Bing Crosby and the Monterey Peninsula

by Ed DeBell

Bing Crosby always wanted to be in the spotlight. As a young man, he attended Gonzaga University and took a pre-legal curriculum. But, when he was offered a job as a singer in a local band in Spokane, he decided that he would rather pursue a career in show business than in the legal business. Accordingly, he ultimately joined the Paul Whiteman band and became the lead singer with "The Rhythm Boys". This gave him free time in the afternoons, and he decided to devote that time to his favorite game: golf.

Harry Lillis Crosby first became familiar with golf when he worked as a caddie at the Spokane Country Club in 1916. He only got fifty cents a bag, but it was enough to enable him to go out and play the game himself. After he moved to Hollywood, he eventually became a member of the Lakeside Country Club. In 1931, by the time he had gotten his handicap down to a single figure, he realized that he was ready to participate in tournaments. It was shortly afterwards that he laid the foundations for his own event.

In the summer of 1934, Bing invited a number of his golfing pals to spend a weekend with him in North Lake Tahoe and play together in an informal tournament at the Old Brockway Golf Course at King's Beach. This immediately became an annual get-together for celebrities of that era who wanted the fun and comraderie of playing against each other over a challenging course just to see who might win. The Old Brockway Course consisted of only twelve holes at that time, but I am sure that it was just as challenging then as it is now. It was designed by the early teacher and golf course architect John Duncan Dunn, and it opened in 1926. (Now the course is only nine holes, with holes One, Two, Three, Eight and Nine remaining unchanged since its opening; they are still very challenging even with today's modern equipment).

Obviously, most of the players at that time used the old hickory shafted golf clubs, and no doubt some of Bing's friends did the same - probably Bing himself! The signature hole, which is currently number seven, would have been very challenging with those old clubs. It is a very long, narrow, tree-lined par-five with a formidable creek mandering in front of a small, tilted, oblong green carved out of the side of a knoll. All of the putts break toward the creek and the greenitself is quite shallow. A birdie on this hole is quite is a beautiful golf hole.

In 1937, Bing moved the tournament to Rancho Santa Fe by San Diego, and it was called the Amateur-Pro Tournament. The golfers went a full eighteen holes and the purse contained $3,000.00. Some of the amateurs included Richard Arlen, Zeppo Marx, Guy Kibbee, Fred Astaire, Jimmy McLarnin, and "Mysterious" Montague - who at one time outplayed Bing using a rake, a shovel, and a bat. Bob Gardner, another amateur from Los Angeles, recalled in later years that "Everything was pretty informal at The Crosby in those days. Our entry fee was $3.00, and if they missed you one day, they would catch you the next."

The professionals barely made enough to keep them going, but among those who could make it were Henry Picard, Leonard Dodson, Denny Shute, Olin Dutra, Willie Goggin, and Sam Snead - who walked away a winner with the wonderful sum of $762.30.

In 1938, Bing was officially recognized as the host - which he had unofficially been since 1934. As such, he set up a bar in the backyard of his home near the golf course, grilled some steaks for the contestants, and sang a few songs for entertainment. In this manner, the nickname of the tournament - 'the clambake' - came into existence. Rumor has it that the stag party was crashed by a group of Hollywood starlets - and pretty girls have been showing up at the tournament ever since!

Sam Snead won again in 1938, this time over thirty-six holes. He was unable to participate in 1939, however, and the tournament was won by another 'country boy': E. J. Harrison from Arkansas. The winners over the next three years were, respectively: Porky Oliver - who years later carded a sixteen on the sixteenth hole at Cypress Point; Sam Snead for the third time; and, Johnnie Dawson - an amateur. The tournament was discontinued during the war.

In 1947, "The Crosby" was extended to fifty-four holes when it was moved to the beautiful Monterey Penninsula, where it was played on Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, and Del Monte. The purse was doubled to $10,000.00, and Sam Snead was again a winner - this time in the Pro-Am with Roger Kelly.

Then, in 1958, the format was extended to seventy-two holes with two rounds at Pebble Beach, and the purse was raised to $50,000.00. But the most significant development that year was the national televising of the tournament. "The Crosby" had gone big time.

Of late, since the demise of Bing, the name has been changed from "The Crosby" to the A.T. and T. Pro-Am, and it is played over two hills courses, Spyglass and Poppy - in place of Cypress Point and Del Monte - as well as Pebble Beach. But it has been at Pebble Beach where the splendor of the sky, ocean, and cliffs have combined to evoke a lasting impression on the mind of the awe-struck golfer, that the timeless journey comes to a climax.

Walking down the fairway of the eighteenth hole on the last day of the tournament, is visual proof that this is one of the greatest finishing holes in golf. Admirers of the course, designed by Jack Neville in 1918, have described it as "a magnificent layout sprawling along the tops of cliffs and meandering by the ocean to the edges of the Del Monte Forest."

It remains as a links course which is as tough to play as it is spectacular to look at. Measuring 6799 yards from the champion's tees, it has hosted only three United States Opens, yet it boasts some of the most famous holes in all of golfdom.

Several years ago, when Bing was living in Hillsborough and was reminiscing about his life, a friend asked him what single accomplishment had given him the greatest satisfaction. Without hesitation, he replied, "The golf tournament; no doubt about it. It's certainly the thing I'd most like to be remembered for." After all of his popularity in bands, radio, television, and movies, Bing Crosby wanted most to be remembered for his golf tournament.

We haven't forgotten the Tyrolean hat, the briar pipe, the mellow voice, or the casual manner, Bing, and I'm sure we'll never forget your devotion to golf.

How could anyone ever forget "The Crosby"?