RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Dinah Shore has become a pro-am golf junkie.
The singing lady from Nashville, Tenn., has already played in a dozen or more this year and is gearing up for three days of pro-am competition before her own Nabisco Dinah Shore tournament coming up in two weeks at Mission Hills.
Dinah was a tennis player when David Foster of Colgate talked her into putting her name on the biggest tournament in women's golf in 1972. Even though she rarely played golf, she felt obligated to learn the game so she could be a proper hostess for her own pro-am.
"I was so frightened before my first shot that first time," she recalls. "All I could think about was making a nice-looking swing. I didn't worry where the ball went. I just wanted to look good at the finish."
Now, however, she steps up to the first tee with all the confidence of a veteran campaigner. Which she is.
"Oh, I don't know how many pro-ams I'll play," she said. "Let's see, I played in Andy's (Shearson Lehman Bros. Andy Williams Open) in San Diego, and the one in Glendale (GNA/Glendale Federal LPGA tournament). And I'll play two days with the seniors in the Vintage. Then I'll do Willie's (singer Willie Nelson) down in Texas, and Betty Ford's, and I'll be in the Legends of Golf in Austin, and I'm going to try and play in Kathryn Crosby's clambake back in North Carolina.
"And the nice people at Westchester (MasterCard International LPGA Pro-Am in New York) have invited me to play there. Then there's Jerry Ford's tournament in Vail. I'd never miss that. And I want to play with Amy Alcott in her wonderful day for charity at Riviera.
"Oh, yes, I'll be at Riviera for Raiders Day, too. My whole family roots for the Raiders, so I have to be at that one. Oh, my, I'm going to be busy working them all in around my concert schedule."
Dinah will be touring colleges in the United States and Japan with a jazz group starting April 24 in San Francisco.
"Singing is my joy but golf is my life," she said.
She is a good player to have on your side in a pro-am, or a scrambles. She plays to a 24 handicap, but is one of the better putters in the Palm Springs area.
During a recent media event here, Dinah played with Mission Hills professional Terry Wilcox and two journalists. The team made three birdies in the first four holes. Dinah made all the putts--a curling 15-footer on No. 1 that broke at least a foot, a 6-footer with a right-to-left swing on No. 2 and an 8-foot rainbow on No. 4.
"If she keeps putting like that, the rest of us might as well leave our putters in the bag," said Jim Lycett, Desert Sun editor.
"I don't putt like this, usually," she said, coyly kissing her hickory-shafted putter.
"Don't you believe her," Wilcox said. "She's always making putts. She made two 40-footers one year in her own tournament."
That was the year Dinah, Jan Stephenson and two amateur partners won the Nabisco pro-am.
"I did play pretty well that year, but we had a good team," she said. "We had two guys who helped a lot. It takes a good team to win a pro-am."
Although she doesn't hit the ball as far as she'd like, Dinah is proud of how well she played in Andy Williams' pro-am at Torrey Pines, where she was the only woman in the field.
"They made me play from the men's tees," she said. "I played with Bobby Wadkins and it was so much fun. Bobby is so full of pep. He was always pepping us up so we couldn't do anything but play well."
Ask Dinah her favorite golfing partners and the answer sounds like a who's who of golf.
"Hollis Stacy is so camp, she's always a kick to be around. Nancy (Lopez) is so sweet. And I loved playing with J. C. Snead at the All-America tournament. Then there's Lee (Trevino) and JoAnne (Carner). It's a trip and a half to play with them. They keep you laughing all the way around the course. It's just great fun."
On Monday, March 30, golf's first lady will host a Ladies Day with Dinah tournament at Rancho Mirage Country Club for women or wives of those involved with her tournament. The next day she will be paired with defending champion Pat Bradley in the first of two days of pro-am play before the $500,000 tournament, richest major event on the LPGA tour.
When Dinah played in her pro-am in 1974 she was not only inexperienced as a golfer but also was unable to join a private golf or country club in order to practice. Unmarried women were not acceptable until an article appeared in The Los Angeles Times, pointing out the injustice.
"Everyone has been so lovely to me since that article," she said. "Hillcrest (where she took lessons from Eric Monti) gave me a membership and since I moved down here, the Landmark people gave me a master membership that lets me play at Mission Hills, La Quinta Hotel, the new Palmer course, even PGA West, although I don't know if I want to play that monster. I also have a membership at Las Posas, that nice course in Camarillo.
"I still love to play Hillcrest when I'm home in Beverly Hills, but this time of the year I love it right here."