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Alfred Wright
January 23, 1961
In 23 years the National Pro-Am has become one of the country's distinguished golfing events. For its 24th the Crosby's creator looks over this color album of his tournament and reminisces fondly about its past
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January 23, 1961

Bing And The Crosby

In 23 years the National Pro-Am has become one of the country's distinguished golfing events. For its 24th the Crosby's creator looks over this color album of his tournament and reminisces fondly about its past

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The cold sits heavy in the ground in a great part of the country, but not in California. There the crack of the driver is heard in the land. While businessmen skip out early for an hour or two on the practice tee, the touring pros, most of them still working the kinks out of their winter swings and the hesitations out of their putters, are moving north from the Los Angeles and San Diego opens toward the Monterey Peninsula. So is the rest of the golfing fraternity. For the third weekend of January brings the " Crosby Clambake," or what is now officially called the National Pro-Amateur Golf Championship.

The Crosby, as almost everybody now recognizes, ranks with the Masters in April and the Open in June, each in its own way the most distinguished golfing event on the American sporting calendar. It is played at Pebble Beach, a spectacularly verdant seaside resort about 100 miles south of San Francisco.

Almost always, the Crosby brings with it the year's foulest weather. This was prophetically so when Bing Crosby started the tournament 24 years ago as a two-day pro-amateur golfing party for his friends. At the time Crosby owned a place near Rancho Santa Fe, a bucolic golfing spot between Los Angeles and San Diego. The rain was so bad the first day that roads and bridges were washed out (Richard Arlen, the actor, forded a swollen stream on foot to get there). After a couple of hours there was such a puddle on the first tee that a flock of mallards mistook it for a lake and landed. Eventually Crosby decided to postpone the tournament for the day, and those who could muster shotguns went duck hunting. The next day the sun came out and young Sam Snead became the winner of the first Crosby.

In the years since, the Crosby has grown in stature and importance (in 1958 it went on the air as a nationwide TV show, with Crosby himself as M.C.), but it has never lost the spirit that motivated that first day's play. Hardly anyone is now alive who isn't familiar with the casual friendliness Crosby has managed to pass along to his golf tournament despite the fact that it is now a major four-day sports classic with a total purse of $50,000. Last week as Crosby sat in the living-room of his house in Beverly Hills he reminisced about some of the highlights of previous Crosbys.

"They had a great, great golf course at Rancho Santa Fe when we started," he recalled. "There was a free weekend on the tour then, so I thought it would be fun to get a bunch of pros and some of the top amateurs together for a couple of days of golf. That first time we had 78 pros and 78 amateurs, some of the real good amateurs around here like Johnny Dawson and Roger Kelly.

"There was one time a few years back when it must have rained as hard as you've ever seen it," he went on. "That was the year Jimmy Demaret won, and on this particular day we'd given him an early starting time so he could do a show with me for the Army over at Fort Ord. Jimmy had had a pretty good round under the circumstances, a 75 I think. Well, it went on raining so bad they finally phoned me from Fort Ord and asked if they couldn't call the thing off for the day. Demaret was standing-there with me, and he said, 'What rain? Why, this is a beautiful day. Down in Texas on a day like this we'd be packing our baskets with sandwiches and getting ready for a picnic in the country.' I just didn't have the heart to call the exhibition off."

Many golfers, Ben Hogan included, have picked the 18th hole at Pebble Beach—the one Ken Venturi is driving in the photograph on page 39—as the greatest finishing hole on any golf course in America. It doglegs to the left along the shore of Carmel Bay, and it measures 540 yards. Countless times in the 15 years since Crosby moved his tournament to Pebble Beach a pro-amateur twosome has come to this final hole needing just a par for victory, only to drive both their balls into the water. Playing safely to the right is to risk going out of bounds.

One of Crosby's favorite stories about the 18th concerns the time an amateur named Bill Hoelle drove his second shot onto the rocky beach to the left of the fairway. Hoelle took a four-iron out of his bag and banged his next shot 150 yards or so right off the rocks and over the sea wall, onto the green and into the hole for a 3, giving him a net 2 on the hole with the handicap stroke he was allowed.

"Hoelle was working for Minute Maid, a company in which I had an interest at the time," Crosby said with a chuckle. "I was standing on the green when it happened and announcing the incoming players to a crowd of about 20,000. I was feeling pretty good, because the team I'd bought in the Calcutta was leading the tournament until then. But that shot of Hoelle's won the tournament. As he came up to the green I announced to the crowd, 'The man who just hit that wonderful shot, ladies and gentlemen, was Bill Hoelle, formerly of Minute Maid. From now on he will be selling French fried almonds at Atascadero.' "

For some time now one of the happiest fixtures of the Crosby has been Phil Harris, the former bandleader who is one of Crosby's closest friends. Harris likes to bill himself as playing out of the Jack Daniel's Country Club, but for all his self-deprecating comedy he is a very serviceable 7- or 8-handicap golfer. In 1951 he won the tournament in partnership with Dutch Harrison, thanks to a marvelous 40-foot putt that he sank on the enormous, undulating 17th green at Pebble Beach after Harrison had put his tee shot into the water.

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