Farewell Andy Williams, and thanks for helping to grow golf

Tom Watson and Andy Williams
Tom Watson is one of many high-profile champions of the Andy Williams San Diego Open at Torrey Pines.

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 | 2:59 p.m.

The obituaries for Andy Williams in the papers and websites today are rightfully focused on his singing career, but he also played a key role in boosting golf’s popularity in southern California and around the nation.

Back in 1968, Williams agreed to become the celebrity host of the San Diego Open Invitational on the PGA Tour – this was the golden era of celebrity golf events, like the Bing Crosby Pro-Am, the Bob Hope Desert Classic and the Glen Campbell Los Angeles Open. Williams was an avid golfer, and frequently played in the pro-am portion of these celebrity-filled events.

The San Diego Open was founded in 1952, but hop-scotched around southern California for its first 16 years, never really finding a home. Williams came aboard in 1968 -- the same year that the tournament moved to Torrey Pines, and the combination of celebrity clout and first-class venue proved to be a real game-changer. The event has remained at Torrey ever since, and become one of the most successful on the PGA Tour – and no doubt that success helped to pave the way for Torrey to be awarded the 2008 U.S. Open, won by Tiger Woods in his memorable 18-hole playoff over Rocco Mediate.

Williams served as celebrity host of the San Diego Open for 21 years – only the Hope and Crosby affiliations with their events lasted longer. Williams eventually shared title billing with sponsors like Isuzu and Shearson Lehman Brothers, and his name finally disappeared from the title in 1989. The tournament, of course, is now known as the Farmers Insurance Open.

Williams died Tuesday at age 84 in Branson, Mo., after battling bladder cancer. He’s most famous for his rendition of “Moon River,” and the venue he owned in Branson is called the Moon River Theater. He amassed 18 gold records and a pair of platinum records, and was a mainstay in Las Vegas for several decades. He hosted “The Andy Williams Show” on NBC from 1962 to 1971, and starred in a number of other variety shows over the years. He also headlined several Christmas specials, and hosted the Grammy Awards a record 13 times.