30 Years Later: Crosby, Hope Helped Give
Golf A FaceNovember 14, 2008
By David Shefter, USGA
Far Hills, N.J. - Meshing entertainers with professional golfers
doesn't seem like much of a novelty these days. Celebrities have
become so smitten with the game that it's hard to turn on
television without seeing one playing in a tournament or taking
part in some sort of instructional session.
Even the professional tours have events named after celebs - i.e.
the Justin Timberlake PGA Tour stop in Las Vegas and the
long-running Jamie Farr Corning Classic on the LPGA circuit. In the
1970s, it seemed like every PGA Tour stop had a high-profile star
attached to it - Andy Williams (San Diego); Jackie Gleason (south
Florida); Danny Thomas (Memphis); and Glen Campbell (Los Angeles)
Then again, few sports like golf offer celebrities a chance to get
up close and personal with their professional idols.
And those thank-you cards can be sent posthumously to a pair of
icons in the entertainment industry, both of whom had the foresight
and passion to marry up the pro golfer with the celebrity one.
The legacy left behind by Bing Crosby and Bob Hope can't be
measured solely by their songs, jokes, skits or movies.
|Bob Hope, second from left, often brought
celebrites like baseball slugger Babe Ruth, far right, and top
pros like recent World Hall of Fame inductee Craig Wood, left,
and Victor Ghezzi together on the golf course. (USGA
From a golf perspective, it was Crosby who organized the first
celebrity pro-am at the swank Rancho Santa Fe (Calif.) Golf Club
north of San Diego more than 70 years ago. Affectionately called
the Crosby Clambake, the event, which is now played on the Monterey
Peninsula (AT&T National Pro-Am), annually draws the brightest
Hollywood celebrities, high-profile athletes and Fortune 500
tycoons while raising millions for charity. There's even a course
in Rancho Santa Fe designed by Fred Couples and Brian Curley that's
entitled Crosby National.
Hope, Crosby's longtime companion on the stage and links, followed
suit a couple of decades later by lending his name to a PGA Tour
stop in Palm Springs. Now called the Chrysler Classic, the
five-round event is waged over four golf courses, with the first
four days featuring celebrities, athletes and wealthy businessmen
that, like the AT&T National Pro-Am, raise millions for
charity. The event made history in 1995 when U.S. Presidents Gerald
Ford, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush played in the same
foursome, the only time three Presidents ever competed in the same
Together, Crosby and Hope, who died in 2003 at the age of 100,
became international ambassadors for golf, spreading the game's
values to a burgeoning middle class through shows, interviews,
movies and tournaments.
The USGA recognized those efforts by bestowing the Association's
highest honor -
the Bob Jones Award
- to both entertainers in 1978. The duo became the first
non-golfers or administrators to garner this prestigious award.
Since then, golf writer Herbert Warren Wind and President George
H.W. Bush have been bestowed the award.
Both Hope and Crosby were voracious golfers. The former was
introduced to the game in the early 1930s while on the vaudeville
circuit and eventually became a 4-handicapper. He also used golf
during his comedy routine, often holding a club for a prop or
cracking jokes about the game. He once said President Dwight D.
Eisenhower "gave up golf for painting - fewer strokes you know."
Meanwhile, Crosby's love for golf was passed to his youngest son,
Nathaniel, who won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club and
was the low amateur at the '82 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, two
venues that were dear to his heart. Nathaniel grew up playing at
Burlingame C.C. in northern California.
Unfortunately, Bing Crosby died four years before his son's Amateur
triumph, collapsing ironically after playing 18 holes on a course
in Spain from a massive heart attack.
Crosby was bitten by the golf bug once he arrived in California and
started doing vaudeville in the mid-1920s. Growing up in Spokane,
Wash., Crosby caddied, but once he arrived in Hollywood, he took a
serious interest in the game, winning the first of his five club
championships at Lakeside Golf Club in North Hollywood in 1936.
Lakeside is the home club of current USGA president Jim Vernon.
A year later, he created the pro-am at Rancho Santa Fe, an event
that drew Fred Astaire, Clark Gable and Randolph Scott, and was won
by the legendary Sam Snead, who collected a first-place prize of
$500. Ten years later, the event moved to the Monterey Peninsula
and was conducted on legendary courses such as Pebble Beach and
By then, Crosby and Hope were constant companions on the stage and
golf course. Crosby was the better player, carrying a 2 handicap.
"Bing took the game seriously," said Hope in a 2003
article. "I liked to play it for laughs, but he worked hard on his
swing. On the picture sets, whenever we had a break, he would ask,
`How long?' Then he'd head over to Wilshire Country Club,
10 minutes away, and hit balls until they called him back. Finally
the producers partitioned off a part of the set and installed a net
so we could practice. We almost killed off a couple of
Added Crosby: "I may have been a bit better than Hope, but he was a
Both players had low enough handicaps in the 1950s to sign up for
the British Amateur; Crosby played in 1950 at St. Andrews and Hope
the following year in Wales. Crosby even qualified for a U.S.
Amateur. But it was Nathaniel who would bring golf glory to the
family by rallying for a 37-hole victory over Brian Lindley at the
'81 U.S. Amateur.
The Pro-Am, however, remained Bing Crosby's true love. Ever the
visionary, Crosby wanted to invite a few top female pros into the
event, but that never materialized, although three-time U.S.
Women's Open champion Babe Didrikson Zaharias played with her
amateur husband/wrestler George Zaharias. Nancy Lopez was invited
to play as an amateur. George Archer caddied in the event and later
won it as a professional.
The Crosby name has since been replaced on the tournament mantle by
corporate America, but the entertainer's spirit remains.
Or as Archer aptly pointed out: "They can call it whatever they
want. It will always be the Crosby to me."
DavidShefteris a staff writer for the USGA's Digital Media Department.
E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.