Bing Crosby lent his name to a PGA Tour event before World War II, a little tournament down in Rancho Santa Fe. After World War II, the tournament moved to Pebble Beach and became famous as the Crosby Clambake.
In 1965, Bob Hope officially put his name on the tour event in the Coachella Valley. Three years later, it was the San Diego stop that had a celebrity on the title of the event. The San Diego Open became the Andy Williams San Diego Open.
Williams, the long-time La Quinta resident who died Thursday night at his other home in Branson, Missouri, was never as identified with the game as Crosby or Hope. Still, he had a 20-year run as the host of the San Dieo tournament, bringing attention to the tour stop there and having friendships with pros. He also was a fixture in other tour pro-ams, like the Hope event. Williams told me a few years ago that there was never an agreement that, hey, I’ll play in your tournament if you play in mine among celebrities. But what celebrity, given the chance, wouldn’t want to play in a pro-am in San Diego or La Quinta?
In many ways, Williams was the example of how the celebrity host on the PGA Tour was born, grew strong and eventually drifted away. After Williams joined the San Diego tournament, people like Danny Thomas, Glen Campbell, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis. Jr. and others put there names on events. But slowly the tour and tournaments began to understand that corporations could bring them more money than celebrities, and that celebrity fame could only offer a tournament so much. In his 20 years with the San Diego event, Williams was forced to share the marquee with a furniture store, a car manufacturer and eventually a financial company. After the 1988 event, Williams name was off the tournament.
When talking to me for a book I was writing about the Bob Hope golf tournament, Williams did express frustration that he was kind of kicked to the crub by the San Diego event after 20 years of working hard to promote the tournament and putting on gala shows during the week of the event. It was a feeling many celebrities had as their names were replaced by corporations at tournaments.
But Williams remained an active member at La Quinta Country Club and he continued his highly successful singing career. He was one of the first celebrities to truly embrace the possibilities of Branson, building his own theater there, the Moon River Theater. And Williams continued to return to the desert and his beloved La Quinta Country Club.
First came Crosby, then came Hope to PGA Tour events, but Williams was just behind Hope on that list. Hopefully the golf world will remember that today.