Museum Moment: Crosby, Hope, Hepburn Blazed Golf’s Trail Through Motion Pictures

Feb 24, 2011

By Meredith Miller

The 83rd annual Academy Awards have Hollywood abuzz with anticipation. This is the time of year when film buffs reminisce about the history of motion pictures. During the “Golden Age of Film,” stars such as Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Katharine Hepburn and Anne Baxter were household names.

Movies about golf, along with actors who played, helped to popularize the game. On the course, friendships were formed and deals were made that changed the lives of quite a few stars and starlets. Many Academy Award-recognized films were negotiated during a round of golf, and an Oscar nomination or win validated a movie-maker’s work in the eyes of their peers and fans.

Follow the Sun...

Anne Baxter was nominated for two Academy Awards and won once. The actress is famous for her Award-winning role in The Razor’s Edge and for playing the title character in All About Eve. However, to many golf fans, she is remembered for playing Mrs. Valerie Hogan in Follow the Sun. The movie, starring Glenn Ford and Baxter, was released in 1951. This screen biography became Hollywood’s first major motion picture about golf, covering Hogan’s rise through the professional ranks, his near-fatal auto accident and remarkable recovery. Hogan helped draft the story and was the film’s technical advisor. In March 1951, Ford and Hogan, who has a cameo in the film, appeared at the film’s Fort Worth, Texas, premiere, which drew thousands of onlookers.

Crosby and Hope…

Bing Crosby and Bob Hope were friends for more than 40 years through stage, radio and screen. Though they made their living by entertaining, their shared passion was golf. Shortly after the men met as vaudeville performers in New York City, they discovered their mutual love for the game. The two often went to a driving range under the 59th Street Bridge between shows, which marked the beginning of a great friendship through work and golf.

The men soon took their talents west, where they both had great success.

Even after they made it big in Hollywood, Crosby and Hope traveled throughout the country, finding time to play golf, though not always together. On one trip to the Philadelphia area, the men played Pine Valley, which hosted the biennial Walker Cup Match in 1936 and 1985. The actors were not able to play together due to a scheduling conflict, and after his round Crosby boasted to Hope that he had shot an 81. Hope tried in vain to beat Crosby the next day, shooting a respectable 84. An attendant asked Hope to sign Crosby’s scorecard, which clearly showed that Crosby had also shot an 84. Hope took note that his friend lied a little when it came to golf.

In addition to Crosby’s three Oscar nominations and one win, and Hope’s five Special Honors from the Academy, Crosby and Hope were joint recipients of the Bob Jones Award in 1978. The award is the USGA’s highest honor, given in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. Hope and Crosby won for their contributions to charity through golf, as well as their stewardship of the game, just a few months after Crosby passed away in 1977.

In 1937, Crosby held his first pro-am, known as the “Crosby Clambake.” The star was able to attract many actors to the tournament, which was known just as much for its social aspects as it was for the golf. After a break during World War II, it became more of a charitable event and was brought to California’s Monterey Peninsula, home to Spyglass Hill, Cypress Point and Pebble Beach, which has hosted five U.S. Opens, most recently in 2010.

The tournament has raised millions for charity. Following in his friend’s footsteps, Bob Hope started the Bob Hope Desert Classic in 1959, and the event continues to raise money for worthy causes in the Palm Springs area. The two men were able to combine their fame with their love for golf to benefit those less fortunate.

Kate the Great…

Another famous actor from the Golden Era, Katharine Hepburn was nominated for a record 11 Best Actress Academy Awards and won four times.

Not only was she stellar on the screen, but Hepburn also could hold her own on the golf course and often teed off from the men’s tees, shooting in the 80s. Hepburn learned to play golf on a private course as a child in Fenwick, Conn., and she continued to take lessons as a teenager.

Later in her life when she lived in California, Hepburn bought a house overlooking the 14th hole at Bel-Air Country Club, the site of the 1974 U.S. Amateur and the 2004 USGA Senior Amateur. One day, while playing at the club, Hepburn and a playing partner were disrupted by a huge commotion. Much to her surprise and to Bel-Air’s fury, Hepburn’s friend Howard Hughes had landed his plane on the course. Hughes finished the round with Hepburn, and the plane had to be dismantled so it could be removed from the course. The club ordered him to pay for the damage he caused, but Hughes refused, instead opting to donate $5,000 to a charity of the club’s choosing. Hughes’ eccentric life is depicted in The Aviator and features Cate Blanchett as Hepburn. Blanchett won an Oscar for her portrayal of the famous golfing actress.

Baxter, Crosby, Hope and Hepburn all played their part in making golf a more popular game. By making movies about golf and playing in their spare time, these stars exposed the game to a wider audience. In addition, Crosby and Hope helped make pro-ams the highly successful charitable events that they are today.

Meredith Miller is the Library intern for the USGA Museum and a graduate student studying Library and Information Science at Rutgers University. E-mail questions or comments to meredithmiller@usga.org.

This screen biography became Hollywood’s first major motion picture about golf, covering Hogan’s rise through the professional ranks, his near-fatal auto accident and remarkable recovery. (USGA Museum)


Bing Crosby and Bob Hope were friends for more than 40 years through stage, radio and screen. Though they made their living by entertaining, their shared passion was golf. (USGA Museum)