Playing in a Wednesday Pro-Am
Wednesday pro-ams are a topic often discussed in the golf world, yet the majority of avid golfers have not had the opportunity to participate in one. We always hear about the pros having to play in the required Wednesday Pro-Am’s at tournaments to fulfill sponsor obligations and generate extra revenue for that week’s event, and it leaves us wondering what the reality of participating in the event is really like. I was fortunate enough to be invited to play in the Wednesday Pro-Am at the 2015 Encompass Championship at North Shore Country Club and learn first-hand what it was like to play between the ropes (most of the time) with professionals on Wednesday. Hopefully this will serve as an entertaining reflection of my experience, but also provide some insight for others looking for details about the Wednesday Pro-Am experience.
Getting the Invite
I suppose everyone finds their way into Wednesday Pro-Ams differently, but generally one of two things happens. 1) You get invited by someone that has an opening or 2) you pay a pretty penny for a slot. In my case, my good friend, Dan (also a good friend of Plugged In Golf), won a contest that offered him a sweet package of VIP passes for the whole week, passes to walk between the ropes on Saturday during the tournament, and two spots in the Wednesday Pro-Am.
The two spots in the Wednesday Pro-Am turned into four spots so Dan was able to invite three good friends to share the experience with. Knowing how rare opportunities like this are, and not having a clue when or if I’d ever have the chance again, I jumped all over Dan’s invitation. This led to one of the most interesting and most fun golf experiences I’ve ever had.
The Lead Up
Having never played in a Wednesday Pro-Am before, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. This naturally meant I spent hours Googling any minor detail I could possibly get my hands on. Logistically, the lead up was pretty simple. Dan was sent a packet with all of the passes and tickets, we were all sent an email with registration details where we listed our sizes for swag, whether or not you needed a caddy, got the itinerary for the week, and were basically told to just show up at a certain time. Of course, this leaves guys like me having way too many questions, but as I learned, just trust that the event organizers know what they’re doing.
The Pairings Party
I went to the Tuesday night pairings party with Dan and his buddy, Jason. This in itself was quite the experience. We showed up to the club, and there were people in their best evening dress and people dressed in their best middle-aged, generic khaki shorts, polos, and hats. My takeaway? It’s a pretty casual and loose event where you’re safe showing up in business casual. You’re likely not going to get kicked out for wearing jeans, but don’t be “that guy” and make sure to look somewhat presentable.
The pairings party was sweet. TONS of good food, open bar, and a great view of the 18th hole as the sun was setting. Pro tip: make sure you bring enough cash for tips at the bar. Though it’s all free, it’s the right thing to do. Think of that etiquette being similar to a wedding.
We started by sitting on the veranda watching players finishing up some practice for the evening, then headed inside to refill on food and drinks. The party had projectors setup to announce the pairings for the next day, and they handed out sheets at all the tables with the pairings and tee times so you knew when you had to be at the course the next day. After we found out that we were paired with Bobby Wadkins and got our tee time, we returned to the veranda of the hospitality building, had some drinks, more food, and just soaked the whole thing in.
The Morning of, AKA The Circus
Generally, the morning of is pretty straightforward. The powers that be inform you to show up a certain amount of time before your tee time to make sure you have ample time to check in, get your swag, eat some breakfast, hit the locker room, and warm up. I registered to have my dad caddy for me so we drove to the event together, valeted the car, checked in at the clubhouse entrance, and we were walked through the whole process. The locker room was an experience in itself. As you’re in the room changing shoes, you see guys like Tom Lehman and Craig Stadler wandering around and talking to the other guys. No big deal.
The headaches started when I hit my first shot on the driving range. I hit a pretty flush 7 iron that felt awfully funny and only went about 40 yards short of normal. When I looked down, I saw the shaft label pointing up at me and realized what had happened. I grabbed the club head and twisted it completely off the shaft. I repeated a similar process to check the rest of my clubs, and sure enough, all but two were loose. Just what I needed 30 minutes before tee time. Fortunately, after running around for the next 20 minutes and being ready to put a quick $1000 on my credit card for new irons, the club hooked me up with one of their intern’s irons, so I had a solid set for my round. Though they felt totally foreign, they were still nice clubs, and the crisis was avoided. I can’t thank the guys at the North Shore Country Club enough for helping me out there.
The Main Event
As if everything leading up to the first tee wasn’t enough of a distraction from my normal golf routine, all of the sudden I’m standing inside the ropes with a gallery, having my name announced alongside well-known professional golfers to polite applause. I didn’t really feel all that nervous teeing the ball up and addressing it, but as soon as I brought the club back I felt my heart stop beating, my body go totally dead, and all of the thoughts in my brain go straight to “Oh, $%^&, I’m in trouble.” Thankfully muscle memory made me catch the ball well, and I put the ball nicely down range on the right hand side of the fairway. I felt pretty good from that point on.
Playing alongside Bobby Wadkins was quite the experience. Most seem to know him as the brother of Hall of Famer, Lanny Wadkins. Needless to say, Bobby had more than a good story or two. He talked a bit about how Lanny was the golden child and how he didn’t want to just follow in his footsteps growing up and be “Lanny’s little brother,” which was a major reason that Bobby went to Houston rather than follow Lanny to Wake Forest. Bobby did point out that there were perks to being Lanny’s brother. When they were younger and playing on the PGA Tour together, they often played money games together against Jack Nicklaus and someone else. This was great because Lanny would pay Bobby’s way, but if they won the match, Bobby took home his chunk of the pot. Not a bad deal!
From a pure golf dork perspective, playing alongside one of these guys was a thrill. It would look like Bobby barely swung the club, but at impact the clubhead speed he generated was amazing. After he hit the ball, it seemed like it never got higher than 30 feet off the ground and still found a way to carry 265 yards. It just seemed so easy for him. When I’d ask him questions about his equipment and their access to gear on the Champions Tour, it was refreshing to hear him say that he wasn’t much of a gear tinkerer and that if he needed something, there was a guy with Cleveland that just took care of it and that was enough for him. I asked him how often that might be and he said, “I don’t know, maybe once or twice a year.”
After 18 tough holes, some good laughs with a few buddies, and some killer father/son bonding, I was exhausted. We sat in the locker room bar area and had a drink with some of the players and then hung out in the bleachers watching more groups finish up their round.
It was certainly a whirlwind two days, but the experience and memories I took away from playing in this Wednesday Pro-Am were some of the best I’ve had over my golf “career.” Little things like having a professional golfer and caddy admiring a shot you hit were some of the most satisfying things that have happened to me in this game. Seeing a legend like Craig Stadler just sitting at his locker like a regular guy and being more than willing to talk to anyone that approached him or sign an autograph was exactly what you’d hope to see. On the course, these guys certainly had a sense of camaraderie and enjoyed being in the company of each other. I asked Bobby if the field generally got along or if there were a lot of egos and attitudes. What he said to me was, “Sure, there are a handful of guys that aren’t pleasant to be around and don’t have much to do with the group, but we all tend to get along really well. Most of us are out here doing this because we want to for whatever reason, not to be miserable and make enemies. We have a lot of fun.” This was apparent walking the course with these guys, and that only made the experience that much more enjoyable for us amateurs. Of course, getting to do something like this with your dad and a good buddy is extremely special, and I’ll be forever grateful to Dan for letting me share this experience with him as well as Jason and Chris.