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Money, Envy and Fairways

Golf: Fans of the sport--or the style--find green is the primary color at Toshiba Senior Classic in Newport Beach.


Abe Ramos has driver envy. He also has iron envy, sand wedge envy and putter envy.

"If I could only swing like those guys," the 63-year-old said with a sigh, gazing at Gary Player, who was waiting to hit off the first tee at the Newport Beach Country Club.

"If I could, I'd be the loudest guy in the clubhouse. I'd never stop bragging."

For now, Ramos, who has lived in San Clemente for more than two decades, will have to be satisfied with fantasy. And the kick of watching pros such as Player do their thing.

Ramos' love of golf brought him and his wife, Sally, to the Toshiba Senior Classic this week. They watched the Celebrity Pro-Am on Monday and were looking forward to the pro tournament, this year's first Senior PGA Tour event on the West Coast, which begins Friday.

The semiretired Realtor peered out from under a fairway green cap--"Duffer" in red letters on the front--and mimicked Player's stroke as the popular senior tour regular limbered. Player, a top name in golf for several years, brought his driver back, then whooosh, a seamless follow-through.

Even without a club in hand, Ramos grunted a little. Sally Ramos was on that immediately.

"Hear that?" she asked. "You should hear him in the rough, just like a bear in the woods."

After a pause, Ramos conceded that he could lose a few pounds. "I'm portly. . . . I'd probably hit farther if I wasn't so portly."

Sally Ramos laughed and prodded her husband to make another confession. Who's the best golfer in the family?

"My youngest son really has a good game," Ramos said, but his wife's incredulous look makes him think again. "Oh, between us? Yeah, she's better. . . . I hate to say that."

Sally Ramos, a lean woman dressed in crisp whites and wearing a sun visor, giggled. "He's actually very good, [but] I'm not bad either. I don't take it as seriously as he does. That helps, not taking it so seriously."

He nodded: "She's very relaxed. Nothing bothers her too much."

"And he can get so angry," she added.

"I get really angry. It's a great sport, but it can drive you crazy."


By the driving range, not far from the first tee, stood Everly Hampton and his pal Bobby Smith, both from Huntington Beach. Hampton, 25, and Smith, 24, are among the new wave of young golfers--Gen X swingers who put golf high on their list of happy addictions.

Both men surf and say an ideal day would be no work, waves in the morning and a round of golf starting by noon. The tony Newport Beach Country Club is a favorite destination. Good thing Smith's dad is a member.

"He'll pay sometimes," Smith said, grinning. "No way I could afford it on my own."

(And it's not cheap. Members pay $23,500 to join the club and $370 a month for the family's unlimited course use.)

Watching the tournament players practice with their fairway shots and drives, Hampton and Smith talked about why they go for the game. It's part enjoying a nice stroll on a lazy day, part linking up with a friend and part amusing retro.

"You see these photos of dudes playing it way back, and you know it hasn't changed that much," Hampton said. "It's cool to be a part of it, [and] it's kind of funny too."

"Yeah," Smith cut in, "it's like playing an old guy's game, although I think I respect it" because of all the tradition.

Any favorite pros on the senior tour?

"Not really," Smith said. "I don't even know who any of these dudes [on the range] actually are."

Hampton shook his head. "Me neither. They're good though, huh?"


April Richards isn't much interested in golf. Husband Ralph is, but she couldn't care less. April, who lives in Newport Beach within walking distance of the course, sipped a 2 p.m. bloody Mary in an open area near the clubhouse.

"Isn't it pretty?" she asked. "That's the draw for me: You get to see friends; it's a lovely day, [and] maybe you see some other interesting people."

It's been said that golf, during its many frustrating moments, is a good walk ruined, but Richards avoids that by doing just the walking, although high heels don't look like they'd help much on the fairway. She'll often join Ralph for a round, she said, but never touch a club.

"I prefer it that way," she said.

As for the classic, Richards said, she especially enjoyed Monday's Celebrity Pro-Am because of the local "names" that showed up. She glimpsed Peter Ueberroth and former Angels Bobby Grich and Fred Lynn, among others.

"Ueberroth looked very nice," Richards decided, "although his [multicolored, wildly patterned] golf shirt was a little much."

Would Richards come out for the real action over the weekend? When defending champion Jim Colbert and the likes of Player, Lee Trevino and Chi Chi Rodriguez will compete for $1 million in prize money?

"Oh sure, at least for the last day [Sunday]. I don't usually know what's going on [with the players], but I love it anyway. It's just lovely here, isn't it?"

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