THE CROSBY TOURNAMENT : 1937-1985 / A LOOK BACK OVER THE YEARS : A Pebble Beach Event by Any Other Name Hard to Imagine
Professional golf may have lost one of its most storied tournaments. The Bing Crosby National Pro-Am, by any other name, will never be the same, and that’s a shame. The Crosby, or the Clambake, as it was affectionately known, was unique. Somehow, the AT&T; National Pro-Am doesn’t have the same ring to it, although it does fit the PGA’s commercial format. Remember, the PGA is the same outfit that brings us the Isuzu Andy Williams San Diego Open, not to mention the Miller High Life Quad Cities Open and the Manufacturers Hanover Westchester Classic.
The PGA seems to want all its tournaments to look alike, and now the tour’s director, Deane Beman, will have a chance to turn the Crosby into what Bing’s widow, Kathryn, calls “another corporate sideshow.” When Mrs. Crosby withdrew the family name from the tournament Monday, she may not have eliminated it from the PGA schedule, but her decision undoubtedly will change its character.
Apparently, the tournament will go on as scheduled next January, and Beman said he is confident that “the public will have the same feel for the event.” Not everyone agrees. The reaction of the man on the street in Monterey Tuesday was one of sadness. Many believe that an era has ended.
“The tournament will go on, but it will lose a lot of its charm,” said Lewis Leader, city editor of the Monterey Herald. “All the pieces have not come out on the table yet.”
One thing is known, however. “Heat has been put on young Nathaniel (Crosby) to cut back on the amateurs and eliminate them by Sunday,” Leader said.
While the amateurs may be a pain to some of the pros and the television networks, they helped set the Crosby apart from the rest of the tournaments, all of which seemed to come off a Xerox copier. Only in the Crosby did the amateurs, including many celebrities, play all four rounds.
Bob Hope’s tournament at Palm Springs used part of the Crosby format, but Bing once dismissed his friend’s event by saying, “It attracts an older group.”
In fact, it was for some of his amateur pals that Crosby, a low handicapper himself at Lakeside, started the Clambake at Rancho Santa Fe in 1937. Crosby bought a summer home in the exclusive north San Diego County village to be near his race track at Del Mar.
Sam Snead won the first two Clambakes at Rancho Santa Fe--and three of the first five--when the total prize money was $3,000. Since then, the tournament has been won by such famous names as Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Lloyd Mangrum, Cary Middlecoff, Gene Littler, Billy Casper, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. Six Clambakes were played at Rancho Santa Fe before Crosby discontinued his party during World War II.
After the war, Monterey Peninsula businessmen sought a golf tournament to help publicize the charms of their scenic Del Monte forest, perhaps the most gorgeous blend of ocean, sand and forest in the world. In 1946, Ted Durein, sports editor of the Monterey Herald, wrote to Crosby, inviting him to bring his Clambake to Pebble Beach. After all, Durein said, the entertainer would be coming home. Crosby had a house on the 13th fairway.
Samuel F. B. Morse, who owned the peninsula, its famous 17-mile drive and the Pebble Beach course through his Del Monte Properties, offered Crosby the course for his tournament.
Crosby liked the idea. He still had his January dates on the tour and offered to put up $5,000 of the $10,000 purse, which was then required by the PGA. He thought, however, that it would be more fun to play the tournament on all three peninsula courses. So in 1947, the Clambake moved to its new home and was played at Pebble Beach, Cypress Point and the Monterey Peninsula Country Club. In 1966, a new course, Spyglass Hill, replaced the Monterey Peninsula Country Club.
Like its predecessors at Rancho Santa Fe, the Pebble Beach Clambake was as much a party as a golf tournament. For the peninsula natives it was a social event, and many spectators came to watch the celebrities rather than the golf pros. Crosby and his Hollywood pals entertained every year at a big party the night before the opening round.
Stories and legends abound. The peninsula’s infamous weather became known as Crosby weather. To Crosby’s pal, Phil Harris, it was double-bourbon weather. Crosby once told this reporter, “The weather does elevate the uncertainties.”
Over the years, golfers have had to battle rain, sleet, bitter cold, an high winds--up to 65 m.p.h. in 1952, when balls were blown off tees. In 1962, a round was postponed by snow. At Cypress Point, even the pros had to hit two wood shots, a long-iron shot and a pitch to reach the green at No. 17, a hole that then measured only 371 yards. Often, when the wind blew at gale strength at Pebble Beach, the pros used 2-irons, and even putters, to bounce their tee shots down the hill on the short par-3 seventh hole. In calm weather the shot was usually made with a wedge or a 9-iron.
Legend has it that when Middlecoff once complained about being blown off his feet while trying to putt at Cypress Point, Peter Hay, the venerable Scottish pro at Pebble Beach, was heard to growl, “Who says you have to stand up to putt.” On bad days on the peninsula, scores in the 80s, even by such players as Hogan and Nicklaus, were common. Nicklaus, in fact, once shot a 10-over-par 82, including a 45 on the back nine at Pebble Beach, blowing the lead in the final round and finishing in a tie for 18th.
One rainy day, Jack Lemmon sank so deeply into a bunker that he left a shoe in the sand when his caddy had to pull him out.
The pros’ fondness for Crosby and the character and beauty of the courses kept them coming back, some grudgingly. Snead hated the cold weather, for instance. Nicklaus has missed only one Clambake since 1962, an attendance record he usually saves for the major tournaments. Yet, after one particularly blusterly week, Nicklaus said he’d rather start the golf season in Florida in January and compete with California football in the autumn.
The weather wasn’t always bad, however. Once, when a tournament was blessed in the early rounds by warm, dry weather, Crosby was so elated he went to Mass at the Carmel mission, only to hear the priest pray for rain.
Some infamous scores were shot during the Crosby tournament. Ed (Porky) Oliver took 16 strokes on the 16th hole at Cypress Point in 1954. Five years later, a club pro from Ohio named Hans Merrell broke Oliver’s record on the hole, which requires a carry of more than 200 yards over the ocean, by shooting a 19, exactly 16 strokes over par. Remarkably, Merrell never hit a shot into the water, spending most of his time on the beach and in clumps of ice plant below the 30-foot cliff.
Arnold Palmer was another victim of the demanding courses. In an episode that became known as “The Perils of Palmer,” he was shown on television for 20 minutes in 1964 as he tried to extricate himself from the beach and rocks below the par-3 17th hole at Pebble Beach. He took a 9 after being allowed to put his ball on the rocks, from where he hit his seventh shot onto the green.
Another time, Palmer’s second shot on the par-5 14th hole at Pebble Beach hit a tall pine tree and sailed out of bounds. He took a double-bogey 7. That night, the tree fell over during a storm. “When I hit ‘em, they fall,” Palmer quipped the next day.
The Crosby has made millions of dollars for charity, and no salary has ever been paid to any of the 500 volunteers who have donated their time at Pebble Beach.
Much of the money came from the amateurs. Each year Bing would receive about 8,000 applications from amateurs to play in his Clambake. Fewer than 200 could be accommodated, and Crosby himself made the final selections. “He listens to me, then he does it his way,” Bing’s brother Larry once said.
After Bing’s death in 1977, his son, Nathaniel, became the tournament’s host. He was 16 at the time.
Pebble Beach was always Bing’s favorite course, but he often said that Cypress Point, one of the most exclusive clubs in the world, was more fun to play. He once made a hole-in-one on the 16th hole that had so embarrassed Oliver and Merrell, and it was not until 1982 that a professional, Jerry Pate, duplicated the feat during the tournament. Bing’s ace cost him $380 at the Cypress Point bar.
The Monterey Peninsula is not what it used to be. Conventions, young swingers and the nouveau riche took over the historic Del Monte Lodge after 20th Century Fox bought the peninsula in the late 1970s. And this winter, Marvin Davis, the Denver oilman who owns Fox, rode a golf cart during the tournament. Bing probably wouldn’t have approved. Previously, only former President Ford had been given permission to ride.
But the peninsula still had the Crosby, even if it had become more a golf tournament than a party. The question today is, will it survive a corporate takeover?