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Crosby Clambake to Pebble Beach Pro-Am: The Evolution of Golf’s Glitziest Tournament

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The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is one of the most popular events on the PGA Tour, blending top professionals with celebrity amateurs in a unique format. However, its origins date back over 80 years ago to famed entertainer Bing Crosby. In 1937, Crosby created the first “Crosby Clambake” pro-am at his home club near San Diego, putting up $3,000 of his own money. It was an instant success, drawing top players like inaugural winner Sam Snead and Crosby’s celebrity friends. After a hiatus for World War II, Crosby moved the event to Pebble Beach in 1947, which evolved into a marquee stop on Tour.

While Crosby passed away in 1977, his legacy lives on through the tournament he created. It has attracted generations of stars from Hollywood and the golf world, continuing to capture the public’s imagination. The event is now known as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am after taking on corporate sponsorship in 1986. However, it retains the one-of-a-kind format and prestige that Crosby envisioned over 80 years ago with his first “Clambake.”

The Crosby Clambake set the stage for what the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am has become today – one of the PGA Tour’s most popular stops blending celebrity glamour with world class golf. The evolution is a testament to the great entertainer’s vision of bringing together Hollywood stars and golf pros to create an event quite like any other. Now approaching its 88th playing, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am continues to capture the imagination of fans while honoring its rich history.

In this post, we’ll go through Bing Crosby’s bio and love of golf and relive the Crosby’s evolution from a friendly get together into a cornerstone event on the PGA Tour schedule. We will also review the event’s history, most memorable moments, and suggest some further reading.

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Bing Crosby Bio

Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby Jr. (1903– 1977), a legendary figure in American entertainment history, is celebrated for his extraordinary contributions to music and cinema, alongside his deep affection for golf. Born on May 3, 1903, in Tacoma, Washington, he rose to fame in the 1930s with his distinctive baritone voice, which captivated audiences across the globe. His career spanned several decades, during which he became one of the best-selling recording artists of the 20th century.

Crosby’s influence in the entertainment industry was vast and varied. He starred in over 70 films, showcasing his versatile acting skills and becoming a beloved figure in Hollywood. His iconic performances in movies like “White Christmas” and “Going My Way” earned him critical acclaim and a large fan following. In music, Crosby recorded more than 1,600 songs, including timeless hits like “White Christmas,” which remains one of the best-selling singles ever.

His style, characterized by a warm, smooth singing voice and an easy-going persona, helped shape the landscape of American popular music. Crosby was a pioneer in pre-recording his radio shows and mastering the use of the microphone for recording, which revolutionized the entertainment industry.

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Crosby’s Love of Golf

Beyond his artistic achievements, Crosby was an influential cultural figure, extending far beyond stage and screen. His passion for golf played a significant role in popularizing the sport in America, connecting the glamour of Hollywood with the athletic world. His contribution to the game went beyond just playing; he organized golf events and promoted the sport, democratizing it for a broader audience. This unique blend of entertainment and sportsmanship is a defining aspect of Crosby’s multifaceted legacy. In his book 18 Holes with Bing, Crosby’s son Nathaniel details his late father’s love of the game and tells stories of his life in golf. I just finished the book and highly recommend it.

From his humble beginnings as a 12-year-old caddy, Crosby’s journey with golf saw periods of fluctuation. His initial interest waned, only to be reignited in 1930 during a film shoot. This renewed interest led him to join his local country club, where he quickly became a champion member. Crosby’s love for golf wasn’t confined to personal play; he organized popular golf tournaments, most notably founding the Crosby Clambake pro-am tournament in 1937. This event became a celebrated affair, attracting celebrities and raising substantial funds for charity. It was pivotal in promoting pro-am golf tournaments and establishing the model for every major golf tournament played today.

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Bing at St. Andrews

Bing Crosby had a long history and connection with the town and golf courses of St Andrews in Scotland. In 1950, Crosby competed in the British Amateur Golf Tournament at St Andrews, facing off against local amateur J.K. Wilson. His presence drew large crowds and excitement to the tournament. Crosby was also an elected member of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in 1951. Beyond just playing in tournaments, Crosby attended and participated in various social and ceremonial golf events in the town when he visited.

In 1971, during a visit to play the Old Course, Crosby and his friend J.K. Wilson came up with the idea for the Bing Crosby Trophy, a golf competition for players over 60 who are members of St Andrews’ golf clubs. The first Bing Crosby Trophy tournament occurred in September 1972, with Crosby present. The trophy is still awarded annually by the St Andrews Golf Club. Beyond playing, Crosby also attended and participated in other events related to golf at St Andrews over the years, continuing his lifelong love of the sport.

Through events like this and his membership in golf institutions such as the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, Crosby embedded himself into the fabric of St Andrews’ golfing community over time. His regular presence and contributions reflect his enduring affection for the iconic home of golf.

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Legacy

Beyond his lifetime, Crosby’s golf legacy continued through his family, particularly his son Nathaniel. Following in his father’s footsteps, Nathaniel achieved remarkable success in golf, winning the 1981 U.S. Amateur Championship at just 19 years of age. His golfing career didn’t stop there; he went on to captain the victorious U.S. teams in the 2019 and 2023 Walker Cup matches, participated in the 1982 U.S. Open, and played on the European Tour.

Crosby’s influence in the golf world was profound. He didn’t just play the game; he was a significant force in democratizing golf, making it more accessible and appealing to the general public. He sparked a broader interest and participation in the sport by intertwining his love for golf with his entertainment career. This integration of golf into popular culture was a critical aspect of Crosby’s legacy, showcasing his lasting impact on the sport and its widespread popularity.

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Origins of the Clambake

In 1937, Crosby hosted the first tournament at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club near his home in San Diego, inviting professional golfers and celebrity friends to participate. He put up $3,000 for the prize fund to bring together top golfers and Hollywood stars for a fun competition followed by a festive clambake party. The first winner was Sam Snead, who took home $500. The informal event was an immediate success and became a popular early pro golf circuit stop.

After being suspended during World War II, Crosby moved the tournament in 1947 to the Monterey Peninsula, where it was played at Pebble Beach Golf Links, Cypress Point Club, and Monterey Peninsula Country Club. This helped promote tourism to the coastal region. Crosby was named honorary police chief for the event and continued hosting his Hollywood friends to play alongside the pros. As it was known, the Crosby Clambake brought greater attention to golf through Crosby’s celebrity status and became one of the first golf tournaments broadcast on television in 1958.

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Heyday

The Bing Crosby Pro-Am’s popularity skyrocketed in the 1950s and 60s due to increased media coverage. Television allowed viewers across America to experience the glitz and glamour of the event, showcasing top pro golfers playing alongside A-list celebrities. This attracted even bigger stars to Pebble Beach, like Dean Martin, Clint Eastwood, and Jack Lemmon. The party atmosphere was electric – liquor flowed freely and celebrities tried to outdo each other with their antics. One story claims that Phil Harris once rode a horse into the lobby bar at the Lodge.

An invitation to the Crosby became a hot commodity, with celebrities, golfers, and influential businessmen all eager to tee it up and party for a few days with Bing and his cronies. In the 1950s, the tournament grew in stature and popularity under Bing Crosby’s leadership. The 1954 event captured national attention when featured on Ed Sullivan’s variety show “Toast of the Town.” Viewers across America got a glimpse into the glamorous world of golf, Hollywood, and Monterey.

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Growing the Game

By the 1960s, the Crosby had cemented itself as one of the most important stops on the PGA tour calendar. It consistently attracted the world’s best players, like Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Jack Nicklaus, and Julius Boros. The expanded television coverage brought huge viewership numbers, establishing it as one of the longest-running sports broadcast events. This was crucial for increasing golf’s popularity in America. Alongside Palmer and President Eisenhower, Bing Crosby did more than anyone to grow the game in the post-war years.

In 1977, Crosby passed away on a golf course in Spain. But the tournament rolled on, retaining its prestige and popularity. The format introduced by Bing – playing over multiple courses before a final round at Pebble Beach – remained largely unchanged. His close friend Bob Hope filled in as host in 1978, quipping, “Bing’s tournament attracts an older crowd.” Hope ensured Crosby’s legacy lived on during this transitional period. There is also a great gallery of images of some of the famous and iconic faces of the Clambake period.

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Evolution of the Crosby

After Bing Crosby died in 1977, the tournament entered a transitional period in the late 70s and early 80s. His close friend Bob Hope took over hosting duties for a few years before Crosby’s widow, Kathryn, withdrew the use of his name in 1985 due to commercialization concerns. This severed the direct Crosby links, but the tournament format and prestige remained unchanged, just under a different name.

In 1986, Pebble Beach became the tournament’s title sponsor for over a decade. Then, in 1997, AT&T took over sponsorship, helping further to grow the event’s profile and charitable donations. There were also venue rotations – Poppy Hills replaced Cypress Point in 1991, while Monterey Peninsula Country Club returned in place of Poppy Hills in 2010. Spyglass Hill has remained throughout. The format of playing over multiple courses before the final round at Pebble Beach endured.

Today, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am continues as one of the PGA Tour’s marquee early season events, now with elevated status as one of the tour’s new “Signature Tournaments”. Beyond the competition, the event maintained a fun, celebratory atmosphere thanks to the celebrities and parties, continuing the special atmosphere that Crosby pioneered with his original Crosby Clambake.

In the modern era, stars like Justin Timberlake and Bill Murray have showcased the tournament’s enduring cultural relevance. Murray’s unpredictable antics always liven things up and the iconic finishing hole at Pebble Beach remains one of golf’s most recognizable scenes. The legacy and allure of the Crosby Clambake live on at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, continuing Bing Crosby’s vision of camaraderie between golfers, celebrities, and fans.

bing crosy clambake evolution

Memorable Moments

The Crosby was not short on memorable moments. Nathaniel Crosby and Mark Frost have documented them well in their books “18 Holes With Bing” and “The Match,” respectively. The latter tells the remarkable story of a fabled match held during Crosby week at Cypress Point between amateurs Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward and legends Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson. We have dedicated an entire post to that story and its backdrop, so check that out for more.

The 1960 tournament was plagued by terrible rainy weather. Many fairways were flooded, leaving players to slosh around in galoshes borrowed from nearby fishermen. Johnny Weissmuller, famous for playing Tarzan, declared, “I’ve never been so wet in my life.” But the show went on, continuing a tradition of perseverance.

In the 60s, stars like astronaut Alan Shepard, John Wayne, and even The Beatles teed it up at the Crosby, soaking up sunshine and camaraderie. When fog rolled in during the 1965 Crosby, obscuring the famous views, Dean Martin joked, “I can’t see my ball, I can’t see my partner, and I can’t see my drink!” In 1977, Amy Alcott was the first woman ever invited to play in the Crosby Pro-Am field. Though she missed the cut, Alcott’s participation paved the way for female golfers.

Phil Mickelson has created many iconic moments at Pebble Beach over his illustrious career, including winning the tournament a record five times (1998, 2005, 2007, 2012, and 2019), pulling off a dramatic six-shot comeback in 2012, carding a 60 in the opening round in 2019 en route to a wire-to-wire win, holing out shots on back-to-back holes in 2020, and consistently entertaining the crowds with his swashbuckling style.

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Further Reading

18 Holes With Bing
by Nathaniel Crosby

Summary: In this memoir, professional golfer Nathaniel Crosby shares memories of playing golf with his father, beloved entertainer Bing Crosby, and the life lessons Bing taught him about golf and life through their time together on the course. The book provides an intimate look at Bing’s passion for golf, his friendships with celebrities, and his special bond with Nathaniel fostered through their mutual love of the game. Written as a heartfelt tribute, the book illuminates Bing Crosby’s life as a golfer and father.

The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever
by Mark Frost

Summary: Dive into the drama of a 1956 showdown between golf’s greats, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan, and top amateurs Harvie Ward and Ken Venturi. This enthralling audiobook delves into the backgrounds, characters, and the high-stakes bet that made this match a pivotal moment in golf history. One of my personal favorites; I read this one when it first came out and am now on my second listen of the audiobook.

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