Bing Crosby not only packed them in at the London Palladium as one of the legendary crooners but also attracted a crowd in Britain when he swapped his microphone for a golf club. When the American, a low handicapper along with his sidekick Bob Hope, played in the 1950 Amateur Championship at St Andrews, for example, his first-round match against a local building contractor, J.K. Wilson, was followed by around 20,000 people.
Next week, as part of the R&A Autumn Meeting in the Auld Grey Toun, the Bing Crosby Tournament, a seniors’ event, will take place on the Strathtyrum Course, having been won by another Hollywood star, Sean Connery, in 1995. It was Crosby who introduced pro-ams in golf through the event that is now the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am on the GA Tour, leaving a legacy in his favourite sport that could see a new chapter penned this weekend.
His youngest son, Nathaniel, is captaining the United States team in the 47th Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool, completing a full circle on his own golfing journey after being part of a winning side at the Merseyside venue in the biennial event in 1993. Having been introduced to the game by his father, it is a proud moment for the 57-year-old, who is locking horns at Hoylake with Scot Craig Watson.
“My dad endeared himself to this island for certain during dark times,” said the Californian of Crosby Snr having entertained troops during the Second World War. “I’ve put a chapter in my book called the ‘British Bond’ as my dad loved the British people and he loved playing at the Palladium. He also left his mark in golf with a lot of club championships and creating the pro-am format and the legacy of the Pebble Beach tournament and it is really important and terrific for me to have a continuation of the Crosby brand in the golf sector.”
Four years after his dad’s death on a golf course in Madrid, Crosby Jnr won the US Amateur Championship at the Olympic Club in San Francisco in 1981 before being pipped by Corey Pavin for the low amateur prize in the US Open the following year at Pebble Beach. In a spell in the professional ranks, he played three seasons on the European Tour – he tied for third in the Portuguese Open in 1985 – before regaining his amateur status in 1994.
“It is nice for me to be part of the legacy with my own contribution and hopefully we get a little divine intervention this week, knocking a few balls from the rough or making a few putts fall in. I’m hoping for a little energy from high,” he added with a smile on the penultimate day of practice.
Bidding to reclaim the trophy – the last five matches have been won by the home team – a Great Britain & Ireland side that includes Scottish pair Sandy Scott and Euan Walker enjoyed a visit from Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the 2009 match at Merion before going on to be one of the European stars in last year’s Ryder Cup in France.
“His caddie, Ian Finnis, contacted us to say, if there was any help we needed, he would be more than happy to come along,” said Watson, the 1997 Amateur champion from East Renfrewshire. “So Ian came when we were here earlier in the year but, unfortunately because of his commitments with the British Masters at Hillside, Tommy couldn’t make it then. But he said if it was at all possible, he would be more than happy to come along this week because he played in the Walker Cup himself and it remains a highlight of his golf career.”
Amateur champion James Sugrue, one of three Irishmen in the home ranks in an event that takes place on Saturday and Sunday, said it was “unreal” to have Fleetwood walking with him for a few holes. “It was a really good experience just to get up close to him, talk about what he thinks of Hoylake and just pick his brain a bit,” said the Mallow man.
Birthday boy Conor Gough – the Englishman turned 17 yesterday – added: “As I’m the youngest in the team, he said the best thing for me is just relax and just play golf how I normally do.”