One of the partners in the venture was Colbert's old friend and fellow native Kansan, R.D. Hubbard, who had made his fortune in glass manufacturing, then supplemented it by buying a bunch of horseracing tracks. After the flood Hubbard flew to Vegas to survey the damage. "We'll just have to redo it," he said. Before reboarding his jet, he wrote out a check for $200,000 and handed it to Colbert with instructions to keep accounts current.
Hubbard's life-preserver loan would not last long. With Desert Rose threatening to bankrupt his business, the survivor in Colbert emerged. He became a traveling, negotiating, deal-closing dervish, leasing three more courses in 12 months. "I had to get three, four and five to pay for number two," he says. Colbert's company grew quickly. When he sold it four years ago to join the Senior tour, the company, Colbert Golf Inc., had 23 courses, 700 full-time employees and annual gross revenues of nearly $50 million.
Colbert chooses not to reveal how much the company sold for, but it was enough to set him up for life. Still, as much as he thrives on the competition on the Mature Tour, Colbert is more addicted to the thrill of the deal. This year he will open 32 golf schools in northern, cold-weather locations. Instructors will be certified by his old friend Ballard. Again, Colbert will target a middle-income clientele. The lessons, which will cost $99 and last three hours, are being offered as an alternative to, as Colbert says, "paying $2,500 to beat golf balls for eight hours until your hands are bloody, get your video and go home."
And there are other irons in the fire. Five years ago Colbert joined with four others in a partnership that owns the Sunrise Golf Club, a private, 36-hole complex in Las Vegas. "There was a real need for something like this," says Colbert. "The next-closest club charges a $30,000 initiation fee and $800 a year." Sunrise is cheaper by more than two thirds.
He has also stayed in the golf-course-designing business. At the moment he has one course under construction in Vegas and three more on the drawing board.
Colbert is accustomed to keeping several balls in the air. After he quit the Tour in 1987, he joined ESPN. Colbert's willingness to state his often strident opinions endeared him to viewers and to his network bosses.
An excitable analyst, Colbert called 'em as he saw 'em, never so succinctly as in 1989, when Dave Hill gave away the GTE Suncoast Seniors Classic. Nursing a two-shot lead going into the 17th hole on Sunday, Hill put his third shot into the water. Lying four, Hill deposited his next shot into the drink, as well. Colbert's cogent commentary: "Jesus Christ, he hit it in the water!"
The three years he spent talking about his ex-peers forced him to rest his back—between running Colbert Golf Inc. and working for ESPN he had little time to play golf—even as it reawakened his desire to compete. In 1991, after quitting ESPN and selling his business, he joined the Senior tour, winning three tournaments and earning the tour's oxymoronic Rookie of the Year award.
"It's taken me 30 years," he says, "but I'm an overnight success."
He attributes some of that success to his personal trainer, who works him like a dog, and some of it to memory lapses: "All the little idiosyncrasies in my swing—I forgot 'em!" he says.