Bing Crosby - The Final Round

by Greg Van Beek

*Photos courtesy of Greg Van Beek

*The following article appeared in the Summer 2001 issue of Club Crosby's BINGANG magazine. It is an account of Bing Crosby's final hours as related to Francisco Prieto by the General Manager of La Moralaeja Golf Course and Valentin Barrios, who was with Bing at the time of his death.*

    What follows is an account of Bing Crosby's last round of golf and his subsequent death on October 14, 1977.  It reveals for the first time his final meal, and other fascination bits of trivia, enhanced by many new and never-before-seen photos.  All was revealed by one of Bing's opponents during that final round, the last person to speak to him alive, Mr. Valentin Barrios, and is told in the setting where it all took place, La Moraleja Golf Course near Madrid, Spain.

    This remarkable story was made possible by a good friend of my family and me, Francisco Prieto.  I have known him for over 15 years through the business dealings he has had with my father.  Francisco is a Los Angeles-based representative for a Spanish industrial machinery manufacturer.  In that time, we have shared many good times during his frequent visits to Wisconsin, and he has remained a true and loyal friend.

    He's known about my interest in Bing Crosby for quite some time now.  Knowing he spends a lot of time in Spain, I asked him once if he knew of the La Moraleja Golf Course.  He replied, "Yes, I've passed by it many times."  Then I told him that Bing died there after a round of golf.  He was incredulous; he had no idea!  Not wanting to impose, I simply asked if sometime when he was passing by he could pull off to the side of the road and take a photo of the course for my collection.  He did that - and a whole lot more!  The story of how this exclusive interview with Valentin Barrios cam about is almost a s fascinating as the interview itself.

    To begin with, Francisco surprised me with the following e-mail on October 27, 2000: "What a place!!!  I arrived in Madrid from Los Angeles on Sunday morning, Oct. 22, around nine as schedules.  I rented a red Seat Ibiza 1.9 SDI-turbo diesel, very nice and pretty fast - smooth for a diesel." (Francisco shares with me a love of automobiles)

    "I drove directly to La Moraleja, which is like a township with some of the most elegant villas, homes and mansions that I have ever seen.  Sort of a Beverly Hills of old money and probably some new.  I got lost for a while on the many roads leading to the golf course.  Finally I found it.  There was no guard at the gate, which I thought was unusual; but I went inside, red Ibiza and all, and parked the little car among the S-class Mercedes Benz's, Porches, BMW and even a Chrysler 300M!  I walked to the Country Club building.

    "Once I was inside a nice (and pretty to match) lady stopped me and asked what I was doing there.  Obviously, my poor attire did not match the elegance of the place.  I explained the story about Bing's fan club.  She told me to refrain from photographing anything and kindly gave me the phone number for the Club Manager.  She told me to make an appointment to see him and he would (or would not) allow me to photograph the exact place where Bing fell.

    "I discretely took the car from the parking lot and left the club.  This time the guard was at the gate, and he looked at me as if wondering how a humble Seat Ibiza (a Spanish compact car) was exiting the premises!  Anyway, I guess I was lucky that the guard was absent when I went in."

    In a follow-up e-mail later that day, Francisco wrote: "The General Manager of La Moralaeja Golf now is a Mr. Rafael Silvela de Alos.  I have not called him because Madrid is some 220 miles from here (Mondragon, where the Spanish machinery manufacturer is located.)  If I can stop there on my return to the states next week, I will contact Mr. Silvela and make an appointment.  The problem is that I am sure once I am there he is going to explain the whole thing to me and take me to the different places I want to see.  This will probably take the whole morning.  Thus, I may leave it for when I come back to Spain in December."

    So I was both grateful and amazed at what he had managed to accomplish on my behalf, figuring this would be the end of the story.  Boy, was I wrong!

    On October 31, I received another 'surprise' e-mail from Francisco:  "I spoke today with Mr. Silvela, General Manager of Golf at La Moraleja.  He is receiving me at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, November 3rd.  Anyway, I explained to him the situation and he seems to be cooperative.  The switchboard lady was not very nice, but Mr. Silvela seems to be OK.  He is very formal (normal when you are surrounded by so many important people, I guess).

    "I rented a car for the Thursday afternoon in Mondragon and will drive in the evening to Madrid.  I will spend the night in a hotel in downtown Madrid, and in the morning I will drive to the golf course to meet Mr. Silvela.  It is all arrange."

    I simply could not believe what Francisco was willing to go through for me - and the club!  In the days leading up to Francisco's appointment with Mr. Silvela, I did some research on Bing's trip to Spain and the events leading up to it.  Bing had just completed a two-week engagement at the London Palladium on October 8, 1977.  He gave one more concert on October 10 at the Conference Center in Brighton, England.  On October 11, he recorded eight songs and an interview for BBC radio in the morning, along with a photo shoot that afternoon for the album jacket of his recently completed "Seasons" album.

    Also on October 11, he dealt with the police, upon discovering his London flat had been broken into and robbed during his concert in Brighton.  On October 12, he played 11 holes at the Cranbrook golf course in Kent (a course which he was interested in buying) before returning to his London flat for a late afternoon interview with a journalist.

    Then early on the morning of Thursday, October 13, he flew from London to Madrid for a four-day recreational weekend of golf and hunting.

    La Moraleja golf course is located in the La Moraleja residential complex, 8.8 kilometers (5 1/2 miles) from Spain's capital along the Madrid-Burgos national highway. The club was founded in 1975 and originally comprised an 18-hole golf course, a smaller itinerary of nine par-3 holes, and a putting green and practice ground, all designed and supervised by the famous American golfer Jack Nicklaus.

    In 1976, the facilities were joined by a clubhouse covering 8,500 square meters and containing a restaurant, cafeteria, game room, lounges, etc.  Bing had never been to La Moraleja prior to the autumn of 1977, but no doubt it was at the urging of his good friend Jack Nicklaus that he decided to make the trip.  I discovered that Bing knew a lot of people in the La Moraleja community and may have hunted with some of them in previous years.  This too may have been among the factors that took him there.

    Bing wasted no time upon arriving at La Moraleja on October 13 in getting out on the links.  he was paired with the World (at the time) and Spanish Gold Champion Manuel Pinero.  Their opponents were Cesar de Zulueta, President of La Moraleja, and Valentin Barrios.  Pinero and Bing lost to de Zulueta and Barrios for that match, with Bing carding a 92, but they were confident the 14th would be their "lucky day."      

                                                                                                              Cesar de Zulueta Bing Crosby,
Manuel Pinero, Valentin Barrios

    Getting back to Francisco's appointment with Rafael Silvela, Francisco phoned me from Newark , New Jersey on the evening of November 3, 2000, having just arrived from Spain, to tell me how it went.  He told me he had shot 3 floppy discs full of photos with his digital camera, inside and outside, based on the points of interest I had suggested.  He also said Mr. Silvela told him he was the Manager of La Moraleja in 1977 and lunched with Bing, Manuel Pinero and Cesar de Zulueta prior to the golf match on Friday, October 14.  For Bing's last meal, he ordered only a cup of chicken broth, a ham-lettuce-tomato sandwhich, and a glass of water.

    Mr. Silvela said that most of the conversation during that lunch centered around Saturday's planned partridge hunt.  Bing was very particular about the type of rifle he wanted to use for the shoot.  Several different types were shown to him, but Bing would only settle for a 20-gauge.  It had to be this or nothing!

    Bing took this partridge hunt seriously; he even bought a $700 wardrobe for it, including a jacket, pants, hat, leather lace-up boots, thick handwoven socks and a full range of accessories.  Sadly, he would never get a chance to wear them.  Following the partridge hunt, Bing had planned on flying to the island of Majorca for more golf before returning to California.  He was planning to meet with record producer Ken Barnes upon his return home to routine songs for a planned duet album with Bob Hope.

    Following lunch, Bing spoke to journalists in the clubhouse in what turned out to be his final interview.  He was in good spirits and reminisced freely about his long show business experience.  He said the move High Society, in which he starred with Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly, and Louis Armstrong was "the most satisfying one of my career."  He described his trip to Spain as a test of his recovery from the back injury he had suffered March 3 (a ruptured disc caused by a 20-foot fall from a Pasadena, CA stage).  He went on to say he was looking forward to teaming again with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour in The Road to the Fountain of Youth.                                                                                                                                                                            Bing chats with reporters

    The biggest surprise (to me) of Francisco's visit came when he asked Mr. Silvela if he knew the whereabouts of three of the foursome: Zulueta, Pinero, and Barrios.  Mr. Silvela replied that Cesar de Zulueta died several years ago; Manuel Pinero is believed to be still alive in Madrid, but hadn't been to La Moraleja recently, although he plays the course from time to time; but that "Valentin Barrios is one of our club pros.  I'll call him."  Within moments Valentin Barrios, one of only two surviving members of that foursome which included Bing, was standing in Mr. Silvela's office!

    At first, Mr. Barrios wasn't too willing to cooperate.  "I'm a professional," he said.  "I usually get paid for interviews and such," 

    Francisco-never bashful-said, "Yes, but I have no money!"  He explained to Barrios about the fan club, that we're listed in the 'Guinness Book of World Records' as the oldest active fan club and began to show him the questions I'd prepared and material I'd sent along.  Both Mr. Silvela and Mr. Barrios were impressed, and Francisco believes it is only because I made sure he was well prepared for the visit that they agreed to continue.

Both informed Francisco of a "Bing Crosby Fund" set up at La Moraleja to send young caddies to school and for a few other charities.  Mr. Silvela invited J. Javier Tejada Enriquez, the Club Controller, to join in and explain the charity foundation to him.  The President of the foundation is Efifanio Ridruejo Brieva.  He is also the current President of La Moraleja Golf Course.  Mr. Ridruejo is the second President of La Moraleja.  The first was Cesar de Zulueta.

    Francisco told them that perhaps our club could contribute at some point, and both Mr. Barrios and Mr. Silvella seemed please to hear this.

    Valentin Barrios recalled Bing's final round of golf for Francisco:  "He played very well, and I know he enjoyed it very much.  He told us he was feeling much better after his fall in California a few months earlier-and better still for being out on this beautiful golf course.  He told me about some of his golf games as we played, about games with great pros like Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Gene Littler, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus.  He told a lot of little stories about each of them.

    "Jack Nicklaus was his favorite, and I remember him telling me they planned a father and son match between them in a few weeks.  Mr. Crosby said he was glad to have known all these great golfers.  He was in good spirits; we joked about his white sun hat and old red cardigan.  He was very relaxed, even at the second to last hole, when the score was even and he hit one into the sand trap.  But he never lost his cool-still humming and whistling at the last hole.

    "I remember he scored an 85; he and Manuel won by one stroke because of Bing's handicap, which was a 13, I believe.  Bing collected his ten dollar prize before headed back to the clubhouse.  I remember, too, that he had a new set of Ben Hogan golf clubs for the round, but still used an ancient Hogan putter, which must've been his favorite."

    Mr. Barrios then offered a never before told story, recalling that last song Bing ever sang:  "There were some construction workers building a new house just off from the 9th hole.  The workers recognized Bing and motioned for him to come over to them.  Bing was very happy to be recognized and walked over to the men, who asked for a song.  The last song Bing Crosby sand, which I remember vividly, was 'Strangers In the Night.'"

    It is unclear whether Bing voluntarily chose to sing this song or if he asked the workers what they would like to hear and they chose it.

    Valentin Barrios took Francisco to the exact spot where the foursome was when Bing fell.  It was only 15 or 20 yards from the clubhouse entrance.  Francisco noticed there was a steep hill leading from the 18th hill to the walkway and suggested that maybe climbing the hill caused Bing's heart attack.  "No," replied Barrios.  "He was driven up the hill in a golf cart and had only a short distance to walk on flat, level ground.  I was walking right alongside of him and was the last  person to speak to him.  He was very happy about winning the match.  At the time, the pathway was a red-colored gravel, but it's since been paved over so the golf carts can drive on it easier.  It still follows the same path we took that day.

    "It's been widely quoted that Bing's last words were 'That was a great game of golf, fellas' or something to that effect.  Well, he did say that in the golf cart heading up the hill, but afterwards, while we were walking towards the clubhouse entrance-just seconds before his collapse-he spoke his real last words to me.  He turned and said, 'Let's go have a Coca-Cola.'

    "The next minute (around 6:30 p.m.), he fell face down on the red-brick path, landing on my foot when he fell.  We turned him over; he was very pale and had a large red bruise on his forehead from where he hit the ground.  He died at my feet.  I knew he was dead right away-died instantly. 

    "We carried him into the clubhouse and summoned the house doctor (Dr. Laiseca).  We called for an ambulance, just to make it look like he died en route to the hospital and not at the golf course.  We all knew he was gone before the ambulance ever arrived.

    "Dr. Laiseca showed me how to massage his heart while he prepared an adrenalin injection, which was put directly into his heart.  I messaged his heart for over half an hour, but nothing could be done.  He was dead-on-arrival at the hospital. (Reports at the time say it was the Red Cross Hospital, but Mr. Silvela and Mr. Barrios believe he was taken to the Rena Victoria, as it is the closest to La Moraleja.)

    "I couldn't believe it.  I never would've imagined he would have a heart attack.  He showed no signs of being tired or in pain or anything.  All at once, he dropped dead.  I'll never forget it."

    Bing was administered the Last Rites at the hospital.  Spain is predominantly a Catholic country, and Bing was a devout Catholic.

*Greg goes on to thank Mr.Prieto for all the time and effort he put into setting the story straight about Bing's final round.  He also thanks the men from La Moraleja, particularly Mr. Barrios, for relating the story in such vivid detail.  Crosby died in a way that many people believe he would have wanted; after an entertaining golf game and with $10 dollars in his pocket.  Many thanks to Mr. Van Beek for permission to bring his article to the website.*

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