LA QUINTA, Calif. -- It's a whole new world as the Bob Hope Classic embarks on its 52nd year when the tournament is held from Jan. 17-23, 2011.
But, as the Classic looks to its future, the highlights of the first 51 years always will provide great memories.
The unique five-day format of the Classic is played each winter on four desert courses. It features 128 top PGA TOUR professionals and 384 amateur contestants, including a stellar list of celebrities.
For more than four decades, one of the can't-miss moments of the Classic was on the first tee of the host course on opening day. It was there that the tournament host and namesake would introduce and roast the celebrities in the field.
No celebrity or pro golfer was spared. From actor Jimmy Stewart - "He could have been a good golfer, but by the time he said, 'Fore,' the guy was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital," - to former President Gerald Ford - "He's easy to spot, he drives the golf cart with the red cross painted on top, " - and to even himself -"I asked Arnie (Palmer) once how I could improve. His advice to me was to cheat," - the one-line zingers always found their mark.
Shortly after his 100th birthday, Bob Hope passed away in summer 2003, but he left some lasting impressions and memories for many of the stars and golf professionals who played in his tournament.
Hope knew all along what the fans wanted. It was entertainment and good golf. All he had to do was invite his many celebrity friends to play four rounds of golf with pros and amateur partners before yielding the stage to the top golfers in the world on the fifth day.
"Bob Hope was one of the pioneers that had a lot to do with the entertainment industry supporting golf," said Palmer, the only five-time winner of the Classic. "Who knows what the bottom line was to the value of that because it certainly was important to the PGA TOUR. The fact that people like Bob, Bing Crosby and Clark Gable and their friends supported golf and made more people aware of the game helped the professional tour."
From the start, the Classic has attracted an unbelievable array of celebrities. Besides Hope, some of the stars that participated included Jackie Gleason, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, Jack Benny, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Phil Harris, Desi Arnaz, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, James Garner, Joey Bishop, Robert Stack, Randolph Scott, Clint Eastwood, Robert Goulet, Jack Lemmon, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Bill Murray, Glenn Frey, Kevin Costner, Vince Gill, Amy Grant, astronauts Gene Cernan and Alan Shepard, Vice President Dan Quayle, and Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O'Neil. Some of the top sports stars include Willie Mays, Joe Louis, Johnny Bench, Merlin Olsen, John McKay, Mike Ditka, Lou Holtz, Bear Bryant, Joe DiMaggio, Dizzy Dean, Eddie Arcaro, Tom Harmon, Otto Graham, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, John Elway, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Jeff Gordon, Maury Wills, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Ann Meyers Drysdale.
The Classic consistently features a stellar collection of contemporary celebrities. In recent years, the celebrity field has included Marcus Allen, Anthony Anderson, Yogi Berra, Michael Bolton, Glen Campbell, Roger Clemens, Alice Cooper, Carson Daly, Tom Dreesen, Mike Eruzione, Marshall Faulk, Samuel L. Jackson, Rush Limbaugh, George Lopez, the host of the Classic in 2007-08, Cheech Marin, Matthew McConaughey, Craig T. Nelson, Maury Povich, Ahmad Rashad, Darius Rucker, Burt Rutan, Sterling Sharpe, Kevin Sorbo, Justin Timberlake and Mark Wahlberg.
Johnny Miller, the best golfer in the world in the mid-1970s and a back-to-back winner of the Classic in 1975-76, said: "Bob Hope was one of my best friends, my best celebrity friend for sure. I played a lot of golf with him. He loved to play with a guy who was hot at the beginning of the year, and I was usually one of the hot players. He was a genius at what he did. He was an icon and, as my dad would say, you could not replace a Bob Hope."
Tom Kite, who set a then Classic record in 1993 when he shot 35 under par, credits Hope with the soaring popularity of golf. "I don't know whether the popularity of golf would have ever reached the current level were it not for people like Bob Hope, President Eisenhower and Arnold Palmer," Kite said. "Hope is right up there in terms of creating popularity for golf that will probably never be matched. We are going through a boom right now with all of the attention going to Tiger Woods, but it is very similar to the type of boom the PGA TOUR and golf went through in the late '50s and '60s and a lot of that credit goes to Mr. Hope."
Lefthanders won the Classic three years in a row when Phil Mickelson prevailed in 2002 and 2004 and Canadian Mike Weir in 2003. Mickelson is one of six two-time winners of the Classic. Weir (2003) and Mickelson (2004) both went on to win the Masters.
David Duval shot the greatest round in the history of the Classic, as well as the PGA TOUR, at the Palmer Private in 1999 when he became the first ever to shoot a closing-round 59. He started the day seven strokes off the pace and finished it with an eagle on the final hole.
During an era of record low scores, it was also an historic time when President Bill Clinton played in the same fivesome with former presidents George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, tournament host Hope and defending champion Scott Hoch in 1995. It was the first time a sitting president had played in a PGA TOUR event and was also the first time three presidents had ever played together.
Much has changed since the Classic's birth in 1960, when it was known as the Palm Springs Golf Classic. The prize money, for instance, is staggering. The purse in 1960 was $70,000, of which Palmer took home $12,000 as the winner (not as much as the $50,000 Joe Campbell won that year for a hole-in-one). The purse in 2011 will be $5 million. The winner earns $900,000.
Fred Couples, another former champion, said: "There are very few people who have done more to promote golf than Bob Hope. He is certainly missed, but the legacy of the Bob Hope Classic and all the charities it has helped over the years will never be forgotten. I am proud to be a past champion."
Actor Dennis Haysbert said: "Bob Hope was a great inspiration because of his obvious love for the game, his humor, and what he meant to the country with his support of the troops throughout the world. I have a great deal of respect for him."
If the future is anything like the storied past, more exciting moments and memories are in store for golf fans at the 2011 Bob Hope Classic.
About the 2011 Bob Hope Classic
Monday, Jan. 17 and Tuesday, Jan. 18: (practice rounds)
Wednesday, Jan. 19-Sunday, Jan. 23: (tournament)
Courses: Palmer Private at PGA West, La Quinta Country Club,
SilverRock Resort, Nicklaus Private Course at PGA West
Defending champion: Bill Haas
Tournament website: www.bobhopeclassic.com
Phone: 1-888-MRBHOPE (672-4673)