In Houston a rancher charged that his life was threatened, in Charlotte the police asked the men in the Cadillac who were visiting the country club to come over to the station, and in Iowa the state's best amateur golfer was suddenly not an amateur anymore. The ever-fascinating problem of golf gambling was in the news again.
The principal in the latest case was Floren DiPaglia, a 39-year-old aluminum-siding executive from Des Moines who plays golf almost well enough to be a touring pro and bets so high that the pros say they cannot handle him anymore. After a careful investigation the United States Golf Association has stripped DiPaglia of his amateur status for "conduct detrimental to golf."
The USGA never spells it out, but in the past "conduct detrimental" has, in one way or another, usually had something to do with gambling. The cases are not infrequent, and even champions have been involved. In 1958 Junie Buxbaum, who had won the National Amateur Public Links title two summers before, was barred from further amateur competition because he had traveled around hustling high-stakes golf games under an assumed name. The case of a DiPaglia or a Buxbaum is noteworthy only because these are exceptionally talented golfers. The USGA's confidential files are filled with similar histories affecting duffers and par shooters alike.
DiPaglia is no newcomer to notoriety, or to trouble. On December 27, 1953 he was arrested in Des Moines after Ben Bumbry, a Drake University basketball player, told police DiPaglia had offered him $300 to $500 to shave points in a game against Iowa State. DiPaglia was sentenced to 10 years, but a series of appeals ended with the charge against him being changed to a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to jail for five months and was fined $1,000. In 1954 DiPaglia found himself before a Senate committee investigating the Federal Housing Administration scandals, where he testified that in 1950 he and his brother had grossed $100,000 in commissions while selling aluminum siding. Subsequently DiPaglia and his family formed their own siding company, which was most successful, almost as successful as Floren's golf game. In 1961 DiPaglia won the Des Moines city championship, and his financial situation was such that he could travel around the country to play golf and gamble with the top pros on the PGA tour. He soon had a reputation as an excellent player—and a hothead. He was also earning a reputation with various police departments. The FBI report on his police record shows he was picked up for investigation in Oklahoma City, Houston, Port Arthur, Texas, Chicago and Shreveport, La. between 1955 and 1961, but only in Shreveport was he actually charged with anything—he was convicted and fined $50 for "failing to register trade name."
November 22, 1965
It was not until this year, however, that DiPaglia reached the peak of his abilities. His golf was excellent. He won the Iowa Masters tournament and the regionally prestigious Herman Sani Open, and he tied for first in the Iowa Open before losing in a sudden-death playoff. He seemed the hottest candidate for Iowa Golfer of the Year, an award won on a strict stroke system based on performance in certain major state tournaments. But he had involved himself in other things as well.
Last winter DiPaglia went to Houston, rented a $35-a-day cottage on the Champions golf course and immediately started playing golf. On one occasion, club members say, he played against the best-ball of three 85-to-90 shooters at Champions while agreeing to hit all 18 of his tee shots with a Dixie Cup placed over the ball. He lost his bet, but only because he could not control his iron shots to the par-3 holes.
During January, according to charges later made to Houston police, DiPaglia also played a high-stakes round at the Champions club with C. E. Boyd Jr., a husky oilman and rancher who lived with his wife and two children in a $50,000 brick house adjoining one of the club's two courses. Boyd, an 11-handicapper, told police that he won $1,400 from DiPaglia, who paid up by peeling $100 bills off a roll he carried in his pocket.
Subsequently, police were told, DiPaglia left town '"to get more money," and returned. He was joined by an associate. Gasper Fazio. In February, DiPaglia's luck changed, and he won a total of $6,500 from Boyd. The latter paid off DiPaglia with checks, but then had second thoughts and asked DiPaglia to hold the checks. According to Boyd, Fazio later saw Boyd in Sweetwater, Texas and asked about getting the payment in hard currency. Boyd gave him $4,000 in cash but covered the balance with two more checks. This started an argument, which resulted in Boyd tearing up the checks and stating that as far as he was concerned the gambling debt was paid.
This was hardly satisfactory to Floren DiPaglia. Later, while Boyd and his wife were on another trip to Sweetwater, DiPaglia traced him to a motel and telephoned to demand payment. DiPaglia sounded like such a "raving maniac," Boyd said in his complaint to police, that he put his ranch foreman, Buster Welch, on the telephone to reason with DiPaglia and then "in a very loud tone of voice DiPaglia told Mr. Welch that he was going to kill Mr. Boyd's daughter, his son, his...wife...[and] Mr. Boyd, but he was going to save him for the very last and was going to use a shot gun to kill them with." The same day that Boyd's foreman was receiving this forthright policy statement, Boyd's Houston home, the rear of which adjoins a Champions green, was broken into. Police found that "unknown person had removed Mrs. Boyd's clothing from the closets in her bedroom and threw them on the bedroom floor and tore a mink stole into several pieces and left it on the said floor." Unknown person had also removed a lot of papers from a desk and torn them up, stomped on a clock radio and thrown ground meat onto the kitchen floor. Police have not discovered who was responsible.
Following the report to police on the threat, DiPaglia was arrested in Cabin No. 3 at Champions. DiPaglia admitted he had phoned Boyd, said he had no idea who entered Boyd's house and told police he was going to leave Houston and forget the debt. Three weeks later Boyd dropped his charges against DiPaglia. He will not say why.
Meanwhile, other information about DiPaglia was coming to light, this time from Charlotte, N.C., which he visited in 1964. The pro at one course he went to spotted DiPaglia's Cadillac with its blue-and-white Iowa license plates and was suspicious. "He didn't get much action here," the pro says. "Everybody was scared of him." However, DiPaglia played several times with the city's best amateurs. He also attracted the attention of the police. "Word got back to the police station that there was a lot of golf gambling going on and the stakes were getting high," says Detective Captain William A. McCall. "DiPaglia had another man with him. We asked them to come to the station, and I told them that I heard they were engaging in high-stakes gambling here. I didn't run them out of town. I just told them to stop or they were going to get into trouble. They left town."
This seems simple enough, but Houston Rancher Boyd and a touring pro put the DiPaglia case into final perspective, and in so doing they show how complex the golf gambling issue really is.
"DiPaglia actually has a lot of sporting blood in him," says Boyd. "He won't try to win the match on the first tee with an inequitable stroke allowance. He'll always arrange an agreeable match, taking into consideration his opponent's handicap and his own skill." Boyd says DiPaglia has a remarkable mind. After just a few cards have fallen in a gin rummy game he seems to know exactly what everyone is holding. On the golf course, Boyd says, he will make individual bets with everyone in his own foursome as well as the foursome just in front, and keep track of all the bets in his head.
"I was prepared to testify for him at his amateur-status hearing before the USGA," says one of the pro tour's outstanding players. "Floren likes to play for a lot; in fact, he's out of our class. But when it comes to golf he's honest as the day is long. To tell you the truth, I'd put him down as a real sucker. I've never heard of him coming out ahead on a big bet. He gives away too many strokes just to get a game, just to get some action."
At one time, it is said, DiPaglia put out feelers in an attempt to get a PGA Approved Player Card but was discouraged from going any further because of his criminal record. Apparently he has the skills to have made at least a modest success of the pro tour.
"He's a great chipper and a super-putter," says the pro who was willing to give him a character reference. "He's not too long off the tee, but he's good and straight. What he has most of, however, is great courage under pressure. I personally think he got a raw deal from the USGA. What's the difference whether a man bets $5 or $5,000, if he can afford it? Floren's got eight or 10 salesmen working for him who must make $25,000 a year or so themselves. Sure, he may have done some wrong things in the past, but I think the only thing wrong with him now is that he's a sick guy when it comes to gambling."
This, when you reflect on it, is exactly why the USGA, as the governing body of amateur golf, watches golf gambling with such concern. It can be a sickness, both for the individual and the sport. Gambling has become an intrinsic part of the game. Golf is among the very last endeavors of man in which he is willing and has the opportunity to gamble, head to head, do or don't, I betcha, on his own physical achievement. (When was the last time you stood beside a tennis court and heard anything like, "O.K., $5 a set, dollar on aces, dollar on tapees, press at the end of five games and bingo, bango, bungo"?) Hardly a foursome gets off a first tee without either some kind of wagering or else an embarrassed pause during which nobody brings the subject up. Predictably, the gambling can and does get out of hand. Examples: the infamous Calcutta pools; the thousands of dollars being lost to golfers playing with fake handicaps or under phony names; the storied hustlers with the awful swings who are so good they could play with a rake and beat you 4 up; the case of the U.S. Open champion who reportedly, while still an amateur, played a match in which his backers dropped $150,000. The USGA has for 10 years been attempting to police this aspect of the sport, and it has had considerable success.
Joseph C. Dey Jr., executive director of the USGA and the man whose policies have shaped its attitude on gambling, says, "Our executive committee does not handle a large number of serious cases, not even one a week. And no case is typical. We look at each one on its own merits. There is certainly no set number of dollars at which a bet becomes a violation of amateur status. The amount involved means nothing in itself. Ten dollars may be a lot to you or me, but what is $50,000 to a multimillionaire? Motivation and effect are what concern us. Is the activity bad for the game? Is the golfer using the game for something other than just the joy of playing?" In short, you can gamble, but don't try to make a career of it. Beyond that the USGA will say nothing about gambling. Least of all will it tell who is doing the big gambling today, or where the action is.
However, a survey of clubs across the country turns up some intriguing specifics, and two opposing trends: 1) everybody is gambling on golf, but the amount involved in the larger club bets is less than it was 10 years ago, and 2) the big-time hustler has been replaced by the man who cares not whether he wins or loses but how much he played the game for.
In general, the club golfer is now betting more money in his country club's card room than he is on the golf course. "The modest bet out on the course is usually just an introduction to something wilder at the gin table," says a touring pro. And a club pro says, "The man who thinks a $2 Nassau at golf is plenty high will play gin for 3¢ a point, four games across, etc., etc., and wind up winning or losing $1,000." In Los Angeles the police department says flatly, "Heavy action just doesn't exist."
The Normandie Golf Club in St. Louis was once considered the hottest spot west of the Mississippi. It was there that a baseball pitcher was said to sometimes drop $1,500 in a single round and a famed pro, using only a five-iron, would cure a man's gambling habit with a fast $500 lesson. Old members recall it fondly, but those days are gone. The current Normandie pro, Frank Keller, now reports: "We've got the most conservative place in the country."
Keller's observations reflect those from many parts of the U.S. where $1,000 bets were once a common part of the golfing scene: the West Coast, Phoenix, Chicago, the Carolinas, Texas, etc. Every area still has a few regular $100 Nassau games, but they are generally restricted to tightly knit and prosperous groups. Debts are settled up only periodically and tend to even out in a year, a trend that pleases the USGA.
This does not mean, however, that golfers with a yen to have $1,000 riding on a wedge shot are extinct. There are plenty of them, and their USGA dossiers grow large. There is especially heavy betting in three areas—Palm Springs, Las Vegas and Miami—but in each case it is essentially in-group wagering. The Palm Springs set is mostly Hollywood and especially Rat Pack, and if a star drops a grand or two a day it is just Monopoly money anyway.
The Vegas group is mainly casino bosses and dealers and has its own distinctive flavor. One pro (gambler) who is a golf fanatic recently backed an ex-touring pro (golfer) in a round against par 72 at the Dunes' Emerald Green Country Club. He reportedly lost $12,000 when the golfer finished bogey, double bogey, bogey to miss 72 by a stroke. A Strip casino dealer won a wedding chapel from a "Marrying Sam" preacher and earlier took a French poodle as payoff for an $8,000 golf bet. The same preacher who lost his chapel lost $1,200 to a hotel-nightclub captain, a debt that was settled when they traded the preacher's new Cadillac for the captain's old one.
In Miami the hot gambling is being done by vacationing hoodlums from the Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago crime syndicates. (The Miami Herald is running a series of personality sketches on such visitors entitled Know Your Neighbor. Perhaps Know Your Foursome is advisable, too.) Florida law-enforcement agencies say the hoods play for as much as $1,000 a hole, with key putts worth $15,000 or more. Side bets will range to $500 for the longest drive or for hitting the green on a par-3. One of those in the game is Jack Cerone, onetime bodyguard for Tony Accardo. Lieut. Larry Feingold of the Dade County sheriff's office recently asked Cerone why he comes to Miami. "Just to play a little golf," Cerone said. The hoodlums see their share of Miami private clubs, but their big games are reportedly held on two public courses, Miami Beach's Bayshore and Normandy Shores, where unwanted supervision is less likely.
But the true hustling days are over here, too. "I can remember when Bayshore used to be like a circus," says Woody Laughinghouse, manager of a Miami public course. "The golfers would be playing $500 a hole, and guys would be following them in carts making even bigger bets. It's not like it used to be."
Miami Springs Country Club, a municipal course, was once the headquarters for the famous Fat Man, Martin Stanovich, whose large belly and old lady's swing was a familiar sight from coast to coast. Stanovich is a member of River-woods Country Club in Chicago, where the membership list includes some of the same types that play in Bayshore's big games. He is less active now, and the word in places like Boston and Cleveland and Los Angeles is that The Fat Man got his hands homogenized by the Chicago syndicate for somehow letting them down. "This is not true," says a close friend of Stanovich. "They didn't touch his hands." Stanovich was last seen headed south once again, but hardly to pull a surprise hustle on some unsuspecting pigeon, if for no other reason than that everybody knows him too well.
Thus the colorful age of the hustler seems to be passing into golfing history, and the hustler himself is being replaced by characters who—win, lose or draw—want action.
One is left with the words of Brigadier Eric Brickman, D.S.O., secretary of Great Britain's Royal and Ancient. Asked last week about hustlers in England, he said: "I have never heard the word used in association with golf. We have never heard of golfers here tricking their fellows by playing off false handicaps for vast sums of money. Are there cads about who could behave so despicably?" Well, there used to be.