This week, Pioneer Golf CEO Bill Hogan discusses his many years of association with The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am being played this week on the Monterey Peninsula.
You can always tell an old-timer in California by the way they refer to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am as “The Crosby” or “The Clambake”. These monikers date back to 1937-1977 when Bing Crosby hosted The Bing Crosby National Pro Am, first in Rancho Santa Fe near San Diego, before moving to Pebble Beach for good in 1947. Even after his death in 1977 from a heart attack just minutes after finishing 18 holes at Real Club La Moraleja in Madrid, Spain, the Crosby family continued the tradition until 1985, when the telecommunications giant AT&T took over the title sponsorship.
But my association with The Crosby goes back to my childhood and I remember my parents going every year while I was a kid in school. They would come home and talk about all the movie stars they saw and “that Arnold Palmer fella” who was perhaps more famous than any of them.
But it wasn’t until 1976 that I first attended the Clambake, and with a stroke of luck, ended up caddying in the tournament. How, you ask? Well, it’s kind of a funny story how it all worked out.
I was a young teenager standing with my father outside the ropes on the Pebble Beach Golf Links practice putting green. We were watching players roll putts before the first round of the tournament, when we saw a casino tycoon from Las Vegas (name withheld to protect my life) have an argument with his caddie. He promptly fired the caddie on the spot, looked over at me standing outside the ropes, and asked, “Do you want to caddie?”
And that’s where it all started. My Dad said, “Go” and I went under the ropes, put on the bib and the “Caddy” badge (yes, they spelled “caddie” wrong on the badge and yes, I still have it) and I went to work.
That bag was heavy as hell. Although I was a pretty big kid for my age, for some reason that leather golf bag weighed a ton. I soon found out why, when on the 2nd hole, Mr Vegas reached into the bag and pulled out a bottle of Budweiser. He did it again on the 3rd hole, and then again, and again. As it turns out there were 12 glass bottles of beer in his bag and although it got lighter as the day wore on, I can distinctly remember hauling that dead weight around throughout the five-hour round.
My first Crosby in ’76 had other fond memories too. I remember meeting Bing Crosby (yes, Mr Vegas knew him), along with famous golfers such as Hale Irwin and Johnny Miller, and of course Jack Nicklaus, who uncharacteristically shot 82 on that final round Sunday and lost the tournament to Ben Crenshaw.
Coincidentally, 30 years later, almost to the day, I would share a cart and play 18 holes of golf with Crenshaw at his club in Austin, Texas. Interestingly, another Austin guy, Tom Kite, played in that ’76 Crosby with his father, Tom Kite Sr., and years later I would attend a University of Texas football game with Kite in his stadium suite. Funny how things work out.
But I digress. Throughout high school, I would conveniently get sick every Crosby week to miss school and be at Pebble or Spyglass and try to pick up a loop on Monday when the players would arrive for their first practice round. Back in those days, we would meet them in the parking lot as they were getting their sticks out of the trunk and ask, “Need a caddie?” It worked out more often than not and I would get an Amateur player’s bag for the week.
I remember one year being in a practice round foursome at Cypress Point Club with Clint Eastwood and Hale Irwin and thought, “this course is pretty nice”. Another year, I caddied Spyglass Hill in a practice round. In our group was Tom Watson, and the nicest guy of all, his caddie, Bruce Edwards. Even though Watson was at the top of his game in those days, Bruce took the time to show me some tricks of the trade and was always willing to walk across the fairway and share his yardage book with me.
After college, I worked in Carmel for 16 years, planning golf vacations, and by then the Crosby name was replaced with AT&T, and Cypress Point Club was replaced in the three-course rota by Poppy Hills. Along with my wife and our friends, the AT&T week was always filled with social activities and memorable days out at the tournament. I remember being greenside in 2000 when Tiger Woods holed out for eagle on 15 at Pebble Beach, costing Matt Gogel his first tour win (Gogel would win the AT&T two years later).
18th Hole at Pebble Beach
I also remember the time my wife accidentally spilled an adult beverage from The Lodge at Pebble Beach Cypress Room balcony, with the contents landing squarely on the back of the Pebble Beach Company President. We disappeared in the crowd very quickly after that mishap!
For several years in Carmel I was the golf columnist for the local newspapers (The Carmel Pine Cone and later The Monterey Herald) which gave me access to the Press Tent and “inside the ropes”. It was fun to participate in player interviews and get tournament insight from behind the scenes. But, as a part time scribe, I garnered true appreciation for career journalists and the pressure that deadlines present.
After I had moved from Carmel to Austin, my buddy Jeff (from Bill & Jeff’s Most Excellent Golf Adventure) convinced Clint Eastwood that because he had won the Tehama GC Club Championship, that he was eligible for the fictitious “Chairman’s Exemption” and should be able to play in the AT&T. Clint must have felt sorry for him, and granted Jeff entry in 2008. And I got my caddie job back.
Jeff and I had a longtime agreement that whoever got to play in the AT&T first, the other guy would caddie. It was a great time and we mixed with the stars, but throughout all of that, two moments really stand out, and ironically, they happened back-to-back, at the end of the week.
The first was on Sunday, and yes, Jeff had made the cut, which was a great accomplishment in its own right. We were on the 71st hole of the tournament, which, because our group had started on #10, was the famous 8th hole at Pebble Beach. In our group was Jeff’s Pro-Am partner Chris Riley, plus PGA Tour players Jim Furyk and Joe Ogilvie.
8th Hole at Pebble Beach
Jeff’s approach shot on 8 flew the green and was in the back bunker, with the slick green sloping away, and he was left with an almost impossible shot. Furyk says loud enough for the crowd to hear “There’s no way you keep that on the green.” Well, presented with that challenge, Jeff flopped a 60-degree wedge straight up in the air and it landed softly and tricked ever so slowly down the slope and stopped about 18 inches from the cup. Furyk, in amazement, dropped to his knees and bowed to Jeff as if to say, “I am not worthy”.
But the best was yet to come, and only about 5 minutes later. The 72nd and final hole of our 2008 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am experience was the difficult 9th hole, and Jeff had pulled his drive into the left rough. The ball sat down in the heavy rye grass, 228 yards from the flagstick, and one foot would have to be placed in the bunker. As any good caddie would, I handed him the wedge hoping he would just put it back in the fairway.
Jeff thought for about two seconds, looked at me with determination written all over his face and said, “I didn’t come this far to lay up.” I reluctantly handed him the 3-wood as the three PGA Tour stars stood in the fairway, and laughed.
After adjusting his stance to compensate for the ball above his feet and the awkward lie, Jeff slashed at the ball and I’ll be damned if it didn’t fly straight out of the rough, high into the air and right at the green. “There’s no way it gets there,” I thought to myself. But it kept carrying, and carrying, and it flew over the huge bunker guarding the green, landed softly, somehow, and rolled out to about ten feet from the cup. Remarkable.
Nobody could believe it. Not the gallery, not the PGA Tour players who were applauding in the fairway, and certainly not his caddie, yours truly.
I raked the bunker, and after Ogilvie hit his approach shot, we walked down the hill toward the 9th green, with putters in hand. Ogilvie was still shaking his head when he said, “I’ve seen a lot of great shots out here on tour, including Tiger’s famous six-iron over the water at the 2000 Canadian Open. But that one right there, that was the best!”
Don’t believe me? Here’s a picture from that moment, another of my great memories from the Crosby Clambake.