Every year at about the time that the nation's 6 million amateur golfers are digesting the last few mouthfuls of their Thanksgiving bird and dreaming wistfully of next spring's birdies, several hundred of their more proficient brethren are nervously awaiting the arrival of each morning's mail. The time has come for invitations to the National Pro-Amateur Golf Championship, better known as the Crosby Clambake or just the Crosby.
Even among the very great of amateur golf, an invitation to the Crosby is as much to be appreciated as a comehither look from Sophia Loren. But apparently—and happily—one need not be among the very great to get either. This year, as always, the Crosby numbered among its amateurs some names that are household words only in their own households. Yet the 168 amateurs who played last week were culled from a list of 7,156 who had either applied for invitations or were thought worthy of same by the host. Among them, of course, were some truly fine golfers in their own right, for Bing himself is an excellent player who regards the game with respect and is jealous of the reputation of his tournament. There was Dick Davies, the current British Amateur champion, Harvie Ward, twice U.S. Amateur champion, and Dr. Frank (Bud) Taylor, three-time Walker Cupper. There were great celebrities of other sports who also know their way from tee to green—low-handicap players like Alvin Dark, manager of the San Francisco Giants, Del Shofner, one of pro football's leading pass catchers, and John Brodie, quarterback for the 49ers. There were celebrities from both biz and show biz: Tom Lanphier, president of Fairbanks, Morse & Co., Chase Morsey of Lincoln-Mercury, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Ray Bolger, Dean Martin, Phil Harris. There were even a couple of Roman Catholic priests who are friends of Bing's.
This heterogeneous collection of amateur golfers all had one thing in common: for at least three days they had to play tournament golf over courses as difficult as any in the world under the same conditions as their professional partners. Worse yet, they had to do it with thousands of people watching them, and with the freezing knowledge that their professional teammates had thousands of dollars at stake. When an amateur in the Crosby owns up to a bit of nervousness, he really may be asking himself why he hadn't planned a January cruise of the Caribbean.
"If you want to sum up how an amateur feels about this tournament," Pete Elliott, the Illinois football coach, was saying bravely after a trying round at Cypress Point, "it's like this. Every amateur would really like to see how he could do in a big event. This is his only chance, so he takes it."
Conditions for both pro and amateur at the Crosby are notoriously among the most testing anywhere on the calendar of tournament golf. It isn't just that Pebble Beach is brutally long and devious—Gene Littler shot an 83 there last Thursday—or that Cypress Point is a treacherous seascape (the third course used for the Crosby, the Monterey Peninsula CC, is a relative snap). There is an annual meteorological phenomenon in northern California each January known as Crosby weather. In drought years farmers sigh with relief over the approach of the tournament, knowing that at last the skies will open. Gales invariably batter the coastline. Last year there was even a blizzard.
Anecdotes about the weather monopolize Crosby Week conversation. One of the classic stories is that told by Larry Tailer, a San Francisco businessman. "I was playing the 17th at Cypress one year," reminisced Tailer, "and the wind was blowing so hard the birds were going backward when they tried to fly into it. Usually I hit a drive and a six-iron at 17, but this day I hit three of the biggest woods of my life, and the third shot was hole high at the back of the green. Then the wind started to blow the ball toward the hole. It would roll and stop and roll and stop. When it got within a couple of inches of the hole, I tapped it in quickly for my par 4."
Once an amateur gets his invitation to the Crosby, he can look forward to six weeks or so of unrelieved travail. First he must find a place to stay in the small vacation resort of Carmel or the nearby city of Monterey. If he has been going to the tournament for years and has a special pull with the management, he may get a room at the Del Monte Lodge, which overlooks the 18th green at Pebble Beach. Or he might just possibly get into Carmel's charming old Pine Inn, where the small bar has been the after-dark hangout for amateur golfers through the years. Otherwise, he has to scramble for space in one of the lesser hotels or motels, most of which are booked up months in advance by the touring pros and the hundreds upon hundreds of California golf bugs for whom the Crosby is a date as firmly fixed on their yearly schedule as Christmas.
Next the amateur must practice to the exclusion of all else. He can spare time for only brief visits to the office. His wife must do the Christmas shopping. The living room carpet becomes a putting green. If he lives in a frigid climate, he has to find an indoor driving range.
It is when the tournament finally gets under way at dawn of a brisk Thursday morning in mid-January that the amateur entertains his first doubts about why he even bothered. The dew sweepers have to begin teeing off at the three courses as early as 7:30, when the chill early light is just seeping through the tall pines of the Monterey Peninsula. This means they have to climb out of a warm bed in the numbing darkness, mummify themselves in sweaters and windbreakers and grab some eggs and bacon alongside a few sleepy truck drivers in an all-night diner.
"I've been going off with the dawn patrol for years now," says Hal Booth, a Los Angeles businessman who is a fixture at the Crosby, "and sometimes I don't even see my ball until the 3rd or 4th hole."