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Tee time with the presidents.


When people ask me howlong I've been playing golf, I just say that when I started the president of the United States was a man who believed you should speak softly and carry a big stick.

I never dreaed when I tookup golf that someday I'd be playing with kings and presidents, actors and singers, television stars and generals, corporate tycoons, athletes, and club owners. People like bing Crosby, Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Clint Eastwood, Hal Linden, Ernie Borgnine, Don Rickles, Jim Garner, Bob Newhart, Sammy Davis, Jr., Flip Wilson, Tip O'Neill, Andy Williams, and so many others. Golf is a bond that has drawn us all together and created a special fraternity among the celebrities of show business, sports, and politics.

I don't suppose anyone has everdone more to popularize golf than Ike. He was truly hooked on the game. It was no coincidence that golf enjoyed a widespread burst of growth during Ike's years as president. He brought a sort of White House sanction to the game, a conviction that it could be vastly enjoyed by middle-aged men with middle-aged handicaps.

Golf Digest magazine got a tremendouspromotion when it dispensed thousands of circular badges with Ike's picture and the words DON'T ASK WHAT I SHOT. The truth was that Ike played a perfectly respectable game. And no one ever enjoyed it more. During his White House years there was a rumor going around that the new dollar bill would have Ben Hogan's picture on it.

Ike, a golfer to warm every weekender'sheart, played with gusto and determination. He fumed over his bad shots, exulted over his good ones, and scrapped for every dollar on the line.

When Ike was president I playedwith him at Burning Tree, near Bethesda, Maryland, against Gen. Omar Bradley and Sen. Stuart Symington. On the first tee we discussed wagers. "Well," Ike said with that infectious smile, "I just loaned Bolivia $2 million. I'll play for a dollar nassau."

I played terribly and we lost. Thenext day I teamed with Sen. Prescott Bush against Ike and General Bradley. I was back on my game and shot 75. I beat Ike for four dollars, and I'll never forget the sour look on his face when he pulled out his money clip and paid off. he looked me in the eye and grumbled, "Why didn't you play this well yesterday?" He wasn't laughing, either.

Another course Ike liked to playwas Eldorado, near Palm Springs. During his two terms as president he often came out to the desert during the winter and never failed to get in a round or two. Eldorado has grapefruit trees in the rough, where Ike spent a lot of his time, and he was always picking up grapefruits while looking for his ball. One day he got really exasperated and said, "When I get back to the White House, if anyone serves me grapefruit they're fired!"

I was always an honor to playwith Ike. Playing golf with America's presidents is a great denominator. How a president acts in a san d trap is a pretty good barometer of how he would respond if the hot line suddenly lit up--and some of his language proved it.

Of all the golf Ike playedaround the world, I believe many of his happiest rounds were with Freeman Gosden, the "Amos" of "Amos 'n' Andy," after he left the White House and retired to Palm springs. Ike lived on the 11th fairway at Eldorado in those years. He and Freeman were great pals. Freeman would call Ike in the morning and say, "Can you play today, Mr. President?" and Ike would reply, "Freeman, I'll meet you on the first tee at Eldorado in half an hour." They had some wonderful times together.

The last time I saw him was at WalterReed Hospital in Washington. I visited with him for about half an hour and then talked with Mamie for a while out in the hallway. As I was about to go, Mamie said, "You'd better say good-by to Ike before you leave." As I walked back into his room I was trying to think of a joke to tell him, because I always told him every golf joke.

Ike looked tired, but he smiledwhen he saw me again. "Did you hear about the guy," I said, "despondent over his round, who walked into the locker room and loudly declared: 'I've got to be the worst golfer in the world.' There was another guy sitting there and he said, 'No, I am.'

"The first guy said, 'What did youhave on the first hole?'

"'An X.'"

"'You're one up.'"

Ike laughed so hard I thought hewas going to fall out of bed.

If I were ever backed into a cornerand forced to name the people whom I've most enjoyed playing golf with it would, of course, be a difficult task--I've had so much fun on the golf course with so many persons. But very high on any list would be Gerald R. Ford, 38th president of the United States, genuine good guy, and the most dangerous 14-handicapper in the land--in more ways than one.

Jerry Ford's fame as an erratichitter, capable of beaning anyone within a range of 260 yards, is richly deserved. He's rattled a number of shots off heads and backsides of the fearless followers in his gallery. Ford doesn't really have to keep score. He can just look back and count the walking wounded.

I've gotten a lot of mileage outof my Jerry Ford jokes. The public enjoys them, because they know that he does hit a bunch of wild shots, that he loves to play golf as a few men do, and that he contributes so much to the game. The

PGA Tour, in fact, made him an honorary member.

So it's fun to introduce him at dinnerswith lines like "You all know Jerry Ford--the most dangerous driver since Ben Hur." Ford is easy to spot on the course. He drives the cart with the red cross painted on top.

Whenever I play with him, I usuallytry to make it a foursome--Ford, me, a paramedic, and a faith healer. One of my most prized possessions is the Purple Heart I received for all the golf I've played with him.

But he can play. Ford is a considerablylonger hitter than I am. I've seen him consistently drive the ball 250 to 260 yards. On the first hole of the Dinah Shore invitational in 1983, when we were paired with JoAnne Carner, the longest hitter on the women's tour, Carner busted one. She beamed at the gallery's applause and went hoofing down the fairway after her ball. I thought Ford had struck his drive pretty well, too, and when we got out there, Ford's ball was 20 yards out ahead of Carner's. JoAnne couldn't believe it. She said, "Mr. President, that's the longest shot I've ever seen an amateur hit in any pro-am." It was also the straightest he hit that day.

Whenever I play with Ford thesedays I carry 13 clubs and a white flag. I try to win only enough from him to pay my extra insurance premiums. In one round at Eldorado the gallery ended up with more dimples than his golf ball had.

But I jest. He's really a fine trapplayer. He seldom misses one. He drives well, too. He's never lost a golf cart.

One reason the Bob Hope BritishClassic drew such big galleries was that Ford went over and played in the pro-am the last three years. They love him in England just as they do in America.

At the pro-am dinner the first yearhe was there I told the British audience I wasn't sure how to describe his golf game. He's to golf what Prince Charles is to steeplechase riding. I guaranteed them one thing: Gerald Ford would put their national-health program to the test. And then I gave them a little tip--Ford's second shot is the one to watch. It means you survived his first.

Actually Ford had been in Englandon several previous occasions, but never for golf. The other trips were all peacetime visits. The Americans know he's a dangerous golfer because they chipped in to send him over.

My tournament in England was thefirst time Ford was allowed to play golf on foreign soil. We found a loophole in the SALT agreement. He played British golf on the second hole--two spectators got stiff upper lips. On the third hole his caddie enlisted for service in Northern Ireland. He wanted at least a fighting chance. Why not? In America his secret-service men are demanding combat pay.

We had great weather overthere, but one day it got a bit British, and I wore a thermal vest, a wool shirt, three sweaters, and a windbreaker. Ford was laughing because I finished my follow-through before my clothes had started my backswing. Big deal. On the 18th tee Ford put a ball through the clubhouse window. It wasn't easy. It was behind him. That's when I remembered that the Russians used to say if we were really serious about disarmament, we'd dismantle his golf clubs.

Reminiscing about Jerry Fordreminds me that I've had the pleasure of playing golf with six presidents--Ford, Ike, Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan.

Kennedy could have been anoutstanding player, bad back and all. He was an excellent striker of the ball. I don't think golf appealed all that much to JFK. He often appeared restless and detached on the course. I guess sailing and touch football were his games.

Another president who took hisgolf casually was LBJ. I played with him only once, in Acapulco. Darrell Royal, then the Texas football coach, played with us. I think LBJ enjoyed getting out that day, but he didn't seem to have much touch or feel for the game.

Nixon was a different matter. Heplayed with a lot of gusto and enthusiasm and favored the down-the-middle approach. Nixon never had the natural athletic instincts of Kennedy or Ford, but he got his game down to a 14-handicap, and he took his rounds seriously.

I'll never forget the timeNixon came out to play Lakeside, and I don't suppose George Gobel or his wife, Alice, will either. Nixon was in the White House at the time. I was talking to him one day and he said he was coming out to California. I asked him to play with me at Lakeside. I suggested a foursome. He said, "Good, get Jimmy Stewart and Fred MacMurray to round it out." So I did.

The President's security people arrivedat my home at 10 a.m. in a helicopter and buzzed in over the hedge surrounding the house. The neighbors thought it was a delivery from Chicken Delight. Nixon came two hours later, with Bebe Rebozo. We took them over to Lakeside. Nixon acted as if he were campaigning, hugging and kissing everyone in sight. I told him, "Mr. President, you're already elected." I thought it was pretty funny, but I didn't notice him laughing.

After the round we adjourned tothe locker room. Gobel was there and so was Norm Blackburn, the Lakeside historian. Gobel passed by my locker and I said, "George, come here and meet the President." Nixon said, "Sit down and have a drink with us." Gobel replied, "I'd like to, but I'm supposed to meet Alice pretty soon. She'll never believe I was having a drink with the President of the United States."

Knowing alice and her freewheelingpersonality, we all held our breath. But they appeared to be having a nice conversation. Then the President said, "You know, Alice, George will probably be a little late tonight." She said, "Oh, that's all right, I'm used to that."

Then Nixon told her, "I almosthad a hole in one today. It was a brand-new ball and it's got my name on it. I'm going to wrap it up and have George take it home to you."

It was a nice thing for the Presidentto do, and with that we all sat down and had another round of drinks.

I've always enjoyed playing golfwith a president. The only problem is that there are so many Secret Service men around there's not much chance to cheat.
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Title Annotation:Bob Hope's golf partners
Author:Hope, Bob
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1986
Previous Article:Sid Caesar's new grasp on life.
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