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GOLF

Hope's Legacy Is No Joke

January 30, 2003|THOMAS BONK

LA QUINTA — He never won a golf tournament, but he has his name on one. He never played in a major, but he is still a major star. He was never president of anything, but he played golf with plenty of them.

Bob Hope should be here to enjoy the PGA Tour event that bears his name, to ride around in a golf cart and see his friends and his fans, to shake a lot of hands and soak up the warm, desert sunshine one more time.

He isn't going to be here, though. The 44th Bob Hope Chrysler Classic is just going to have to go on without its namesake, because he is 99 and doesn't see well anymore. Hope is staying at home in Toluca Lake instead and watching the tournament on television, depending on how keen his failing eyesight might be.

According to his publicist, Hope is in something called "full retirement," a position he adopted a couple of years ago. He no longer makes public appearances, gives interviews or shows up at his golf tournament.

The last time Hope visited his tournament in person was in 2000, when Jesper Parnevik won and then walked over to where Hope was sitting in the stands to give him a hug.

Parnevik did that because his dad, Bo Parnevik, was one of Sweden's most famous comics, and Bo was crazy about Bob Hope. Actually, that's probably going to wind up as one of Hope's greatest legacies. Most everybody is crazy about Bob Hope.

For more than four decades, golf fans who turned out to watch the celebrities chop it around some of the finest golfing real estate in the country could always count on seeing Hope hit the first ball and play a few holes. The last time Hope was on the tee to start the first round was in 1998. He hit his tee shot, climbed back into the cart and called it a day.

Sometimes, it's easy to forget what someone means when they're not around, which may even be true for Hope, just not Wednesday, not on opening day. It was his idea, and that of his movie buddy and golfing partner Bing Crosby, to combine amateurs and professionals in tournaments. You could throw in some celebrities and some corporate types, too, create something fun and different.

Whether it was a good idea, ask the charities. Hope's tournament has raised more than $37 million for the Eisenhower Medical Center and other local charities.

That's not a bad legacy either. It's no surprise that the two pro-ams that still endure are directly traced to Hope and Crosby, whose Clambake became the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and has been played every year since 1937, except for four years during World War II.

Linda Hope says she remembers dinner conversation as a kid that revolved around golf. It was sort of folded into the monologues her father was trying out, the jokes or the stories about what was happening on the set or the sound stage that day.

Sometimes, Linda said, Bing and Bob would leave for the golf course, their spikes and sticks in the trunks of their cars, if there was going to be a break of an hour or a two to change the lighting or something else on the set at the studio.

Together, Hope and Crosby helped popularize golf with the average player, through their pro-am brainchild.

It's important to remember that Hope had a two-handicap and was a serious player. Maybe it's not that important. As Hope once said, golf was his profession. He told jokes only to pay green fees.

Hope was known for having former presidents show up and play. In 1995, Presidents Clinton, Ford and Bush played together in the first round at Indian Wells. Hope was there too, for the whole 18 holes, although he picked up his golf ball most of the time.

Ford was one of Hope's favorites. Hope once said that there were 51 courses in the desert and that Ford didn't know which one he was going to play until he hit his first drive. The best thing about Ford is that he couldn't cheat, said Hope, because all you had to do was look back up the fairway and count the wounded. Hope called Ford the most dangerous driver since Ben-Hur.

That's what the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic is missing now. Bob Hope. Linda says her dad misses being here but is aware the dreams he had about his tournament have all come true.

His love affair with golf seems to have touched everyone in his path. On Hope's first date with Dolores Reade, who would become his wife, he had to pay for the tablecloth at the restaurant because he ruined it drawing pictures of a golf course.

It would be great to see Bob Hope in a cart this weekend at PGA West, a pen in his hand, drawing a picture of the 18th hole on the back of a program. Bob Hope turns 100 on May 29. He has his good days and his bad days, says Linda, but his failing eyesight makes it hard to watch much, like television or movies. She says he still enjoys listening.

On the good days, Linda says she is sure that her father enjoys his life. She says he is not suffering in any way. She says she is also sure the television will be tuned to the golf tournament, and even if he can't see it very well, he will be listening. So if you're at the tournament this weekend, make a lot of noise, loud enough for it to be heard in Toluca Lake.

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