One of my prized golf books is "The Crosby: Greatest Show in Golf" by Dwayne Netland published in 1975. We're now a few weeks past this year's ATT National Pro-Am, but I thought you might enjoy a few anecdotes from the book:
The very first Bing Crosby National Pro-Am, known as the Clambake, was played in 1937 at the Rancho Santa Fe CC near San Diego. Sam Snead won it in wet and muddy conditions following a hard rainstorm, and when presented with the first place check of $500 replied “If you don’t mind, Mr. Crosby, I’d rather have cash.”
In 1957 at Cypress Point, Henry Ransom attempted to recover from a bad tee shot down by the water at the 16th. He hit three shots that nailed the cliff in front of him, and the third one ricocheted back and hit him in the stomach. Henry ordered his caddie to pick up the ball and stalked off angrily with the comment “When they start hitting back at me, it’s time to quit”.
1964 found Arnold Palmer trying to play his 2nd shot on Pebble’s Par 3 17th from the rocks by the 18th tee. Jimmy Demaret was the roving TV commentator, and informed that Palmer could lift and drop keeping the line behind the position of the ball, Demaret remarked “In that case, his nearest drop would be Honolulu.”
One year, trumpeter Harry James and his pro partner finished the 18th on day 1 at 18 over par, but the scoreboard boy accidentally transposed the digits an put an 81 on the board. “Never mind”, snickered comedian Phil Harris. “by the time they finish they won’t have to change that board.”
Many of the early celebrities in the Crosby were known to consume more than a bit of liquor. One of the hardest drinkers was Phil Harris, and one year Harris and Crosby were traveling together through Scotland by car, and passed the lights of a distillery. “Look over there, Phil. They’re making it faster than you can drink it.” Harris replied “Yeah, but at least I got the bastards working nights.”
Phil Harris was kind of the early version of Bill Murray, always quick with wit yet serious about his game. One year when Crosby was hospitalized, Harris filled in for Bing as a TV commentator. Chris Schenkel observed that Johnny Miller had just hit a bunker shot with a smooth touch. “Yeah,” agreed Harris into the microphone. “As smooth as a man lifting a breast out of an evening gown.” Watching on TV from his hospital room, Crosby said that he was pretty drugged up but that comment woke him up fast.
Clint Eastwood first visited the Crosby in 1952, sneaking into the awards dinner where he and a friend went around eating up all the left over desserts. Later when he was starring on Rawhide, Eastwood was asked at a dinner if he played in the Crosby, and he commented “No, I’m not. I guess they don’t like cowboys.” Shortly after he received a personal invite from Bing in the mail, with a little note “By the way, we do like cowboys.”
Dean Martin was another regular, and with a 9 handicap he was a respectable player. One year, he described his round at Pebble: “I didn’t get a par until the fifth hole. Then I brought out the vodka. I played great the rest of the way. Those Russians have all the answers.”
Bob Hope was paired with Jimmy Demaret in 1953, and asked his partner “Can I get home from here?” on the 13th fairway at Pebble. “I dunno”, replied Demaret. “Where do you live?”
Strolling by a roving radio reporter at Monterey Peninsula CC, Hope was asked for a quick rundown of his day. Hope’s reply: “On behalf of Crosby – and who wouldn’t want to be half of Crosby with the loot that guy has – I’d like to say this is the place for the elite, where ocean and golf ball meet.”
Although we say this year’s ATT Pro-Am played in spectacularly gorgeous weather, the Crosby was known for its tough weather conditions. LA Times columnist Jim Murray described it this way: If Bob Hope and Bing Crosby ever want to get together and do a picture on the Crosby golf tournament, I’ve got the title for them – ‘The Road to Pneumonia’. They ought to call it ‘The Penicillin Open’. The Smith Bros. ought to sponsor it. [Ed - a cough drop maker] Seven thousand guys fight to get an invitation to an oxygen tent and fever chart. They can get the same sensation standing in a bucket of ice, turning on a 10,000 horsepower fan in their faces, and hiring someone to spray them with a fire hose and shoot sand in their eyes.”
In another year, Jim Murray said this about the Crosby tournament: “Of all the tournaments, my favorite of all is the Crosby. The trouble with the pros is that they don’t know how tough this game is. They usually tee up in nice sunny weather with a slight breeze at their backs, the fairways hard, the greens medium fast, and the crowd quiet and respectful. The Crosby is something else. That’s the tournament where they find out what a chamber of horrors 18 holes of golf can be. I have to think its good for them. Into each life, a little Crosby must fall.”
There, I hope you enjoyed a little Crosby falling into your life too!