It felt like the Crosby, and it rained and blew like the Crosby last week on the Monterey Peninsula. The script was familiar, too. Almost all the golfers—the good, the bad and the downright horrible—wound up red-faced, frustrated and a little in love with the place and the Alaskan rain-forest conditions. "All you can do is bring an extra pair of golf shoes and throw them away when you're finished," said Tom Watson with a shrug.
But the weather-shortened tournament that Fuzzy Zoeller won by five shots, at an 11-under-par 205, after the final round was washed out on Monday, was not the Bing Crosby, the tournament begun by der Bingle in 1937. That was the Clambake, an annual pro-am get-together for Bing's buddies. Over the years it turned into the hottest ticket in golf.
What took place last week at Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Cypress Point—the same courses that hosted the Crosby—was the AT & T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, an unwieldy name and the source of a lot of controversy. Kathryn Crosby, who had stood behind the tournament since her husband's death in 1977, withdrew the family name last spring after the Monterey Peninsula Golf Foundation, the nonprofit, volunteer group that runs the tournament, chose AT & T, which had promised support to the tune of $750,000, as a sponsor. Kathryn, not wanting to be part of what she called "a corporate sideshow," declared, "The telephone peddlers' convention will not be held at Bing's memorial."
For most people the tournament without the name Bing Crosby was like Rolls without Royce. Tournament officials were barred from using the name Crosby in press conferences. Sportswriters began calling it "the C-word."
February 10, 1986
The C-word has a way of frustrating golfers in an endearing sort of way. The tournament began with so much wind that Jack Nicklaus almost whiffed a putt on the 17th hole at Cypress Point. He laughed about it on Friday, a day of war stories after overnight rains had soaked the three courses and canceled play.
But by Saturday afternoon, following a fat 80, the smile was off Nicklaus's face. He left Spyglass Hill in shock. "These greens," he muttered. "I never seem to read them. Maybe I need a new putter."
"A new putter?" asked his wife, Barbara.
"I know it's not the putter, it's the puttee," said Nicklaus. "But with a new putter, maybe I'll aim wrong, get lucky and pull it into the hole."
"Oh," said Barbara.
Illogical stuff like that somehow makes sense at the Crosby, or whatever you call it. It's one of the tour's best-liked events. "Every time I play here I get sick, and yet I keep coming back," said Greg Norman between coughs.
Conditions were so wet and mushy from Friday's downpour that the courses—in particular Spyglass Hill, which even in the best of times can be a sponge farm—became almost impossible to play. Ben Crenshaw was talking to some hapless amateur about it. "He said Spyglass made him feel like he was in an Outward Bound program," Crenshaw reported.
On Saturday, tour officials decided to allow the players to lift, clean and place their balls when on the fairway for the rest of the tournament. This caused another outbreak of dissatisfaction, because it affected players in different ways. Although Zoeller was posting great numbers on the leader board, he was also one of the complainers, primarily because he had played Spyglass on hands-off Thursday. "We slopped through the crap," he said. "Now the other guys get to put the ball in their hands, and that's a two-, three-, maybe a four-shot advantage at Spyglass."
Zoeller attracted some sympathizers—"It stinks," said Craig Stadler—but he lost most of them once they saw his runaway lead.
Meanwhile, Kathryn Crosby's exit from the tournament had little impact last week, other than to force her sons, Nathaniel and Harry, who remain as co-hosts, to answer countless questions about the rift in the family.
The touring pros did not feel any sweet sorrow at the parting. It had bugged them that Kathryn had the final say on the pro-am pairings. Said one pro, "Look at what happened to Fuzzy. He wanted to bring a friend one year and Kathryn said no. He wound up playing with her hairdresser." Zoeller set the record straight. "It was a Crosby family friend who owned half of Mexico," he said. "I don't think he made less than six on a hole. Nice guy, but I think Mexico needs a new handicapping system. He was no 17."
The Crosby boys put the best face on things. The pros were insisting the tournament was the same—"It's still the Crosby to me," said Lee Trevino—and Nathaniel maintained, "I think my dad is here this week."
In four years, the tournament's purse has grown from $330,000 to $660,000.
"We were forced to seek a corporate sponsor to stay competitive," said Harry Crosby. Most PGA Tour events have corporate names in their titles. Arnold Palmer's tournament, for instance, is the Hertz Bay Hill Classic. This year the Bob Hope Classic added Chrysler to its name. When asked why, Hope said, "Two million five," referring to Chrysler's financial contribution.
Summing up, if the C-word was a fight, it was getting one-sided. While Kathryn Crosby boycotted the tournament, hardly anyone else did. Even a longtime family friend, entertainer Phil Harris, was on hand. In fact, George C. Scott, Clint Eastwood—who also announced his candidacy for mayor of Carmel, Calif., last week—and James Garner, three high-powered celebrities who have occasionally skipped past Crosbys, all showed this time. Garner limped around. He has had six knee operations and needs another. "I've had mononucleosis for nine months, so I'm not in very good shape," Garner said. "But I wanted to be here."
Bing Crosby probably would have said the same thing. After all, Bing shared marquees with a lot of people. Everyone is keeping the door open. Said Nathaniel Crosby, "I'm hopeful my father's name can be restored."