Bob Hope's Love of Golf Brought Him to the Southern Desert

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Aside from his acting career Bob Hope was famous for something else....His love of Golf....So he sought out an existing golf tournament, added his name to it and the rest is history.

The Bob Hope's Chrysler Classic as it has been known since 1965, is a professional golf tournament played each January in Palm Desert.....Part of the PGA Tour's early season, this tournament is well known for its celebrity pro-am, as well as having five daily 18-hole rounds of competition vs. the PGA Tour standard of four rounds.....Currently, "the Hope" is the third event on the Tour's annual schedule, and is also part of the Tour's FedEx Cup competition.....The Classic Course in Palm Desert, California, an Arnold Palmer-designed track, makes the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic the only event on the PGA Tour that owns its own facility

Founded as the Palm Springs Golf Classic in 1960, the tournament evolved from the Thunderbird Invitational that was held in Palm Springs from 1954 to 1959....The owners of the Tunderbird Invitational were the same gentlemen who owned the Thunderbird Gambling Casino in Las Vegas....Those owners being of rather nefarious heritage if you get my drift had hoped to get a 'Toehold' in the Golf world and on the west coast thru the small desert communities just 90 miles from LA....Happily for us all, that never happened.

Bob Hopes tradition of choosing the tournament's "Classic Girls" from among the area's collegiate began back in the 60's, with the earliest tournaments having a celebrity dubbed "Classic Queen." The earliest titleholders included Debbie Reynolds, Jane Powell and Jill St. John.....The queens of the 1970s included Barbara Eden and Lynda Carter.....In the mid 1990's The Hope family changed from Hollywood Starlets to the local college girls, in an attempt of giving the tournament a more youth full and hometown, homegrown appearance.

The Classic's biggest draw, both then and now, was the celebrity pro-am competition which attracted some of the era's biggest celebrities. According to the BHCC official website, those celebrities included Bing Crosby, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Phil Harris, Desi Arnaz (one of the founders of the aforementioned Indian Wells Country Club), Ray Bolger, Hoagy Carmichael, and former president Dwight Eisenhower (the first US President to play in the pro-am).....Gerald Ford played his first pro-am in 1977, making him the second former president to play in the tournament.....The 1970s saw stars like Frank Sinatra make their debuts.
History was made at the tournament in 1995 when the pro-am team of Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Bob Hope and defending champion Scott Hoch teed up for the tournament's opening round.....The event marked the first time a sitting president, Clinton, played during a PGA tour event and perhaps the first time three presidents had ever played together.

Its long history has made the event synonymous with golf in the Coachella Valley....Additionally, the allure of Hope's name, even after his death, (Bob Hope Died shortly after his 100 th birthday, on July 7, 2003) has convinced the Hope estate, tournament organizers and corporate sponsor Chrysler to include the legendary entertainer's name on the tournament for as long as a substantial portion of its proceeds are given to charities.

But Bob Hope lost favor with many Americans and a more left leaning NBC for his outspoken support of the war in Vietnam....Doing numerous guest shots and specials for NBC in the early '50s, his annual trips overseas to entertain the troops, which had started full bore during World War II, helping to establish the USO, soon became a regular Christmas television event.....By the end of the 1960s however, Hope's hawkish, right-wing political stance was at odds with the country's mood concerning the War and it cost him nearly all the credibility that 30 years of performing had built up....The Demacratcs in Congress booed him when he made an appearance in Washington at the Kennedy Center.....He had become that most odious of all celebrities, one whose politics cannot be separated from their stage persona.....It could be said that if there were any show-business casualties from the Vietnam War, then Bob Hope's name would certainly head that list.....John Wayne also suffered for his support of the war.

Bob Hope Celebrated his 100 th birthday on May 9, 2003, joining a small group of notable centenarians in the field of entertainment, including Irving Berlin, Hal Roach, Senor Wences and his very good friend George Burns.....To mark this event, the intersection of Hollywood and Vine was renamed Bob Hope Square, and his centennial was declared Bob Hope Day in 35 US states.....Even at 100, Bob Hope had a sence of humor....He was reported to have cracked to those present, that "I'm so old that they have canceled my blood type"

For some reason, a rumor sprang up that Bob had died on his beloved Golf course, but that would have been impossible....He had been in failing health and had not played in over 10 years...Besides that, he had only lived in his Palm Desert Estate off and on over the years, the Building plauged by building code problems and fires and actually lived and died in Toluca lake for most of his life.

The tournament's name and notoriety is also a tough sell for many players, such as Tiger Woods, who has never played there....It takes place over five days, four of which include celebrity players.....That means rounds take far longer and the presence of so many spectators out to catch a glimpse of their favorite TV, film or music star, can turn even an early round into a far more informal endeavor, which many golfers don't appreciate.

Gary Hall, the ghostpainter

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