LA QUINTA, CALIFORNIA | The first thing to understand is that despite the word play, the tournament is not “Hopeless.” A better description would be troubled. Or, perhaps, inconsequential. In modern lingo, the Bob Hope Classic no longer moves the needle.
It has become just another sporting event in a world of too many “just another” sporting events.
It’s become a victim of time, of technology, of mortality, of changing generations.
The Hope and the Bing Crosby Pro-Am, which evolved into the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, were constructed around the iconic presence of their hosts.
Bob and Bing at their heights were among the most popular men in America, and so their golf tournaments, full of headliners whose fame lasted far more than 15 minutes – Frank Sinatra, Phil Harris, Dean Martin – were wildly popular. They kept us watching and listening.
Does anyone remember the Crosby when Bing was ill, Harris took his place in the TV tower and Harris didn’t miss a beat.
The greats passed on, taking the laughter with them. Arnold Palmer, the landmark golfer of the Hope, left the Tour, although this year, at age 81, he made daily appearances. The tournament got jerked around by the PGA Tour, shifted to the third week in January, which suddenly became occupied by the NFL’s AFC and NFC Championship games. And it was opposite the Abu Dhabi Championship, which had Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Graeme McDowell.
So the possibility that former president Bill Clinton may get involved with the Hope is enticing. Clinton has charisma, an essential for golf. Consider Arnie, Jack, Greg, Tiger and Phil. A game of individuals demands individuals who have game and name. Bill Clinton would light up the southern California desert.
Sure, he’s a Democrat and this area of the wealthy and aged is notoriously Republican. But Clinton crosses party lines. And for a start, as a sitting president, he played in the 2005 Hope with former presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford.
Scott Hoch was the pro – the format the first four days of the Hope is rotating teams of three amateurs with a different pro – and while all those Secret Service men and all those fans may not have helped Hoch’s game, there hasn’t been as exciting a day at the Hope since.
Clinton and the elder Bush have worked together on relief for Haiti. Washington types long have been involved with the Hope. Dwight Eisenhower was a pal of Bob Hope’s, and proceeds from Hope Classics funded the Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Desert. Spiro Agnew played in the Hope – and conked Doug Sanders with a tee shot. Dan Quayle, Tip O’Neill, Dan Rostenkowski also took part.
For them, playing golf takes precedent ahead of playing politics, and Bill Clinton could be the man who gives the tournament, now in its 52nd year, the energy to make it young once more.
Joe Ogilvie, the pro from Duke, interestingly suggested to Golf World magazine the idea of the Hope bringing in Bill Clinton a few hours before the PGA Tour put out a release saying the idea “had been in discussions over the past several months” with the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative.
“I think it might need an A-list host that says, ‘You know, this is an important event,’ ” Ogilvie said of the Hope tournament. “The Eisenhower Medical Center has touched a lot of lives.
“I think the guy I’d have host this tournament is Bill Clinton. I think he was a Republican’s best friend. He obviously holds a huge cachet with the Democratic party. A Bill Clinton would add instant cachet. He also would bring in an A-list clientele, and he could walk a sponsor in.”
Ogilvie pointed out as an enticement the Hope, which has contributed more than $33 million to the Eisenhower Medical Center, should expand its contributions to include the Clinton Global Initiative.
“We have access to more than 250 television stations. There are dozens of athletes, teams and celebrities,” he said. “Our approach has been altered from “Gee, look at that,’’ to “Been there, done that.” Yawn.
There’s nothing wrong with Jhonattan Vegas except he’s not Tiger Woods, and Tiger Woods never competes in the Hope. The tournament needs a jolt, a revitalization. If Clinton’s here, Mickelson’s here. Maybe Tiger’s here.
The Tour statement mentioned a potential broad partnership “that would involve the Clinton Foundation’s longstanding commitment to improving lives with the Tour’s Together Anything’s Possible charitable initiative. This includes leveraging the Bob Hope Classic as a focal point in this partnership.”
In plain talk, Bill Clinton steps in, and while he’s no Bob Hope – who is? – he raises the Hope Classic to its rightful position in the golfing ranks. And in appreciation, the rest of us sing an off-key version of “Thanks for the Memories.”