Bing Crosby loved sports as a boy growing up in Spokane, Washington.
He excelled at swimming and baseball,
but struggled at football and basketball because of his slight physical stature.
He took up golf while working as a part-time caddy during high school, and it soon became a favorite pastime. He also hunted and fished regularly in his youth and played second base for his college baseball team at Gonzaga, later describing himself as a good fielder and a poor hitter.
Still an avid golfer, after achieving great success and fame, Bing was shocked at how little money professional golfers made in the 1930s and came up with the idea of the pro-am golf tournament in 1937. Crosby gathered his Hollywood golfing buddies to play with struggling professional golfers. Bing also provided the purse for the event, and the first “Crosby Clambake”, as Bing himself nicknamed it, was won by Sam Snead, who readily accepted the $500 purse.
The tournament, which was moved from Rancho Santa Fe near San Diego to Pebble Beach in northern California in 1947, was first televised in 1958. It remained one of the most viewed golf events on television for decades. The annual event raised millions of dollars for charity.
Crosby’s own golf handicap fluctuated between two and six most of his adult life and he was the biggest draw in a number of fundraising tournaments held during World War II, raising millions for the war effort.
He was a member of several country clubs and invited women to play in his pro-am in the early 1970s. His death after winning a round of golf in Spain in 1977 caused his widow, Kathryn, to remark, “What an appropriate way for a golfer who sang for a living to leave this earth.”
Crosby also felt the allure of horse racing, and along with his friend, actor Pat O’Brien, formed the Del Mar Racing Association.
He was there to greet racing fans in 1937 as the track opened, and even penned the lyrics to the song, “Where the Turf Meets the Surf,” which is still played at the track today. Crosby and his friend, Lindsay Howard, proprietors of the Binglin Stable raced their prized Argentine thoroughbred, Ligaroti, in a match race against Seabiscuit, owned by Charles Howard, the father of Bing’s stable partner. The big race took place on August 12, 1938 at Del Mar in front of more than 20,000 spectators and a national radio audience. Bing promoted the race heavily, since it provided a tremendous boost to the new track. He flooded the area with humorous posters, playing up the rivalry between Charles and Lindsay Howard, and even poked fun at the jockeys:
August 12, 1938
Seabiscuit vs. Ligaroti
Charles Howard vs. Bing Crosby
Father vs. Son
The Iceman Woolf vs. Spec Richardson
America vs. Argentina
One of the Greatest Match Races of All Time
Crosby’s Hollywood friends, like Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Ray Milland and Spencer Tracy filled the Ligorati rooting section. Seabiscuit, perhaps the only living thing more famous than Bing Crosby in 1938, won a close and controversial race, and there were accusations of fouls by both jockeys. Bing had to step between the two jockeys as they nearly came to blows after the race. With Ligorati’s loss Bing became the victim of years of good-natured ribbing about his losing horses.
In 1946 Bing purchased a stake in the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team. His beloved Pirates became another topic of jokes, mostly from his friend Bob Hope, part-owner of the Cleveland Indians, World Series winners in 1948. When the Pirates finally won the World Series in 1960 after many years in the cellar of the National League, Hope lost the use of his cellar-dweller Pirates material. On the day of his passing in 1977, Major League Baseball honored Bing with a moment of silence at the start of game three of the 1977 World Series in Los Angeles.
Crosby also had a deep and abiding love for hunting and fishing and was able to pursue both of these passions in many exotic locales.
He fished in Scandinavia, hunted in Canada, and went on several African safaris.
On numerous occasions in the 1960s and 1970s, Bing could be seen hunting and fishing on the popular American Sportsman television show. In his later years, he became involved in several conservation organizations, including Ducks Unlimited and the Committee for Atlantic Salmon. He was an expert fly fisherman and accurate wing shot. Bing also owned a 20,000-acre cattle ranch in Elko, Nevada, for a number of years.