Bing Crosby began his pro-am golf tournament in 1937 at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club, near San Diego County’s Del Mar Race Track. The Southern California version of the tournament lasted through 1942; World War II put the tournament on hiatus from 1943 to 1946.
By 1966 the event was having a venerable 25th anniversary, pairing top professional golfers with A-list entertainers who loved golf.
Incidentally, Sam Snead won that very first Crosby with a 68, and received a check for $500. Not much, you say. True. Not even for a one-round event. But bear in mind, the leading money winner of the previous year, Horton Smith, pocketed only $7,600.
Even with the one-round washout, Crosby was pleased with the excitement stirred up by his unique event. Movie stars and other celebrities on a golf course gave the game another dimension. He went forward for another four years with the event at Rancho Santa Fe until World War II shut down just about everything.
When peace came to the world, Bing decided to alter his pro-am format, expanding the event to four rounds played on three different courses. To achieve this, he elected to move up the coast to Monterey Peninsula, where an array of excellent coursers suited his needs perfectly. Under this scheme, the field would rotate through the Pebble Beach, Cypress Point and Monterey Peninsula courses over the first three rounds. The field would then be cut for the final round to the 25 pro-am teams and the 60 low pros and they would play at Pebble Beach.
The format remained intact until Spyglass Hill, a new Trent Jones course, replaced the Monterey Peninsula Club in 1967.
To show his appreciation to all those who came on the run to make the idea work, Crosby dug into his pocket to stage a huge party on the eve of the tournament, complete with dinner, open bar and entertainment. For the last, Bing tapped some of his Tinseltown pals to do a turn, and he wound up with the biggest names in show business pitching in. It quickly became the golf event of the year.
The advent of golf on TV didn’t hurt, either. Bing was asked to do some of the commentary, and with his glib, easygoing style, he sent the show’s ratings soaring. Of course, turning a bunch of extroverts loose on the course with the cameras churning could only produce the unexpected and fun. The play almost became secondary to the antics around the edges.
This ESPN TV Special celebrates the legacy of Bing Crosby and his love of golf. An interview with Bob And Dolores Hope provides some historic perspective.