Sometimes in this day and age, when most people seem to soak up a sense of public relations before they have mastered long division, it takes a while to tell if a public figure honestly loves sport for itself or if he is one of that ever-growing group whose devotion to sport is motivated by a cold appreciation of what sport can do for them. There has never, however, been the slightest confusion about where Bing Crosby stands. He is, in his attitude toward sports, what you might call the amateur's amateur: he loves to play them (and plays them well); he loves to talk them (and talks them whenever he can); and, in truth, he is that rare celebrity who has found that one of the sourer fruits of fame is that he cannot simply go out, like the average fellow, and shoot a quick nine or take in a ball game when the spirit happens to move.
It was Crosby's straightforward pleasure in the skills and the companionship of the pro golfers he knew as friends which led him way back in 1937 to undertake the sponsorship of an annual tournament on the winter tour. Starting out as just a little get-together at the Rancho Santa Fe course in southern California, "the Crosby" has grown over the years into perhaps the most enjoyable and flavorful event on the entire tournament-a-week trek that leads to Augusta and the Masters. Since 1947 it has been held on the Monterey Peninsula as a three-day, 54-hole affair, the first 18 over the Cypress Point course, the second 18 over the Monterey Peninsula Country Club and the third and climactic round over Pebble Beach. Crosby, by the way, has a home just off the 13th fairway at Pebble Beach, a very handy spot for a little after-dinner practicing.
Bing foots the bill for all of the tournament's expenses, including the $15,000 prize money, thus enabling the total proceeds from admissions and the program to go to local charities. This has added up over the years to quite a substantial figure, about $250,000, the bulk going to the construction of four youth centers and sizable portions to churches, polio research and an old people's home. It was very much in character when Bing stepped forward this past December, at the time when golf's leaders in the wake of the Deepdale incident were pondering the problem of big-money gambling in golf, and announced—the first sponsor of a major tournament to do so—that henceforth there would be no Calcutta pool at his tournament.
Along with the orthodox strokes-play tournament for the pros, "the Crosby" offers the simultaneous attraction of a 54-hole pro-amateur event, with a high percentage of the amateurs being celebrities from other fields who play pretty fair golf—Johnny. Weissmuller, Randolph Scott, Gordon MacRae, Ernie Nevers, Leo Durocher, Buddy Rogers, Phil Harris and other stars of stage, screen, sports and business. (Paired with Dutch Harrison, Phil Harris won the 1951 pro-am for their team when he holed an enormous putt across a barranca on the 53rd hole and was so unnerved by his clutch performance that he could barely make it to the clubhouse.) When their schedules permit, Crosby himself and his longtime sparring partner, Bob Hope, participate in the tourney. Bing is an authentic low-70s player, a shotmaker capable enough to qualify for the National Amateur in 1940 and to rip off two birds on the first three holes when he entered the British Amateur in 1950. Bing's bona fide ability makes him a refreshing exception among celebrity-golfers, most of whom are lucky if they can come within 10 strokes of the scores their publicity men release.
All in all, the Crosby Invitational adds up to a first-rate outing—lots of good golf on three challenging courses and then, when the blue of the night meets the gold of the day, lots of good fellowship.