It was Wednesday of the March Puerto Rico Open week and the players were at the tee boxes.
Cameras trained on every swing and while the full weekend crowd had yet to gather, spectators stood at the sidelines. The sun glistened off the ocean and a soft breeze swept the perfectly manicured course.
PGA Tour Pro Joseph Bramlett studied the first hole along with his caddy Reynolds Robinson, and made a decision.
Reynolds handed him his driver, stepped back and Bramlett let it whale. It flew straight and center — no surprise as his 317.9 average tee shot ranks the six longest on the PGA Tour.
“OK, you’re up,” he said, nodding to his partner.
That would be me.
This average-at-best golfer knows the rules of golf well (my avid golfer mother who still gets out there at 87 would have it no other way); knows which club to use and when but may not be deft at actually using them.
How did I find myself on the tee box of a heralded PGA Tour event partnering with a player who would go on to play in the U.S. Open in Brookline?
Here’s the secret: With planning, an entry fee and some luck, anyone can play in the PGA Tour Pro-Ams that lead up to the tourneys.
For me, it was an invitation from a PR person.
“But, I’m not good,” I lamented when he gave the invite.
“Trust me,” he said, “If you know the basics and have a handicap (I do and I do), you’ll be fine.”
The Puerto Rico Open (puertoricoopen.golf) was the perfect spot for my first Pro Am.
First, there’s the location. The tourney takes place at the Grand Reserve Golf Club in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, a magnificent spot for golf but also for staying: My oceanside 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 zip all over and pick you up).
Getting to the course is as easy as asking for a quick ride. And PGA pros are everywhere — you feel like you’re there with the in crowd.
There are some basic tips.
Getting in: Most PGA Tour events have Pro-Ams. Timing and available spots vary: the PGA Tour advises you click on the “sponsorship” link of the tourney you want.
The fee: Prices range quite a bit — depending on which day you play and which tourney you choose. It’s not cheap, but it’s a life experience.
While Wednesday Pro-Ams fill up fast, many also have additional ones on Mondays — which the pros play in as well.
You’ll be paired with four amateurs and two PGA Tour pros — I played with Bramlett on the first nine and 2013 Puerto Rico Open Champ Scott Brown on the second nine.
What it’s like: I was nervous but all that went away once I nailed my first tee shot. We played a type of best ball: We all teed off and from there, played the best ball of the amateur — other than Par 3 holes in which — should we want to — we could take the pro’s drive.
The pros and caddies are very attentive to your play. Bramlett himself yanked a tool out of his bag to adjust one of my club heads. Reynolds was always on the ready with help and tips as well.
The Tour showers you with perks. Tuesday night’s “match” party lets you meet the PGA pros in a non-playing setting. On play day, you get a swag bag. And as you ride along, you pass tents serving things like steak tips and potatoes and signature cocktails. And of course, there’s the winner party.
The level of golf: First, the pro wasn’t looking for me to carry him to a great win at the Pro Am (although players gonna play; everyone wants to win.) More so, they’re meshing studying the course, planning for their tourney play, chatting up the players and sharing their love of the sport.
I never felt out of my league — although it is important to realize you play on a true Championship Course. Many holes are quite long and I think I spent more time in the sand than when I’m at the beach in my home town. This would not work for a novice.
It was the most important thing a day of golf can be: fun. True, playing with a caddy and world-class pros might have temporarily lifted my game, but that’s OK. It showed me I can get there.
I came home from my time on the PGA Tour, purchased fitted clubs and signed up for a summer of lessons and leagues. At 61 years old — and after a lifetime of my parents offering me lessons and equipment and support only to get a “no thanks” — I’m ready to be a true golfer.