May 1, 2016

Bob Hope hooked for life by golf, Hughen students

Published 7:33 pm Thursday, June 1, 2006

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following column from the Best of West collection was originally published in the Port Arthur News on May 31, 1980.

Even now, after a half century of driving balls off the deck of aircraft carriers, playing in the company of presidents and working so hard at it he once entered the British Amateur as a four handicap, Bob Hope encounters no difficulty recalling exactly how his infatuation with the game began.

“It was 1930. Back when I was doing Vaudeville,” he reflects. “I was on what they called the Orpheum Circuit. Every morning I’d sit around the hotel with nothing to do. I kept seeing this group called the Diamond brothers come in carrying their clubs.

“They’re the ones who hooked me.”

Hooked, sliced or straight down the middle, neither Hope nor golf has been the same since. Entertaining may be his forte, but golf is his passion. Because it is, America will be forever indebted to the Diamond brothers.

Through golf, you see, Bob Hope has raised millions of dollars for charity. Nobody really knows how much, and he’s certainly not counting. But you can bet your next birdie numerous events such as this weekend’s Bum Phillips Celebrity Tournament have prospered because ‘ol ski nose got invovled.

His most notable contribution comes through the 90-hole Bob Hope Desert Classic, which helps kick off the professional tour ever year. Through that event alone, he’s helped raise more than $10 million for the Eisenhower Medical Center and related desert charities.

Hope’s busy schedule usually calls for a minimum of 20 pro-am appearances across the country. In the last month alone, he’s played at the Houston Open, the Byron Nelson and Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Classic. In between those biggies, he fits in appearances at tournaments like Harold’s Invitational in Houston and the Phillips Celebrity affair here.

“It’s hard for Bob to say no, because he loves golf and he loves contributing whatever he can to worthy causes,” says one of Hope’s advance men, Jim Batson. “His schedule simply won’t let him play everywhere they want him. I’ll tell you one thing, though, he never travels without his clubs. No matter where he goes, he’ll at least find a place to hit balls.”

As might be expected of a man of Hope’s wit and ability to reel off one liners, he doesn’t discuss his game in the most serious of tones. Neither does he spare some of his favorite golfing companions in his assessments.

“I play golf religiously,” he says. “I pray after every shot.”

Of his good friend, the late Bing Crosby, he observes: “Bing was so bad on the greens his putter spent more time in the air than Lindbergh.”

Concerning President Eisenhower’s problems with his game, Hope once said, “Ike gave up golf for painting. Fewer strokes, you know.”

Some of Hope’s favorite golfing memories are of rounds played with Babe Zaharias. Since he’s spending this weekend in the city of her birth, and is 20 miles from the museum perpetuating her memory, Hope was eager to relive fond memories.

“She was an amazing athlete and a great gal, besides,” he confides. “I’ll never forget a game we had at Pebble Beach. The Babe and Patty Berg were playing a friend of mine, who was a four-handicap, and me. I was a six at the time.

“We were tied after 18 holes and she insisted we have a sudden death playoff. The first hole was halved with a par, then she won the second one. It was a long par 5. The Babe reached it in two and two putted for a birdie.”

Hope also recalled how embarrassing it was when Zaharias consistently outdrove him, or would wind up using a shorter iron on a par 3.

“She really thought that was funny,” he noted. “One day we were playing before a sizable gallery and she asked me what club I’d just hit on a par 3. I told her a 5-iron. She turned to her caddy and, in a very loud voice, said ‘Give me an 8.’ She hit it on, too.”

Hope, being the master of the put down, is seldom at a loss for words, but blind golfer Charlie Boswell left him speechless one day at a pro-am. Hope suggested they play a $5 Nassau. Boswell said why not play for $10. Hope said he’d take that bet, anytime, anywhere.

“Fine,” Boswell retorted, “we’ll play my course at 12 midnight.”

“There was no comeback for that one,” Hope said with a hearty laugh.

Don’t let the man’s facade fool you. A low handicapper for many, many years, he still swings the club amazingly well. For a fellow who turned 77 two days ago, Hope moves the ball off the tee a good way. And, having scored five aces, he’s always a threat on par-3 holes.

Hope, of course, didn’t come to Port Arthur to work on his golf game. He came because of a group of kids who’ve become near and dear to his heart. Like the Diamond brothers did 50 years ago, the youngsters at Hughen School hooked him on something he can’t get out of his system.

First, it was a show in Memorial Stadium, then a statewide telethon that generated more than a million dollars. Now it’s participation in a golf tournament that looks like it will be a source of revenue for years to come.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of worthwhile projects, and this one ranks right at the top,” Hope declares. “Those kids really grab you. I’m thrilled the tournament has gone over so well. I think Bum deserves some of the credit for that. His name’s the one that got all these athletes in here.”

A character named Bob Hope certainly didn’t discourage anybody.

Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at rdwest@usa.net. His Sportsrap radio show airs Monday at 7:05 p.m. on KLVI (560-AM)