Watching the more recent AT&T Pro-Ams at Pebble Beach is a reminder of how difficult some golf courses were before technology took over the game of golf. A great example is the last eleven holes at the Pebble Beach Golf Links.
The tournament, a brainchild of entertainer Bing Crosby, began in southern California in 1937. After World War II the tournament moved north to the Monterey Peninsular. It was played for 50 years as the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am, sometimes referred to as the “Crosby Clambake”. The tournament was held over three courses with 150 pros paired with 150 amateurs playing better-ball stroke play. Also the professionals were competing on an individual basis in a stroke play event, which offered the largest portion of the purse.
In January of 1959 Honesdale, Pennsylvania’s Art Wall arrived at Pebble Beach for the Crosby Pro-Am at the height of his career. Wall had won two times on the PGA Tour in 1958 and just two weeks before the Crosby he had led the L.A. Open going into the last round only to be done in by a 63 from Ken Venturi, which left him in second place. Wall opened the tournament with a 69 at Cypress Point and followed it up with a 65 at Monterey and a 70 at Pebble Beach. His 204 total carried him into the final round with a four-stroke lead over Jimmy Demaret.
On Sunday Wall began his round with birdies on the first three holes and he completed the front nine in 34 strokes. He was now seven strokes in front of Demaret and eight ahead of Gene Littler. A birdie on the 10th hole put Wall nine in front. On the next seven holes Wall carded one birdie, one par, four bogeys and one double bogey. Standing on the 18th tee Wall held a one-stroke lead over Littler, who was paired with him. Wall and Littler both reached the 18th fairway safely with their drives but Littler proceeded to hook his #4 wood second shot over the seawall and into Stillwater Cove. Wall completed the hole with a bogey six for a 75, giving him a 72-hole total of 279 and a two-stroke victory over Littler and Demaret.
The tournament was televised from 6 pm to 7 pm Eastern Standard Time, but the TV viewers didn’t see the final putts as the allotted time ran out and the network moved on to the next show. First prize from the $50,000 purse was $4,000 and Wall also won the pro-am in partnership with the national amateur champion, Charley Coe, for another $2,000.
That year Wall went on to win two more tournaments and the Masters. At the Masters he birdied five of the last six holes on Sunday to win by one stroke over Cary Middlecoff. Wall finished with a 66 and only one other player broke 71 that day. That finish, one of the greatest in Masters history, seems to be nearly forgotten. In 1959 Wall was the PGA “Player of the Year”, won the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average, led the PGA Tour in money winnings and earned a spot on the Ryder Cup team.