by Jeff Skinner
There once was a time on The PGA Tour when the players flocked to Palm Beach to play in the Bob Hope Desert Classic. Palmer, Nicklaus, Casper, Miller, Wadkins, Stadler, Kite, Duval and Mickelson are but a few of the past champions that brought hope to The Hope back in the day.
When comedian Bob Hope started his party in the desert in 1960 Arnie won and took home a first place check for $12,000. During the 60’s and 70’s The Bob Hope Desert Classic was as strong a tournament as there was anywhere in the world. In the late ninety’s the money in golf exploded and the need for players to play each week soon disappeared. With million dollar first place checks, an all exempt tour and multi sponsor endorsement contracts, established players were able to pick and choose which tournaments they played in and for one reason or another The Hope was not on every players “must play” list. Maybe it was the five rounds or the long days spent with the celebs and amateurs or the courses weren’t of their liking but more and more pros elected to take a pass on The Hope. It’s a shame because few men did more for golf, The PGA Tour and this country then Bob Hope has.
Long before Bob Hope joined Bing Crosby as a celebrity host of a PGA Tour event he had earned a place in American history as a patriot when he decided to help with the war effort and entertain the troops. In 1941 he started at a base in California and soon after he was hamming it up before soldiers in Europe and the South Pacific. In 1948 he started his tradition of spending Christmas with the troops and took his band of entertainers with him for the next fifty years. He put his shows on anywhere there were soldiers that needed a laugh and wasn’t afraid to be close to combat.
In 1997 Congress and President Clinton named Hope an “Honorary Veteran.” It was the first time anyone had ever been given that honor. True to his humility, Hope said, “I’ve been given many awards in my lifetime, but to be numbered among the men and women I admired most…is the greatest honor I have ever received.”
Maybe it’s time a few of the heavy hitters on the PGA Tour made a conscious decision to “pay it back” to Hope and his tournament. I know it is very difficult to take a pass on those “appearance fees” that tournaments around the world are willing to throw at anyone that they deem a draw but maybe it’s time the big boys took care of their own, right here in the states.
Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods are the two biggest draws in golf and are also extremely active in charities that benefit the servicemen and women of the United States. Tiger is the first to say he’s happy to give back to the troops at his tournament and Phil’s charities include three specific programs to aid our troops. They both certainly take active and productive roles in benefitting the troops.
Here’s a revolutionary idea: maybe Phil and/or Tiger could take a week and play in The Bob Hope Classic as a tribute to a man that has done more for the troops than the entire PGA Tour combined. The Hope is on life support, with no title sponsor (a must have in golf today), its days are numbered. An appearance by the dynamic duo, or one of them, is just what The Hope needs for survival. I’ll take it one step further. Here’s a chance for Phil and Tiger to play mentor to a few of the youngsters on tour. A phone call from Phil to his buddy Rickie Fowler, or a text from Tiger to his homey, Anthony Kim would be a nice touch to get some high profile, young studs playing at The Hope. Both Fowler and Kim are California kids, heck Kim went to high school right in the middle of The Hope’s courses. What we have here is an opportunity to honor a man that walked the walk. Bob Hope worked tirelessly for the troops and for golf. Here’s a chance to honor him and salvage a part of the tour that should remain a vibrant part of golf for years to come. I can’t think of a more visible and purposeful act that Phil or Tiger could do to help the tour and honor a man that meant so much to golf and our country.