SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
February 03, 1969
The annual Bing Crosby pro-am is always a meteorological marvel, but last week's tournament was even wilder than usual, thereby providing a true test of a player's ability to hit the ball while treading water
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February 03, 1969

This Is Golf?

The annual Bing Crosby pro-am is always a meteorological marvel, but last week's tournament was even wilder than usual, thereby providing a true test of a player's ability to hit the ball while treading water

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A player goes down the first fairway in a rain suit, takes it off at the 3rd, puts on an extra sweater at the 5th, gets back into the rain suit at the 9th, takes off the two sweaters at the 12th, changes socks at the 14th, takes off the rain suit at the 16th, puts the sweaters back on at the 17th and finally finishes suspended in midair, gradually blowing out over the breakers, like a seagull flying backward. It's the Crosby tournament again, of course, the world's leading argument for indoor golf.

Last week the Bing Crosby National Pro-Amateur sailed into the PGA tour in its usual time slot—typhoon January. Once again the weather, rather than the golf, held everyone's interest on that craggy mudbank formerly known as the Monterey Peninsula, everyone being a collection of some of the best pros and worst amateurs there are and a scattering of breaststroking Carmel residents who have learned to post silly signs around town, such as, I'D WALK A MILE FOR A DRY CROSBY.

Bad weather is nothing new to the Crosby tournament. Over the last 17 years, going into last week, it had rained 27 playing days and even snowed once, and this says nothing of the fog and wind, which are also a marvelous part of the proceedings. Crosby veterans can count on their galoshes the number of times the sun has poked through the pine and cypress trees of the area. Last week was really it, though, a bringing together of all of the elements that have made the tournament so much fun—steady rain, wild winds, oozing fog, gloomy mist, foot-deep mush and black clouds that move briskly across your umbrella top like low-flying factory smoke.

Everybody always tries to smile and make jokes about the tournament as they hover around Del Monte Lodge at Pebble Beach, like evacuees from a flood, and try to catch glimpses of such amateur golfers as soggy Jack Lemmon, dripping Jim Garner, waterlogged Dean Martin and gale-lashed Sean Connery, who last week often looked more like Agent H2O than 007. Crosby himself labeled it "The Jacques Cousteau Open." But no one summed it up better than ABC-TV's Jim McKay as he loitered in a suite overlooking the 18th at Pebble one afternoon, casually watching the gallery sink.

"They should hold the German army championship here this week," he said. "Achtung! You vill play golf! You vill have fun! You vill not slice!"

The Crosby is a goofy tournament to begin with. It is played on three different courses—scenic Pebble Beach, scenic Cypress Point and scenic Spyglass Hill—and a $25,000 pro-am is in progress along with the pros competing for $125,000 individually. It is a test of automobile driving as much as anything, if a spectator wishes to course-hop and pick up different foursomes. One seldom knows who is leading, or where, until a day is done, and sometimes you don't know even then, considering the way the 1969 tour is progressing.

For instance, after Thursday's round was completely washed out two guys named Terry Wilcox and Jim Colbert, who were also to float away eventually, tied for the first-round lead on Friday. To most people, they could have been actors, doctors or parking-lot attendants. The courses were littered with all of these "friends of Bing," you see, the amateurs, 168 of them, carefully selected from no less than 9,152 annual applications.

Playing in the Crosby is something of a status thing, not only among the show-biz crowd, but in par-3 corporate dining rooms all over the country. They all get fat handicaps to combat the weather, they get to loaf with the pros and Hollywood types and, as Dave Marr joked, "They all go home with a terminal slice."

For the pros, it is a sort of love-hate thing. They like the idea of the tournament because it is different, and they dearly like some of the rich people they meet, and they like being catered to by the admiring Jack Lemmons, but they hate the elements. "Sometimes it isn't even golf," said Charlie Coody one day, trying to withdraw. "You can improve the lie, but there's no place to put it. There's nowhere to take a stance or keep dry, and the wind keeps blowing seagulls down."

There is also a trick to figuring out who's really playing the best golf. After a three-way tie through 36 holes, for example, there was this serious question about whether George Archer, or Howie Johnson, or Dale Douglass, the three men who were in front, deserved the lead, since they had all played a different combination of courses.

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