When the price tag includes a comma, it better be a special round of golf. The best pro-ams don’t just pair you with the world’s top players, they also shower you with perks. Here are a half dozen that are worth the price of admission. (Note: entry fees reflect 2016 rates.)
ZURICH CLASSIC OF NEW ORLEANS
TPC Lousiana, Avondale, La.
Forget Fat Tuesday. In Nawlins, they party hard on Wednesdays, too. Witness the festivities that unfold midweek at the Zurich Classic, when a host of marquee restaurants set up catering stations around the course, turning a friendly competition into a Creole feast. In 2011, between bites of beignets and crawfish etouffee, Tour pro Jerry Kelly set an unofficial record for oyster consumption, sucking back so many that the scorekeepers lost count. We’ll put you down for a dozen on the first hole, no matter how many shots you take.
HYUNDAI TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
Plantation Course, Kapalua Resort, Maui, Hawaii
No chance of getting paired with a no-name pro. Not in a field that features 30 Tour winners from the previous season. Like them, you’ve earned the right to peg it in a 3-D postcard, with palm trees dancing in the foreground and humpbacks breaching in the blue beyond. From the first tee, a downhill par-4 with an ocean panoramic, the course unfolds like a tropical idyll. The tradewinds are blowing and there’s O.B. left. As if that matters. Titleist lost. Paradise found.
WASTE MANAGEMENT PHOENIX OPEN
TPC Stadium Course, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Over the weekend, the tournament itself takes on the boozy vibe of a campus kegger. But the pro-am’s when you start getting on your buzz. Reach into your swag bag. Aside from Oakley sports sunglasses and Bose noise-cancelling headphones, you’ll find a whiskey flask and a bottle of Platinum Johnny Walker Scotch. Take a swig and soak up your surroundings. Even on a Wednesday, the grounds are crowded, and, this being Scottsdale, land of skimpy outfits and surgical enhancements, the people-watching is unsurpassed.
AT&T PEBBLE BEACH NATIONAL PRO-AM
Pebble Beach Golf Links, Monterey Peninsula CC, Spyglass Hill, Pebble Beach, Calif.
You know you’ve made the A-list when you score an invite to the famous seaside shindig that Bing Crosby called the Clambake, a gathering of screen stars, athletes and entertainers on a stage as grand as any in the game. Like Jack Lemmon and Bob Hope before you, you’ll get to strut your stuff in front of sellout crowds at Pebble. Pressure? Nah. The throngs aren’t watching you. They’re eyeballing Bill Murray, whose loosey-goosey antics and deadpan interactions with the masses embody the event as it was meant to be.
GARY PLAYER INVITATIONAL
Wentworth, Surrey, England
One week after the British Open, the Black Knight rifles through his Rolodex, and a host of headline names answer his call. Fowler, Couples, Westwood and Kaymer rank among the stars who’ve taken part in this fundraiser, which benefits a children’s charity. But it’s Player who really puts his stamp on the proceedings. The nine-time major winner kicks off the event with an intimate golf clinic, then mills about the course during the competition, hitting shots and trading stories with every group.
ALFRED DUNHILL LINKS CHAMPIONSHIP
St. Andrews, Scotland
Teleport the Pebble pro-am across the pond and give it a windblown Scottish look, and you’d get something like this high-wattage event. Call it the AT&T in tweed. The format pits top pros with headline amateurs from sports and entertainment, such as Michael Phelps, Hugh Grant and Samuel L. Jackson. But the three-course rota might be the biggest star. After rounds on the Old Course, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, there’s a 54-hole cut. Then it's back to St. Andrews for the finale. It's an invitation-only affair (presumably for types who don't shy away from five-figure entry fees), though in 2014 the tournament did put one playing spot up for auction on eBay.