Last week, just as they have almost every mid-January for 24 years, the motelkeepers and souvenir salesladies and bartenders of Monterey, California happily braced themselves for the "Crosby Clambake"—or, as it is officially known, the National Pro-Amateur Golf Championship. The Crosby of the Clambake is, of course, Bing: actor, crooner, golfer, capitalist, baseball-club owner and celebrated bon vivant. The tournament which Crosby annually stages for his golfing friends has been justly regarded as one of the best golf parties anywhere in the country.
What the Crosby means to Monterey itself (pop. 92,000) is difficult to exaggerate. As the event was getting under way last week, a bartender speculated: "Just off the end of my thumb, I'd figure an average of 15,000 visitors a day for four days—that's 60,000, multiplied by six drinks per person per day. Yes, I'd say the Crosby is worth 360,000 extra drinks to the whole Monterey Peninsula, and most of it's right over the bar at six bits a copy."
The 9,000 Californians who showed up on the first day didn't seem to mind a whit that this year's tournament opened with typical "Crosby weather"—gusty winds up to 60 mph that drove the rain into their faces like splintered glass. But for the golfers it was sheer hell. The wind blew balls off the green. A perfect chip shot might—and did—fly back over the player's own head. On the celebrated 220-yard 16th hole at Cypress Point, one of the three Monterey Peninsula courses used to accommodate the unwieldy field of 150 pros and 150 amateurs, the best golfers in the world didn't even try to hit their tee shots across the roiling ocean to the green. Nevertheless, many of them still had to use their drivers to reach the fairway, a mere 140 yards away, thereby settling for a bogey 4. Dow Finsterwald, who had a remarkable one-under-par 71 at Cypress on the first day, played the safe detour with a two-iron, but the wind blew the ball back off the fairway, over the cliff andinto the sea 50 feet below. Only two of 100 players on violent Thursday played the 16th in par.
A ROAR BACK IN TOWN
Back in town that evening at the popular spots like Gallatin's, The Outrigger, the Spindrift and The Ginza, there was at least a two-hour wait for a table for dinner. In the taproom at the Del Monte Lodge, the undulating roar of roistering came in two volumes—loud and louder. It was like the bedlam of a thousand Marx Brothers movies concentrated into one scene.
Most of the jubilation nowadays is confined to the Crosby spectators; the players get to bed. But back in 1937, when Bing started the tournament, the partying was almost as important to the contestants as the golf, and the pros welcomed it as a pleasant break in the routine of the winter tour. "I can remember," says one oldtimer, "when it was almost a ritual to stay up all night and talk about golf, women, liquor and the movie business. We'd get to that tee dog-tired the next day, but what the hell, so was the other guy. No more. Now this is just another stop on the tour for most of us, and as pros we're damn mad when we're paired with an amateur who can't play in the wind and rain, or who goes out and gets drunk."
The amateurs in the Crosby are well aware of this attitude, and most of them take their golf more seriously than they used to. A 10 o'clock bed check at the El Padre Hotel on Friday night showed that Julius Boros and his amateur partner, TV Producer Don Schwab, who were in strong contention for the pro-am prize, were already sound asleep. This was a far cry from the old days when Francis Brown, a Honolulu millionaire, arrived at the first tee without having gone to bed. His young pro partner grumbled slightly, so Brown reached into his wallet and pulled out a $1,000 bill. "Here," he said, handing the note to the pro, "that's top money for the pro-amateur. Now let's have some fun."
The principal reason for the growing intensity of the Crosby competition is money. The first Crosby at the Rancho Santa Fe was a short 36-hole event, and Bing's prize money was only $3,000. Nowadays Bing puts up $15,000, and the TV sponsor (Olds-mobile the past two years) adds another $35,000 for a total purse of $50,000—70% for the pros and 30% for the pro-am winners.
Although he would be the last to admit it publicly, it is well known that Crosby has lost much of his enthusiasm for the tournament and the once-joyous party that winds it up on Sunday night. But in recent years
Crosby has donated all receipts—approximately $140,000 this year—to local charities. In other words, the Crosby has become a valuable community institution, and it would be a serious blow to the local charities if Bing were to discontinue it.
Whatever the headaches for Bing, there is hardly an amateur golfer in the country who wouldn't give his eyeteeth for one of the precious bids to the Crosby. The Hollywood people, for instance, value an invitation to the Crosby as highly as an Oscar. And there is the story of the New Yorker whose wife decided to teach him a lesson in family feuding by destroying his invitation to the Crosby when it arrived in the mail. For weeks he moped around the house, too proud to phone Bing and too depressed even to engage in the nightly arguments with his wife. When the tournament was over and the wife finally admitted what she had done, the fellow immediately instituted divorce proceedings.
By the end of the fourth and final day of last week's Crosby, Bing was able to tell a national TV audience that never had this or any other tournament had such horrid weather. Even Ken Venturi, who is generally conceded to "own" the long and grueling Pebble Beach course on which the final round is always played, had to scramble to get home in 77. But with everyone else in the same damp fix, Venturi's 5 over par was good enough for a four-day total of 286 and the first-place money of $4,000. The pro-amateur best ball prize went to Pro Bud Ward, the 1939 and 1941 national amateur champion, and Bob Silvestri, a leading amateur in the San Francisco area, with a 26 under par of 262 for the four rounds.