Marking its 16th anniversary, the group behind the banter of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am’s Club 15 remains committed to the steadfast fight against cancer.
For the Club’s members and the raucous fans staked out between Pebble Beach’s 14th hole and the 15th tee, come rain or shine their event continues to bring out a sizable crowd every year.
“It’s special because despite possible complications or weather conditions the same core group shows up and is not afraid of a little water,” said Steve Kasper, one of the group’s founders. “And somehow, every time the sun comes out.”
That was the case Saturday, at least until about noon when the raindrops made an appearance as they had on both Thursday and Friday, with Friday’s play suspended early due to weather.
Willi Franz, who is part of the core group that Kasper referred to, explained the group’s intent to raise and donate money to the Cancer Foundation. Franz lost his wife Debbie to breast cancer three years ago. “This is the one time a year we all get together and see people we haven’t seen all year,” said Franz. “It’s a hoot.”
This year, breast cancer was specifically focused on with the Club 15 ball caps available in pink and black, the colors of “breast cancer awareness.” The money raised from the sale of the Club’s paraphernalia goes back to the cause.
“It’s a cause close to our heart,” said Natasha DiPretoro, administrator for the group.
DiPretoro’s father was diagnosed with brain cancer this year. Her best friend Heather MacRae, a Monterey native, died from liver and spine cancer at the age of 40 last summer. A well-known Peninsula resident, she had won the LLS (Leukemia and Lymphoma Society) “Woman of the Year” award for raising awareness for the disease.
“She had wanted to come out with me to Club 15 this year,” noted DiPretoro. “Unfortunately she didn’t get the chance.”
It was 16 years ago that Kasper along with Scott Larson and Larson’s brother Ted, founded Club 15 at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Ted Larson later passed away from cancer in 2014. As Scott Larson explained, so many in the group have had loved ones affected by the disease. Since its beginning, Kasper’s father passed away from it, as did Larson’s mom’s best friend.
“Every year it’s affecting another one of our members,” he said.
Club 15 continues to evolve while still representing the overarching cause of “Stand Up to Cancer.” Larson said they’re working toward getting an official 501(c)(3) status so Pebble Beach can match the funds they earn on their own.
“Remember this is 16 years old – we were dumb when we started,” quipped Larson, revealing that once they witnessed Club 15’s popularity grow they couldn’t help but
wonder where the group’s popularity would lead.
“We are tour-sponsored but not an official fund-raising group with the tournament,” he explained while noting the incredible support that they’ve received from Steve John, CEO of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation and AT & T Pebble Beach Pro-Am tour director.
Larson said now the members would like to be hand-in-hand with the tournament. “We want to try to make this thing a real part of the tournament for whatever charities we’re looking to support and do,” he said, noting that next year the club’s founders hope to incorporate a benefit concert.
While the initial group that shows up can start out with a few, as the day progresses, spectators seem to gravitate toward the spirited cheers at Club 15.
Some years as many as 800 have gathered.
It can’t hurt that it’s where the level of interaction between fans, celebrities and amateur players is as close as it can get. And while it’s never been the intent of Club 15 founders to imitate the antics that go on at the 16th hole during the Phoenix Open held a week earlier, it’s always about professionally supporting the amateurs. The official protocol includes asking the golfers teeing off whether they want to be cheered on or not.
On Saturday, actor Greg Kinnear wanted anything but silence as he asked for even louder encouragement and said, “I need all the support I can get.” That’s after he sprinted to the Club 15 couch, sprawled out on it and inquired, “Do you do therapy here too?”
Kinnear was golfing with pro Seth Reeves and arrived after Condoleezza Rice made an appearance diligently choosing tees from the Club 15 giant-size wine glass. Charles Schwab also stopped by. The financial executive/philanthropist asked Larson in a serious tone what membership in Club 15 required.
“You just show up,” quipped Larson. After teeing off, Schwab kissed his black Club 15 cap.
Later, Andy Garcia, Chris O’Donnell and Bill Murray were amongst the other celebrities making an appearance with both amateurs and professionals.
Last year, quarterback Aaron Rogers and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald took a load off when they hung out on the warm black leather couch for a bit.
“The Great One” Wayne Gretzky sauntered right over to the sofa and took a seat – a move that surprised many. He sat for a while as his teammates Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Country music artist Jake Owen took their shots before he signed a Club 15 T-shirt.
Likely not all of them were as lucky as player Pascal Grizot this year. The PGA’s of Europe Honorary President, Pascal was paired with pro Tommy Fleetwood and twosome Russell Henley and Antoine Arnault, the CEO of French Menswear Company Berluti.
Grizot got his sore shoulders rubbed by DiPretoro while taking a break on the Club 15 couch.
DiPretoro was happy to do it, still amazed at the fact that it wasn’t raining.
“It always shines on us,” said DiPretoro, about the sunny weather. “Every year we get lucky and the sun shines on Club 15.”