PACIFIC GROVE, Calif. -- Casey Boyns counts as a fixture on the Northern California golf scene, as ingrained in the landscape as waves crashing along the Monterey Peninsula coastline.
He's a noted caddie, toting bags and dispensing advice at Pebble Beach for the past 30 years. That makes him Pebble's second-most experienced caddie, behind only Robert "Rocket" Lytle, and a coveted companion on any trip around the storied course. Boyns has worked for everyone from basketball superstar Michael Jordan to former Giants owner Bob Lurie, his steady bag the past 25 Februarys in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Boyns also plays the game at a high level - to the tune of 15 victories in Northern California Golf Association events and, most memorably, two wins in the prestigious California State Amateur. He won the tournament (at Pebble) in 1989 and '93, joining a handful of players, including 1964 U.S. Open champion Ken Venturi, to wear the crown more than once.
For all his acclaim as a sage caddie and accomplished amateur player, Boyns also takes pride in his role as founder of the Christmas Classic - once an intimate holiday tournament and now a bursting-at-the-seams December tradition on the Monterey Peninsula. He started the event in 1984, but it has since grown so big that he doesn't even run it anymore. The tournament long ago became too much for him, so he handed over the operation to Amateurgolf.com.
Boyns did make one important stipulation: He wanted to play every year.
This year's edition wraps up its two-day run today, a parade of amateurs tackling Del Monte Golf Course and Pacific Grove Golf Links. Many of them still refer to the event as "Casey's Christmas Classic," the alliterative name his brother, Bucky, coined during a casual conversation in the early years.
Back then, it took only $40 to enter a tournament open to pros and amateurs alike - the pros played for cash, the amateurs for merchandise. Boyns built a following by making the entry fee cheap and offering a generous payout, along with an array of fun sideshows such as skins games, long-drive contests and closest-to-the-pin competitions.
"The tournament was pretty low-key at first, and then it just took off by the third year," Boyns said. "It got to the point where I'd have 30 to 40 extra people and I had to give them their money back. It got out of control."
It's gotten bigger
The tournament has lost a bit of its original spirit, as Boyns put it, given the increase in price (the entry fee now runs $270, hefty but not outrageous these days). But he understands the changes made by Pete Wlodkowski of Amateurgolf.com, who spread the tournament over two courses, allowing for a larger field, and added senior and women's divisions.
About 150 players will play this year, more than half of them in the championship division (where the entry fee and a handicap index of 5.5 or lower guarantee you a spot). The event attracts top players from all over the map - locals, some from the Bay Area and others from the Central Valley, all flocking to the Monterey Peninsula on the first weekend of December.
They savor the wintertime ritual: a chance to play Del Monte, the old gem tucked behind the Hyatt Regency in Monterey, and Pacific Grove, the picturesque municipal layout long known as a poor man's Pebble Beach.
It's a fitting tribute to Boyns, the son of a barber who loved golf. Leonard Boyns introduced young Casey to the game and always told him the state amateur was the biggest event around. So when Casey won the biggest event around for the first time, on the grand stage of Pebble Beach, he was perhaps most proud of winning in front of his dad.
Decades of stories
Boyns, 55, has plenty of stories about his three decades as a Pebble caddie, as you might expect. Start with Jordan, who played at the resort in the late 1980s with Boyns on his bag. Jordan missed a short birdie putt on No. 1 and arrived at the No. 18 tee still without a birdie all day, as he pointed out in dismay.
Then, on the final hole, Jordan coolly rolled home a 40-foot birdie putt to end his drought - as if he were merely sinking a long jump shot in the closing seconds of a basketball game.
"It was just like, 'Give me the ball and let's get it done,' " Boyns said.
Even so, Boyns remembers another part of the story. He was in Chicago a few months later for a member-guest tournament at a friend's club. Jordan was playing in the same tournament, and he greeted Boyns by name, as if they were longtime friends. Boyns was floored.
He's practically a celebrity in his own right at Pebble, with his photo on the wall in the Tap Room and a plaque commemorating his state amateur win in the snack shop near the No. 10 tee. On top of that, Boyns was inducted into the California Golf Hall of Fame in 2009, recognition for his great amateur playing career.
He shares none of this with the players whom he provides with golfing counsel, preferring to keep a low profile. Boyns emits a distinctly down-to-earth vibe, thoroughly unimpressed with the enduring presence he and the Christmas Classic have become.
E-mail Ron Kroichick at firstname.lastname@example.org.