Posted by: Pat Sullivan
Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at 11:36 AM
Crosby book review
18 Holes with Bing – Golf, Life, and Lessons from Dad
By Nathaniel Crosby and John Strege (Dey St./HarperCollins, New York, 2016)
By Pat Sullivan
When Nathaniel Crosby won the U.S. Amateur Championship at age 19 in September 1981, much was made of the fact that he had worn a family heirloom around his neck for good luck – Bing Crosby's own contestant's medal from the 1940 U.S. Amateur.
However, Nathaniel reveals in his newly published father-son memoir, that wasn't all he had going for him that week in the fog and wind off Skyline Boulevard. Each day, rather than having to endure, as he writes, “. . . some of the mayhem ensuing at the Olympic Club stemming from my participation,'' he warmed up a mile or so away at San Francisco Golf Club.
An unfair advantage? Not as far as the competition went. But in “18 Holes with Bing,'' Crosby freely and refreshingly often refers to and acknowledges the advantages of his privileged upbringing. That he and his father were members at SFGC wasn't news – that was just how it was for Crosby, his sister, Mary Frances, and his brother, Harry, growing up on a five-acre estate in leafy Hillsborough.
“”I said once that my name was a burden only in that people had an unfounded impression even before they had met me or knew me, that I must be a rich brat,'' he writes. “I enjoyed disappointing them. Yes, I grew up at country clubs and had access to some of the finest golf courses in the world. For that I'm grateful. But had I ever allowed that to seep into my behavior and acted in a way that suggested arrogance, my mother and father would have set me straight.''
One entire chapter of “18 Holes with Bing'' is devoted to that memorable U.S. Amateur Championship, where Nathaniel's gallery each day included his mother, Kathryn. Another is devoted to the difficult eight years following Bing's death in 1977 as “The Crosby'' transitioned into the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Much of the rest doesn't read like a golf book – not one swing tip, podners! Instead, it reads like a letter from a family member, in places a quite intimate letter, as in Nathaniel's description of a father whose notions of affection did not include the “L'' word.
“I had a recurring dream after my father died that he was on his deathbed and had said to me, 'I love you.' I'd always wanted to hear this, but never did as a far as I can recall . . . I take the opposite approach and tell each of my kids I love them with each telephone call or visit.''
Another highly personal chapter addresses Bing Crosby's first family and the comments about “corporal punishment'' by Nathaniel's half-brother Gary in a tell-all book. “”The book and movie received so much attention that it made the idea of trashing your famous mother or father a successful business model,'' Nathaniel writes.
Away from the family issues there are gems galore of anecdotes from Bing Crosby's show-business career; of pals Phil Harris and Bob Hope; of extensive work with the USO during World War II; behind-the-scenes stories from baseball games, horse races and more.
The chapter entitled The Jazz Singer is music-appreciation 101 – a rhythmic essay that recalls the young performer's early days of scat music and jazz, of friendships with Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Frank Trumbauer, Jack Teagarden and others. (Bing Crosby was among Louis Armstrong's pallbearers in 1971.)
These days Nathaniel Crosby lives in Jupiter, Florida, with his wife and six children. He is founder and president of a firm putting together a golf-membership program involving 30 private clubs, “. . . a timeshare for millionaires and billionaires, if you will.,'' Nathaniel writes. “One developer, when hearing what I was attempting, said, 'Nathaniel, you must really enjoy pain.'”
“18 Holes with Bing'' also includes a brief foreword by Jack Nicklaus, who recounts a couple of stories set at The Lodge at Pebble Beach during Crosby Pro-Ams.
The book's co-author, John Strege, has covered golf for more than 30 years and currently writes for Golf Digest. His five previous books include the bestseller “Tiger: A Biography of Tiger Woods.'' Strege lives in San Diego with his wife and daughter.
Pat Sullivan is a former golf writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. He recalls watching some players at the '81 Amateur hit balls out of deep rough “halfway to Joe's of Westlake.''