by Jeff Skinner
Quick, name the celebrities that have their names attached to a PGA Tour event. If you had to stop and think for a minute you are out of touch with the PGA Tour. Only the late, great Bob Hope and the young, hip Justin Timberlake have their names atop the marquee on the PGA Tour. Yes, Wayne Gretzky hosts a Nationwide Tour but on the PGA Tour their remains only those two.
It didn’t use to be that way. During the 70’s and 80’s there were dozens of tournaments that had a big time celebrity host. Even Champions Tour events had a bunch of stars hosting, of course back then we called it The Senior Tour. The culture was different on the tour than it is today. Event organizers and the tour thought it was good business to get a big name to host the tournament and it was.
The celebrity host would bring dozens of their friends for the Pro-Am and with those stars came more fans to the tournament. It started with Bing Crosby and his little “Clambake” at Pebble Beach and when the practice really took hold in the seventies the PGA tournament list looked like a prime time variety show, remember those. Glen Campbell, Jackie Gleason, Dean Martin, Ed McMahon, Danny Thomas, Andy Williams, Sammy Davis Jr. and Johnny Mathis all hosted events during the celebrity golden years. Heck, even Joe Garagiola and The Gatlin Brothers were hosts of events. It was the cool thing to do back then: spend a week at a course with your friends, invite a bunch of popular celebs, get The Tour to stage a tournament and you had the formula for one heck of a weeklong party.
Old Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra even took the plunge and hosted an event in Las Vegas, just like Justin Timberlake. JT is cast in the same mold as Sinatra. He’s a talented singer, one of the biggest names of his time and he has other interests besides singing. JT loves his golf, he has his own course in Tennessee, he’s a bit of an entrepreneur and he even likes to act, much like Sinatra. Timberlake played the Napster founder in the film “The Social Network” and he was good. Timberlake likes to pay homage to the old Rat Packers and Sinatra and can be seen wearing the retro fedora and skinny tie during his concerts. His presence on The PGA Tour is refreshing and maybe will bring a few new, younger fans to golf.
The fact that there are so few celebrity names attached to PGA events is a reflection of the times. Not these current times, but the late eighties when the tour realized that there were corporations out there that were willing to pony up big bucks to have their name on a tour event. The tour got the sponsor money up front and there wasn’t enough room on the marquee for a sponsor and a corporation. So, gone were Sammy and Deano and Sinatra and Campbell and in came Honda, A.T.&T. and Sony and so on. It was a different time for sure but the tour certainly acknowledges the power of a young, hip star to attract a new group of fans. With corporations more reluctant to sign up for sponsorships lately maybe it might be time to go retro and get a few stars to headline a tour stop. Can you see “The Lady Ga Ga Facebook Open” happening? Why not? If Joe Garagiola can, why can’t Ga Ga?