It was pure genius when the crooner who said, “I don’t really like any kind of work” created the grandfather of all golf tournaments. Bing Crosby’s golf tournament was unlike any other.
In the 1960s, A-list celebrities like Bob Hope, Danny Thomas and Glen Campbell brought in television sponsorship money, which brought the “The Crosby” and the Pacific Ocean to our living room color TV as I faced another Minnesota Sunday, snowdrifts teasing the living room picture window.
I decided then that I would, someday, file stories from a World Series, the Rose Bowl, “The Open” at St. Andrews and the Crosby at Pebble Beach. This was no bucket list. At 16, you are immortal and unconcerned with being propelled into eternity.
I didn’t check the Crosby box.
Bing had taken the tournament to California’s Monterey Peninsula in 1947. The sardine population had fallen and the canneries of Steinbeck lore had closed. Tourism became the fallback. Bing agreed to help.
The Crosby was never the same after he died following a round of golf in Spain in 1977. Bing had panache even in death.
His exit crushed my visions of post-tournament crackling fires and ice tinkling in glasses on the Monterey Peninsula, “the finest meeting place of land and water in existence,” according to well-traveled Scot, Robert Louis Stevenson.
Bobby’s observation has weathered the centuries.
There hasn’t been a year since Crosby’s death that I didn’t wish I’d been at “The Clambake,” anointed by Webster’s dictionary as “a gathering characterized by noisy sociability.”
Tommy Wolfe insisted that “you can’t go home again.” But I prefer “the only constant in life is change.”
I had lost sight of that when it came to The Clambake.
I’m not a golf fan, although I’ve been to St Andrews, the “birthplace of golf” in Stevenson’s Scotland, five times because I love that little town on the Fife coast. People love the coasts. About half of Americans live near one of the two.
So we headed to California for the 2024 Crosby, which is now the AT&T, “a signature event” on the PGA tour with the best pro golfers and a record $20 million purse. That’s a damned long way from the Crosby, when Bing put up the money for the winners and the tournament was a charitable cause.
The former Crosby in 2020-Fore — the PGA can use that one all year, my pleasure — was the PGA’s effort to attract an elite field and to compete with the Saudi-backed LIV, which has become a magnet for PGA defectors.
In recent years, this tournament attracted celebrity gawkers who flocked to see actor Bill Murray pull elderly women out of the gallery to frolic with him in a sand trap. His antics created six-hour rounds, wowed the gallery and pissed off former PGA commission Deane Beman.
There’s a pile of glowing embers in my heart for anyone willing to mock the snooty, so I’m sorry I missed that.
Even with a record $20 million payout and lip service to charitable causes, the human spirit is at high tide standing among the scrub on Pebble Beach, an evergreen shroud behind you and sea lions sunning in the sand, waves punishing the coastline.
It supports the notion that this view inspired Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.” (It’s appropriate that every hole at the nearby Spyglass course is named for a character, place or thing in his novel.)
I relish the memory of the Crosby and Bing — an excellent golfer — finishing his round at Pebble, joining the announcers and sliding words into my living room that sounded like meringue, words like “a whisper of a wind.”
It’s no longer the weeklong, girl-watching Clambake, with top golfers like Sam Snead paired with A-list celebrities, and Phil Harris. I never did know why Phil was famous, but he smiled all the time and looked to be having a blast.
Who wouldn’t? Stevenson, the sickly author who traveled from Scotland to Monterey and died in Samoa was right: It’s the finest meeting place of land and water in existence.