhere and pick you up).
Getting to the course is as easy as requesting a quick ride. And the PGA Pros are everywhere – you feel like you’re right there with the crowd.
There are some basic tips.
Enter: Most PGA Tour events have Pro-Ams. The timing and available places vary: the PGA Tour advises you to click on the “sponsorship” link of the tournament you want.
Fees: Prices vary a bit, depending on the day you play and the tournament you choose. It’s not cheap, but it’s a lifetime experience.
While the Wednesday Pro-Ams fill up quickly, many also have other ones on Mondays – in which the pros also play.
You’ll be paired with four amateurs and two PGA Tour pros – I played with Bramlett on the front nine and 2013 Puerto Rico Open champion Scott Brown on the second nine.
What it’s like: I was nervous, but all that went away once I landed my first tee shot. We played a type of best ball: we all started and from there we played the amateur’s best ball – other than the Par 3 holes in which – if we wanted to – we could take the drive from the pro.
Pros and caddies are very attentive to your game. Bramlett himself pulled a tool out of his bag to adjust one of my clubheads. Reynolds was always ready with help and advice.
The Tour fills you with advantages. The “match” evening on Tuesday evening allows you to meet the PGA pros in a non-playful setting. On game day, you get a loot bag. And as you ride, you pass tents serving things like steak tips and potatoes and signature cocktails. And of course, there is the winners’ party.
The level of golf: First of all, the pro wasn’t looking for me to lead him to a big Pro Am win (although the players will play; everyone wants to win.) More so, they study the course, plan for their tournament play, chatting with players and sharing their love of the sport.
I never felt out of my league, although it’s important to realize that you are playing on a true championship course. Many holes are quite long and I think I spent more time in the sand than when I was at the beach in my hometown. It wouldn’t work for a novice.
It was the most important thing a day of golf could be: fun. Granted, playing with a caddy and world-class pros may have temporarily improved my game, but that’s okay. It showed me that I could do it.
I came back from my time on the PGA Tour, bought some outfitted clubs and signed up for a summer of lessons and leagues. At 61 — and after a life where my parents gave me lessons, equipment and support only to get a “no thanks” — I’m ready to be a real golfer.