Bing Crosby, one of the most popular entertainers of the 20th century, still plays a role in holiday celebrations around the globe. His hit song “White Christmas” has sold an estimated 100 million copies worldwide since 1942, while Crosby’s character, humor and generous spirit have cemented his place in American cultural history.
These qualities, combined with his love of golf as an amateur player and tournament host, made the legendary baritone one of the game’s greatest advocates, helping propel golf’s popularity in America. Beginning in 1941, Crosby toured the country with actor Bob Hope in a series of exhibition matches with famous personalities and local club pros that raised millions of dollars for the Red Cross, bond drives and other wartime charities. John Fitzpatrick wrote in 1953, “In all of these public appearances the showmen give the cash customers more of a comedy act than a golf exhibition... Goofy golf is what the crowd wants anyway.”
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His namesake event, the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am Tournament, pioneered the philosophy of golf as a successful vehicle for major philanthropy. Beginning in the late 1930s as a gathering of friends for merrymaking and golf in support of a worthy cause, “The Crosby” format, which paired celebrities with professional golfers, became the prototype for similar tournaments that proliferated the PGA Tour for decades such as the Andy Williams San Diego Open, Glen Campbell Los Angeles Open and the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic. Now called the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the tournament has led the PGA Tour in charitable donations for almost a decade, supporting nonprofits in the Monterey Peninsula.
In addition to transforming lives through charity, Crosby’s legacy lies in his quick-wittedness, affability and talent, which captured the hearts of Americans. In a nationwide personality poll in the 1940s, he beat out General Dwight D. Eisenhower, President Harry S. Truman and Pope Pius XII as the most popular man in the world.
In 1978, journalist Alistair Cooke said of Crosby upon his posthumous receipt of the USGA’s Bob Jones Award for distinguished sportsmanship in golf, “He was everybody’s easygoing buddy.” Cooke added of Crosby and co-recipient Bob Hope, “We are honoring two men… who have given more devotion, time, enthusiasm and money to the game than any other twosome in the history of show business.”
Crosby passed his love of golf on to his youngest son, Nathaniel, who won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif., and was recently chosen by the USGA to captain the 2019 USA Walker Team.
Victoria Student is the USGA Museum’s historian. Email her at email@example.com.