THIS IS GOLF?

The annual Bing Crosby pro-am is always a meteorological marvel, but last week's tournament was even wilder than usual, thereby providing a true test of a player's ability to hit the ball while treading water
February 03, 1969

A player goes down the first fairway in a rain suit, takes it off at the 3rd, puts on an extra sweater at the 5th, gets back into the rain suit at the 9th, takes off the two sweaters at the 12th, changes socks at the 14th, takes off the rain suit at the 16th, puts the sweaters back on at the 17th and finally finishes suspended in midair, gradually blowing out over the breakers, like a seagull flying backward. It's the Crosby tournament again, of course, the world's leading argument for indoor golf.

Last week the Bing Crosby National Pro-Amateur sailed into the PGA tour in its usual time slot—typhoon January. Once again the weather, rather than the golf, held everyone's interest on that craggy mudbank formerly known as the Monterey Peninsula, everyone being a collection of some of the best pros and worst amateurs there are and a scattering of breaststroking Carmel residents who have learned to post silly signs around town, such as, I'D WALK A MILE FOR A DRY CROSBY.

Bad weather is nothing new to the Crosby tournament. Over the last 17 years, going into last week, it had rained 27 playing days and even snowed once, and this says nothing of the fog and wind, which are also a marvelous part of the proceedings. Crosby veterans can count on their galoshes the number of times the sun has poked through the pine and cypress trees of the area. Last week was really it, though, a bringing together of all of the elements that have made the tournament so much fun—steady rain, wild winds, oozing fog, gloomy mist, foot-deep mush and black clouds that move briskly across your umbrella top like low-flying factory smoke.

Everybody always tries to smile and make jokes about the tournament as they hover around Del Monte Lodge at Pebble Beach, like evacuees from a flood, and try to catch glimpses of such amateur golfers as soggy Jack Lemmon, dripping Jim Garner, waterlogged Dean Martin and gale-lashed Sean Connery, who last week often looked more like Agent H2O than 007. Crosby himself labeled it "The Jacques Cousteau Open." But no one summed it up better than ABC-TV's Jim McKay as he loitered in a suite overlooking the 18th at Pebble one afternoon, casually watching the gallery sink.

"They should hold the German army championship here this week," he said. "Achtung! You vill play golf! You vill have fun! You vill not slice!"

The Crosby is a goofy tournament to begin with. It is played on three different courses—scenic Pebble Beach, scenic Cypress Point and scenic Spyglass Hill—and a $25,000 pro-am is in progress along with the pros competing for $125,000 individually. It is a test of automobile driving as much as anything, if a spectator wishes to course-hop and pick up different foursomes. One seldom knows who is leading, or where, until a day is done, and sometimes you don't know even then, considering the way the 1969 tour is progressing.

For instance, after Thursday's round was completely washed out two guys named Terry Wilcox and Jim Colbert, who were also to float away eventually, tied for the first-round lead on Friday. To most people, they could have been actors, doctors or parking-lot attendants. The courses were littered with all of these "friends of Bing," you see, the amateurs, 168 of them, carefully selected from no less than 9,152 annual applications.

Playing in the Crosby is something of a status thing, not only among the show-biz crowd, but in par-3 corporate dining rooms all over the country. They all get fat handicaps to combat the weather, they get to loaf with the pros and Hollywood types and, as Dave Marr joked, "They all go home with a terminal slice."

For the pros, it is a sort of love-hate thing. They like the idea of the tournament because it is different, and they dearly like some of the rich people they meet, and they like being catered to by the admiring Jack Lemmons, but they hate the elements. "Sometimes it isn't even golf," said Charlie Coody one day, trying to withdraw. "You can improve the lie, but there's no place to put it. There's nowhere to take a stance or keep dry, and the wind keeps blowing seagulls down."

There is also a trick to figuring out who's really playing the best golf. After a three-way tie through 36 holes, for example, there was this serious question about whether George Archer, or Howie Johnson, or Dale Douglass, the three men who were in front, deserved the lead, since they had all played a different combination of courses.

"I put Johnson in front because he's played Pebble and Spyglass," said one writer. "The other two have played Cypress, and he hasn't."

"Yeah," said another, "but Spyglass is playing easier this year than Cypress because the tees are moved up, and Cypress doesn't drain."

These constant references among players, press and fans alike, to Pebble, Cypress and Spyglass, or Spyglass, Pebble and Cypress, and to the rapidly changing weather at all three, always make it sound as if three different things are going on, all disconnected, and none of them very important since we are all going to drown, anyway.

Jack Tuthill, the PGA's freestyle supervisor, said that the whole first four days of the Crosby, through Sunday, were the worst he had seen—worse than the Napa rainout the week previous, when water ran waist high between some tees and greens and when Miller Barber was declared a winner after only 36 holes.

"This is about the only place in the world, these courses, where we could be playing golf in stuff like this," said Jack. "Or try to, at least."

What happens in a tournament like the Crosby, with its field and its weather, is some very mysterious golf. This time Bob Dickson had the week's most curious round on Saturday at Cypress when he shot nine birdies—yes, nine—but came away with only a three-under-par 69 because he also happened to make a triple bogey, a double bogey and a straight bogey. The triple came, naturally, at the famed 16th at Cypress, that much-photographed par-3 over Hong Kong harbor and back again.

At this point anyone choosing to check up on the pro-am saw a whole different group of leaders. Tommy Shaw, a pro, had shot 72-77, but his team was 23 under par because his amateur partner, one Richard Crane of Pacific Palisades, had helped him 26 shots with a 12 handicap.

Howie Johnson looked at the board and shook his head. "Like to get me one of those," he said. Then he was asked who his partner was.

"Jimmy Walker," said Howie, a gabby guy from Texas who has been on and off the tour for 12 years. And which Jimmy Walker was that, he was asked.

"The mayor of New York," Howie cracked. "They dug him up. I always get a dead guy in a pro-am."

The most mysterious thing of all was that on Sunday the sun bored through the storm for a while, even though a fine mist still fluttered down, and the wind came and went in its usual 30-to-40-mph gusts. But it looked like a wonderful day for a picnic compared to its predecessors.

So, elated with the weather and an early starting time, Dale Douglass, a thin pro from Colorado who has yet to win a tournament, hit 17 greens at Pebble Beach and added a 70 to his prior rounds of 71 at Cypress and 69 at Spyglass and took the tournament lead. Howie Johnson could slop only a 71 out of Cypress after his 71 at Spyglass and splendid 69 at Pebble on the worst day of all. He was a stroke behind but playing his best in years.

Terrific. Arnold Douglass, followed by Jack Johnson. Golf's big two, right? Wrong. It was a quiet, scholarly looking guy—Douglass—who once took a 19 on a single hole at the Crosby and Johnson, who in 1958 beat Arnold Palmer in a playoff for the Azalea Open. Would any of Monday's gallery recognize them when everyone moved to Pebble for the final round? Would anyone be left to care besides Bing? Those were questions everyone pinned down around Carmel took to their Irish coffees and hot baths Sunday evening.

Since the tournament should have ended by then, it was natural that Monday would be glorious. There were still a lot of puddles of water around, but the sun beamed down on all, especially on big George Archer, the one "name" in contention. Archer shot a steady 71 for a five-under-par 283, quite a remarkable total considering the weather, and a victory by one stroke over Douglass, Johnson and Dickson, who closed with a spectacular 68. Dickson did team up with Actor Jack Ging to capture the pro-am when Tommy Shaw's amateur partner, Richard Crane, finally ran out of luck.

In the end George Archer didn't need any luck. His sideburns standing out like the dual rudders of a catamaran, he managed to navigate through sun, storm and spindrift to bring the Crosby back to soggy but solid ground.

TWO PHOTOSOn a squishy green, an impromptu ancient mariner creates his own waves as he stems the rising tide under conditions that a battened-down Arnold Palmer finds hard to believe. TWO PHOTOSPutting in a downpour may not have bothered Bob Lunn, but at least one sorry caddie, greenkeeper and (right) TV man wished he would hurry. TWO PHOTOSWith the rain making every sand trap a lake, the Crosby brought out the worst in some golfers, but it also brought out the best in the gallery.
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)