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Tuesday, January 20, 2004
Love of golf kept Hope tied to game
By Richard Urban
Special to ESPN.com


Editor's note: The following column first appeared on ESPN.com in late July, after the passing of Bob Hope. The PGA Tour's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic will be contested this week for the first time since his death.

LOS ANGELES -- To hear Bob Hope tell it, his eight decades as an entertainer were merely the means to support a 70-year golf habit. "Golf is my profession," he once said. "Entertainment is just a sideline. I tell jokes to pay my greens fees."

If a sitting or former president were playing golf, chances are Bob Hope was part of his group. Bill Clinton and Hope teed it up in Arlington, Va., in 1995.

Hope, who died last July of pneumonia at his home in Toluca Lake at the age of 100, paid a lot of greens fees over the years, leaving memories behind for all whom he touched.

He once estimated that he played more than 2,000 courses worldwide and took lessons from the local pro at most of them. He often played with some of the game's top professionals, military generals and presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton.

"I've played all over the world, which means there isn't a country with a course in which I haven't three-putted," he said.

Since 1965, his name has been on the Bob Hope Desert Classic, transforming an obscure Palm Springs, Calif., event that began as the Thunderbird Invitational in 1952 into a premier stop on the PGA Tour. Today it draws the tour's largest field with 136 pros and three times as many amateurs. The five-day, 90-hole event is played over five golf courses, unique among all the Tour's stops.

"The Classic is the only event in the world where guys can get money out of the desert without drilling for oil," he said.

Golf even played a role in Hope's signature shows for soldiers and sailors, which he began doing in the 1940s and continued through World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War. As he walked about the stage in some far-away place where troops needed a lift, a golf club was always with him, a prop he used like a Vaudeville song-and-dance man might use a cane. The wood used by Bob Hope on the 1969 U.S.O. World Tour is on display at the Bob Hope Garllery of American Entertainment in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.

Hope was always an avid sportsman. Born in England on May 29, 1903, he and his family moved to Cleveland when he was four. As he teenager, he boxed under the name Packy East, and he hustled suckers on the pool table. He held a lot of odd jobs before finding his calling in comedy, and is said to have worked as a caddie at one time, too.

He once owned a piece of the Cleveland Indians and the Los Angeles Rams, "both before they learned how to play their game," he said. In 1993, he came back to Cleveland for one last game as the Indians ended 60 years at the old Municipal Stadium with a special rendition of his signature song, "Thanks for the Memories."

For decades Hope introduced the AP All-America football team during his Christmas television specials on NBC, the network with which he had a nearly five-decade association.

But his passion was always golf. In 1985's best seller, "Confessions of a Hooker: My Lifelong Love Affair with Golf." Hope put together many of his favorite anecdotes about the game, because for him, golf was not just a game to enjoy, but also a fertile source for jokes. For all of us who understand the fickle nature of this frustrating game, his approach made golf seem that much more tolerable. You see, it helps to laugh through the pain of bogies and beyond.

In all, Hope authored 12 books, six of which were bestsellers. And among the many videos he produced is one titled, what else, but "Shanks for the Memories."

"It's wonderful how you can start out with three strangers in the morning, play 18 holes, and by the time the day is over you have three solid enemies," Hope once quipped.

Hope's love of the game began in 1930 as he traveled Vaudeville's Orpheum Circuit.

"I'd be waiting around the hotel lobby in the late morning when the Diamond Brothers, another act, would come down with their golf clubs," he once explained. "One day I said, 'Well hell, I'll go out there with you.'" The rest, as they say is history.

Like so many people who try to play the game, he was never a great golfer; describing his efforts as looking like "a polo player without a horse," or "Grandma Moses trying to keep warm.

But after Ben Hogan worked with him, he brought his handicap down to four and competed in the 1951 British Amateur, where he lost 2-and1 in the first round. "I got beat in the first round by a man smoking a pipe, which of course delighted Bing Crosby," he once recalled.

Crosby, who often smoked a pipe and starred with Hope in the many "Road" movies, had begun a celebrity pro-am gold tournament in 1937 at the Rancho Sante Fe course in San Diego. After World War II, the Bing Crosby Celebrity Pro-Am, now the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, gradually became one of the PGA Tour's most popular events.

By 1960, meanwhile, the Thunderbird Invitational had become the Palm Springs Desert Classic, but still lacked the pizzazz of Crosby's "Clambake" with all its celebrities. When organizers approached Hope, he initially was reluctant until Chrysler signed on as a sponsor in 1965. It didn't take Hope long to counter Crosby, calling his tournament "The Wienie Roast."

The deal filled two needs for Hope: the staging of a tournament that has raised more than $35 million for the Eisenhower Medical Center and 70 other charities and the source for even more golf jokes.

Here are just a few:

  • "I hit a ball into the wind one day. I shouldn't have watched it with my mouth open. I'm the only guy around here with an Adam's apple marked 'Spalding Pro-Flight'."

  • "On one hole, I hit an alligator so hard that he's now my golf bag."

  • "Jimmy Stewart could have been a good golfer, but he speaks so slowly that by the time he yells 'Fore!' the guy he's hit is already in an ambulance and on the way to the hospital."

    President Ford, "the man who made golf a contact sport" with his frequent errant shots into the gallery at the Desert Classic, was the target of many Hope zingers:

  • "You all know Jerry Ford, the most dangerous driver since Ben Hur."

  • "Ford is easy to spot on the golf course. He drives the cart with the red cross painted on top."

  • "Whenever I play with him, I usually try to make a foursome -- the president, myself, a paramedic and a faith healer."

  • "One of my most prized possessions is the Purple Heart I received for all the golf I played with him."

    The Guinness Book of World Records calls Hope "The Most Honored Entertainer" of all time with over 1,500 awards and 54 honorary doctoral degrees. He was awarded the "Congressional Gold Medal" the "Medal of Freedom," the "Honor of Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire," and Congressional Resolution 75," making Bob Hope the first honorary veteran American in history.

    But amid the citations for humanitarian and professional good works, four held prominent spots in his trophy room: the Old Tom Morris Award from the Golf Superintendents Association, the Golf Writer's Gold Tee Award, a Sports Illustrated silver cup commemorating his fifth hole in one, and a medal from the PGA honoring him as "One of three men who have done the most for golf."

    Perhaps Hope's impact on golf is best described by a plaque accompanying a bas relief profile of Hope at the World Golf Hall of Fame:

    "Known by his nose, applauded for his humor, envied for his wit and loved by millions for his unselfish concern for all beings, Bob Hope is truly a one-of-a-kind. He popularized golf to the unknowing, sponsored it for charity and played it for fun. Not a golf champion, but a great champion of golf."





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