If you were to assign of sand for every laugh, smile and chortle that Bob Hope has produced in his 85 years, and then piled all that sand into dump trucks and drove to the Bermuda Dunes Country Club in Palm Desert, Calif., you still would not have enough sand to fill the bunkers that Hope and his playing partners, Gerald Ford and Tip O'Neill, hit into at last week's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. But it might be close.
With due respect to Steve Jones, who won his second tournament in a row—birdieing the first hole of a playoff to beat Sandy Lyle and Paul Azinger—the real star of the tournament, as always, was the man who stood next to Jones as the winner's check for $ 180,000 was presented on Sunday. A stunning 63 at Eldorado Country Club on Saturday had propelled Jones, the winner of the MONY Tournament of Champions the week before, into contention. And he matched the final-round 69s of Lyle and Azinger for a three-way tie at 17-under-par 343 to force the playoff. But even Jones's victory didn't draw the spotlight away from the host for long.
Hope is the last of a breed of entertainers whose affiliation with Tour events over the past couple of decades helped create the glamour and warmth that are largely missing from today's corporate-sponsored Tour. Indeed, the Hope is the only PGA tournament left with a celebrity name attached to it.
"Bob Hope has spanned the generations in golf, the same way he has in entertainment," says Tour commissioner Deane Beman. "He was there when it started [Hope played in his first Bing Crosby National Pro-Am in 1939]. He's probably played in more benefit proams than anyone. In terms of contributing to our sport, you'd have to put Bob Hope's name right up there with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus."
January 23, 1989
The star himself would be loath to make such a grandiose claim, although he will allow that he gave former astronaut Alan Shepard the idea of hitting a golf ball on the moon. "I used to carry a golf club with me just about everywhere I went," says Hope. "One time in Houston I visited NASA, and they put me In a harness on one of those simulated moonscapes. I was dangling there holding my club, and Shepard got the idea to sneak a makeshift six-iron onto the space capsule."
Hope carries a money clip in his pocket that identifies him as a member of the 1942 National Advisory Committee of the PGA. "It's my favorite thing in the world," he says. "This game has been awfully good to me. It's been tremendous for my health. You're outside, in the fresh air, plus you get a lot of nasty out of your system playing a round of golf. I just hope I don't have to explain all the times I've used His name in vain when I get up there."
Hope picked up golf in the late 1920s, when he was on the vaudeville circuit, and he can recall toting his clubs with him as he traveled by train from Vancouver to Seattle to Portland. The lowest handicap he ever played to was a four. He did not lend his name to the tournament until 1965. Before that, it had been known as the Palm Springs Golf Classic. The event has always had a 90-hole format, in which foursomes consisting of three amateurs and one pro play on each of four courses from Wednesday to Saturday. On Sunday the amateurs drop out, and the pros who survive the cut meet for a fifth and final round on one of the courses to determine the winner. Five times—in 1960, '62, '68, 71 and '73—that man turned out to be Palmer, who deserves some of the credit for the tournament's popularity. No other golfer has won the Hope more than twice. Palmer missed the cut last week for the eighth consecutive year but he still attracted by far the largest galleries. "I'll keep coming as long as Mr. Hope keeps inviting me." he says.
Most of the pros feel the same way, despite the fact that they play with 12 different amateurs, many of whom are little more than duffers, for the first four days. "If you don't like chicken, don't come to Colonel Sanders," says Hubert Green, who won the tournament in 1974 and finished tied for eighth last week. "I've been coming every year since 1971. Mr. Hope doesn't have to ask me personally. He's done more for his country than just about any American, and it's an honor to be here."
"Bob Hope is a special guy," says Jay Haas, who, as the defender, played with Hope, former President Ford and former speaker of the House O'Neill in Wednesday's first round at Indian Wells. "I sort of knew what to expect." said Haas, who opened and closed the tournament with rounds of 74 and finished at 356, well back of Jones and company. "But I still couldn't believe it when Mr. Hope drove his cart onto the 10th tee, the hole we started on, as Tom Kite, who was in the group ahead of us, was getting ready to play. That was so funny it sort of relaxed me, and I hooked my drive into the trees. But the amateurs are considerate. Almost all of them have played here before, and they know golf etiquette. It wouldn't be nearly as much fun without the celebrities."
The amateurs, who shelled out between $2,500 and $8,600 to enter, depending, for instance, on whether they were members of one of the sponsor clubs—the tournament proceeds go to charity—generally cause as much of a stir as the pros. In 1970, Vice-President Spiro Agnew sent folks scurrying for hard hats when he beaned his pro partner, Doug Sanders, with an errant shot. Among this year's celebs were Julius Erving, Don Meredith, Peter Ueberroth, Gary Carter, Hank Stram, U.S. Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, Mickey Rooney, Donald O'Connor and baseball's new member of the Hall of Fame, Johnny Bench, a two handicapper who remembers seeing Agnew in action in 1971.
"I was in a foursome with Palmer, and we were playing behind Agnew, Willie Mays and Hope," said Bench last Thursday night during the party Hope and his wife, Dolores, gave at their mountaintop home in Palm Springs. "People were five-deep around the first tee. and Agnew hits a guy and his wife right there." Bench points to a spot opposite him that could only have been hit with that rarest of golf shots—the cue shot off the toe of the driver.
"Agnew teed it again to hit a provisional, and what does he do? He hits a lady in the ankle with almost the same shot. When it's my turn to hit, I can't put the ball on the tee. I cannot. My hand is shaking too badly. I finally hooked one over the gallery, knocked my second shot over some trees, put my third shot onto the back fringe and sank the putt for a birdie. Palmer looked at me and said, 'Where have you been?' "
Hope's favorite tournament memory is of the last time Dwight Eisenhower attended, in 1968. Ike was next to the 18th green at Bermuda Dunes, waiting to present the winner's trophy, which bears his name, to either Palmer or Be-man, who were tied after 90 holes. While Palmer and Beman returned to the 15th hole to begin their playoff, a military band that Eisenhower hadn't seen marched down the fairway, throwing long shadows in the late afternoon light and playing the theme songs of the U.S. armed forces. Standing by himself, Eisenhower came to attention, eyes glistening. "Mamie told me that she hadn't seen him cry in 20 years," recalls Hope.
Hope names Ford ahead of Eisenhower as the most accomplished golfer among the U.S. presidents and veeps with whom he has played, which is surprising, given the material he has reaped from Ford's legendary errant shots. Since leaving office in 1977, Ford has been a Hope regular. "He's the best driver since Ben Hur," cracked Hope before Wednesday's round.
Ford's sage advice for the day was, "Stay behind us."
In fact. no one was injured on Wednesday and Saturday, the two days that Hope. Ford and O'Neill played together—Hope sits Thursday and Friday out—although the trio sent the galleries scattering a few times. On the 17th hole at Bermuda Dunes on Saturday. O'Neill struck a shot that took one hop and smacked a lady in the backside. "I'm awful sorry, honey," said an unrepentant Tip, "but I'd have had 30 more yards if you'd gotten out of the way."
O'Neill, who was in robust good humor all week, has lost a considerable amount of weight since his last appearance in the tournament two years ago. He thus deprived Hope of the line that he brings Tip along to hide behind. But O'Neill's golf game, unlike his politics, was consistently far to the right. He pushed so many shots into the crowd that Hope remarked to Sanders, his pro partner on Saturday, "I didn't think Tip was campaigning anymore."
On the short, tight Indian Wells course Hope displayed his golfing prowess, registering five pars and a birdie. Had he taken the time to putt out on every hole, he might well have shot his age—something he says he has never done. "He's absolutely amazing," said Ford after yet another of Hope's dead-center 190-yard drives.
"Hope's got a beautiful swing. He gets off his right side as well as anyone," said Haas. "I'll bet he can beat 99 percent of the players his age."
Addressing the ball, Hope, who plays nine holes two or three times a week at his home course, Lakeside, in North Hollywood, Calif., looks and sounds like a dancer. As he takes his stance, he often hums a little ditty—bum-diddy-bum-dum-dum—a habit he claims he is unaware of. Then he sways left and right, bounces on the balls of his feet twice and unleashes a Raggedy Andy swing that's as fluid as a soft-shoe.
A good result will elicit a crack like, "Show biz." A poor one will get a long, hurt stare—Hope still is a masterful mugger—and the customary golfer's response: "I hate this game!" That brings peals of laughter from the spectators, many of whom call out, "Thanks for the memories, Bob," as he goes by.
Hope's best lines are more spontaneous. While he was signing an autograph for a youngster on Saturday, the boy's pen stopped working. "Where'd you get this thing, the post office?" said Hope. When he hooked his drive into the gallery and had to wave an elderly couple out of the way for his next shot, he said, "Watch out!" Then, in an aside to the crowd, he cracked, "They must have their policies with them."
The week of the Bob Hope is a throwback to the days when the PGA Tour had a lot more going for it than prize money. It is a gently paced, giant gulp of nostalgia. Nearly all the central figures are past their prime, but they're still going strong. It is a wonderful way to begin a year, and Hope plans to make sure that the tournament stays that way. After all, he still has a lot of swings left in him. Says Hope, "I'll shoot my age if I have to live to be 105."