|Linda McCoy-Murray and Alice Cooper at the 2009 Bob Hope Classic.|
The Bob Hope Classic returns to beautiful La Quinta, Calif., this week with celebrities and professionals in tow.
If you're looking for signs with "Bob Hope" on them, you'll only find one and that's on Bob Hope Drive down the way in Palm Springs. The Hope is now the Humana Challenge, co-sponsored by Humana, an American health care company, and the Clinton Foundation.
The name may have changed but the excitement of the crowd will be as it's been for 53 year as celebrities are paired with pro golfers, and make their way around three of the most gorgeous golf courses in La Quinta — the Palmer Private Course and the Nicholas Private Course (both at PGA West) and La Quinta Country Club.
In honor of the Humana Challenge, please enjoy Jim Murray's column from May 1, 1997, headlined: One of Golf's Greatest Hits Is Actually a Comedian. . . . It’s about legendary stand up man Tom Dreesen, who was one of Frank Sinatra's favorite go-to guys to open his shows. Dreesen has been a regular fixture at the Bob Hope for many years.
THURSDAY, MAY 1, 1997, SPORTS
Copyright 1997/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
One of Golf's Greatest Hits Is Actually a Comedian
He was Frank Sinatra's favorite comedian. He opened his show for years. He could warm up an audience as few could.
He was one of America's favorite stand-up comedians. The one-liners were endless, each one funnier than the last.
But what Tom Dreesen was also, was golf's commissioner of humor. He fell in love with the great game when he was a raggedy kid in South Chicago caddying for gangsters with 20 handicaps, and he has never lost his awe of it.
Golf is a game that probably has the proudest record when it comes to charitable contributions. It began when Bing Crosby and Bob Hope invented the pro-am format, which was a godsend to the great game as well as to the causes it helped, building among other things the great Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Springs.
It was a two-way street. The fact the tournament was an important contributor to charity enabled the sponsors to amass an army of volunteers to marshal the greens, monitor the ropes, cope with crowds. Which in turn meant more money for the players in that the cost for those services did not come from the tournament purses. No other sport gets ushers, crowd controllers and service people for free.
To be sure, some volunteer because they want to be close to the players, but most are there to help fight cerebral palsy or cystic fibrosis or whatever the charity of the week is.
It's a felicitous trade-off for golf. And one other adjunct of the pro-am program is the pre-tournament banquet or ball.
That's where Tom Dreesen comes in. He has headlined almost as many golf functions as Hope and Crosby themselves, he has even joined the Celebrity Tour (he is a five-handicap himself) and is its permanent master of ceremonies. His humor is gentle, self-mocking, as topical as today's paper and as funny as the Chicago Cub's infield. (He once served as the Cubs' bat boy for a four-game stretch. "We won all but three of them," he tells you.)
He had the obligatory deprived childhood. He grew up in a mixed background of a half-black, half-white neighborhood in Harvey, Ill. He is half-Irish and half-Italian, born in a shanty in a family of eight. They had no hot water, but he likes to say it didn't matter because they had no bathtub or shower to put it in anyway.
He had no childhood. "My childhood began at age 25," he likes to say.
Mother and father were . . . well, alcoholic is the polite term for it. "For my father, worse news than 'You have six months to live' would be 'We're outta Schlitz.' " Dad preferred viewing the world through the bottom of a bottle of Jim Beam. "I thought everybody walked through life with a bottle of wine in his pocket," Dreesen recalls.
Tom's love of sports began when he was a toddler and his hometown gave a parade for the local boy who made good, the baseballer Lou Boudreau. "I thought, 'Wow! Wouldn't that be great if they gave a parade for me!' " Thirty years later, they did. They even named a street after him.
Dreesen is as integral a part of the successful golf tournament — or sports charity promotion, generally — today as any most valuable player or Masters winner. If you count the benefits he has performed without fee, he has contributed more to charity than the Rockefellers.
It wasn't always thus. He likes to say he came from a neighborhood so tough that when they said a man "died peacefully," it meant they shot him in his sleep.
"We had names. When they would say, 'Skippy Blakely says he's gonna kill you!' nobody even bothered to look worried. But when they'd say, 'Nunzio Balducci wants to talk to you,' guys would go on the lam."
He avoided the pitfalls of alcohol and drugs. "My father told me marijuana would cause me brain damage — because if he caught me doing it he was going to break my head."
Tom was a construction worker, a bartender. He slept in his car (a 10-year-old Nash) when he first came to L.A. Like many comics, he got his first break on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. "When Johnny told me I was funny, it was like getting an Oscar."
He became America's sports comedian. He emceed Mickey Mantle dinners, Billy Martin's retirement, NFL alumni dinners. But golf was his passion. He was the pro's pro. Other guys were masters of the one-iron, Dreesen, the one-liner.
He was a willing captive. "I couldn't believe my good luck. I met all my heroes. Guys I used to carry their bags for were now my partners. How many guys you can say in their lifetime played golf with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods?
"When I was a kid, we never even had a car. Now I'm riding around in limos, Frank Sinatra's jet. I even got my own street."
Still, his humor is self-deprecatory. He usually closes with the anecdote about the time he was driving through Mississippi on his way to a tournament. "A Mississippi cop pulled me over for going through a stop sign without stopping. I said 'But I slowed down!' And he said, 'But you didn't stop.' I said 'Well, what's the difference, stop, slow down? It's the same thing.' So he started hitting me over the head with his nightstick. 'Now,' he says, 'do you want me to stop — or slow down?!' "
Golf doesn't want Tom Dreesen to do either. He is as necessary to the well-being of the game's essential pro-ams as the ropes, the marshals, the scorekeepers, the army of other volunteers. Without the Bob Hopes and Tom Dreesens, they might not need the ropes and marshals. There might be nobody there but the golfers.
*Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times.
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