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This year's Pebble is a Clambake throwback

An elite field partnered with their celeb buddies plus near-perfect conditions should combine to make this year's Pebble Beach Pro-Am a throwback to the old Crosby Clambake days. Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- There was a time when the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am was more than just a golf tournament. It was an event. Bing Crosby and his A-list cronies would celebrate and commiserate here at the iconic links for an annual gathering more informally known as simply The Clambake.

This was back when Hollywood was mostly a closed shop during the winter months, giving the entertainment community a convenient excuse to play golf instead. It might not have led to the biggest tournament showcase on the schedule, but it wasn't too far off, either.

Over the years, the tradition has continued, but the world has changed. Tournaments are no longer valued based on fun and entertainment; they're labeled with metrics regarding world ranking points and television ratings and sponsorship dollars.

It's easy to point out that some of the luster has rubbed off this event from the Clambake days.

What's more factually correct, though, is to understand that the old vibe is returning. There is a renewed electricity around here; there is a genuine sense that things are trending upward again.

This week's edition of the event will feature six of the world's top-10 players, including current No. 1 Jordan Spieth. It is hosted on one of the most treasured sports properties in the entire world. And it also owns a prime piece of real estate amongst the figurative sporting landscape, potentially capturing an audience enduring a post-Super Bowl hangover.

At a tourney too often muddied by chilly, rainy conditions, this week will consist of sunny skies and puffy white clouds against the brilliant backdrop, meaning a different kind of perfect storm will be brewing.

"I love when people compare us to the old days," tournament director Steve John said. "People say they wish we could be the Clambake again. Well, we can bring parts of the Clambake here and make it that much more special for every one of the players."

John took a few minutes Tuesday afternoon to retell one of his favorite stories in the time leading up to this year's tournament.

Not too long ago, he said with a smile, actor Mark Wahlberg committed to play in the event, which consists of at least 54 holes on the three-course rotation for the amateur competitors. The next day, his friend and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson committed, too, in part to play with his buddy.

That was all part of a new trend that harkens back to those old days. Country music superstar Toby Keith committed to the field; his friend Steve Stricker joined him soon afterward. Reigning American League MVP Josh Donaldson committed; his friend Jason Dufner followed suit.

"It was a throwback to what happened back in the Bing Crosby days," explained John, who's in his fifth year on the job. "Just because it was that way doesn't mean we have to go back to it, but there was something special about the Clambake and hanging out with your friends -- and I think we've got it now."

The first three days of this event will always be a fun-filled yuk-fest with celebrities trying to show off their best stuff amongst the guys who do it for a living every week.

It isn't hard to envision a Sunday leaderboard, though, which might consist of Spieth battling for a title alongside Jason Day, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose or any of the other big names here this week. Not that it would be a completely unique occurrence -- just four years ago, Mickelson bested Tiger Woods in the penultimate pairing to win his fourth title here -- but it would give golf a chance to own the public sporting stage for the first time since last summer.

According to the PGA Tour schedule, the season started in October, just 17 days after the previous one ended. By the standards of many observers, it doesn't really begin until the whales are breaching in the background as the winners-only field hits Kapalua. And by tradition, it didn't feel like it had commenced in recent years until Tiger and Phil made their annual opening-day appearances at Torrey Pines.

With a 12-month golf calendar, there's really no wrong answer. What can't be questioned is that Pebble Beach now feels more important to the game. This week can serve as a grand return -- some of the world's best players on one of its best locations during a lull in the sports calendar that is screaming to be filled with entertainment from this corner of the world.

"It feels like this tournament is rejuvenated," said Day, currently ranked third in the world. "The younger guys like coming here and playing. The guys enjoy it. You're around celebrities. It's a cool vibe for us."

Walking down the third fairway during a practice round, Day was asked whether the event is getting closer to once again resembling the Clambake of yesteryear.

"Clam ... bake?" he repeated inquisitively.

He didn't know the term, didn't know it was how this tournament was once referred.

Don't count Day amongst today's players who don't have any historical context. He then proceeded to rattle off some of the greatest moments from this event's past, along with Crosby's importance in turning it into what it was -- and what it is once again.

"There's a lot of history behind this tournament," he said. "I enjoy coming back here every year."

He's not alone, either. Which is just one of the reasons why this event could develop into that perfect storm this week.