From The Nightshift Archives
Editor’s Note: The classic Pebble Beach Pro-Am PGA Tour event is this weekend and, as always, we honor this unique event with a re-post of the history of the event and the man who started it: Bing Crosby. This particular post is excerpted from a piece that ran originally on the risicompeizione.com site (which The Nightshift staff also created, developed, wrote and produced for over a decade) during coverage of the team’s Laguna Seca ALMS race; new information has been added but the original time references remain. It is featured here because of one reason: Bing Crosby. When people talk about Crosby–who developed the format for what is now the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am– sometimes missed in the shuffle is precisely how good and ahead of his time Bing Crosby was in so many different areas, from entertainment to venture capital. Here’s the story on one of the great entertainers of all time and how he created a now-legendary golf tournament. It’s more amazing than any Hollywood film. We have left some of the original racing text in the story simply to provide context.
Before we dive into the details, minutiae, and results of the Laguna Seca race, this seems like a good point to go back in time to the event that really put the Monterey Peninsula on the map and that was Der Bingle’s Bing Crosby National Pro-Am. Crosby started the tournament—perhaps the first Celebrity-backed big time golf tournament—in 1937 when he hosted it at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club in Rancho Santa Fe, California. Rancho Santa Fe is a very tony development outside San Diego, California. The tournament, which was very relaxed and used as a fund raiser for various charities, continued under Crosby’s direction until 1942, when it was suspended due to the War. The tournament was re-started and re-located to Pebble Beach in 1947. Crosby—like best pal Bob Hope—was an accomplished golfer (he had a two handicap and played in both the U.S. and British Amateur championships) and one of America’s biggest media stars with an impressive career in film, as a singer, and on radio. Crosby had a powerhouse radio program, produced 300 hit singles, and won an Academy Award for his role in the Christmas classic, “Going My Way” (however, don’t overlook “Holiday Inn”, the movie in which the song “White Christmas” was introduced on film by Bing). Crosby was also famous for teaming up with Hope in the famous/infamous series of “Road” movies, in which the two bumbled their way through adventures and women in various exotic locales ranging from Rio to Hong Kong.
Crosby’s business life is not nearly so well known as his public persona, but he and his companies revolutionized broadcasting, first by developing and using magnetic audio tape to record and pre-record radio shows (he wanted a way to pre-record his shows to free himself from the demands of live broadcasting schedules) and then by funding the development of videotape (he was an early investor in the AMPEX company) to do the same thing for visual images. Crosby also owned a TV station and was a part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team until his death. Quite a life.
An avid golfer, Bing died in 1977 on a golf course outside Madrid, but the Crosby tournament at Pebble Beach had, by then, achieved a life of its own and continues today, although the name has been changed to the AT&T Pebble Beach (National) Pro-Am. When Bing died, Bob Hope—who hosted a similar event, the Bob Hope Tournament in Las Vegas—said that “if friends could be made to order, I would have asked for one like Bing”. Bing Crosby was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame and, along with Bob Hope, given the Bob Jones Award from the United States Golf Association in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship. The two friends were all-in for golf and golf competitions long before the general population was paying attention.
The tournament that Bing started is played in February, over three of the area’s top courses: Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spy Hill Golf Course, and Monterey Peninsula Country Club. It attracts a great group of both pros and amateurs and, not surprisingly, some of the celebrity amateurs are pretty good: Actor Jim Backus actually made the 36 hole cut in 1964. This past year, Denver Bronco’s QB Peyton Manning made a good showing and most people who follow the tournament know that Bill Murray—a favorite celebrity—will brighten things up if rain dampens the event, which it has on several occasions.
The tournament is technically demanding and not suitable for every pro’s game but there are some golfers for whom it’s the golf equivalent of a “home game”. Mark O’Meara has won 5 times, Phil Mickelson has won 4 as did Slammin’ Sammy Snead. Jack Nicklaus won it three times and so did Johnny Miller. Nicklaus also won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach (1972). Gene Littler holds one of the most interesting records for the tournament: he is the only person to win it as an amateur (1954) and as a pro (1975).
Regrettably there is no time for a round at Pebble Beach during the Laguna Seca race weekend, but it would be a very good promotional idea for the race organizers to work with the tournament organizers and see if a few celebrity spots might be available for class winners of the Laguna Seca TUSCC race.—along with one spot reserved for the writer who thought of the idea. What a terrific way to tie together two of the classic events in the peninsula.
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