Bob Heintz had his Jackie Gleason moment last Friday in the players' dining room at the Honda Classic. Asked how he planned to kill a long delay caused by Thursday rains, the 31-year-old Heintz stuffed a piece of carrot cake in his mouth, licked his fingers and mumbled, "Eat three desserts."
Gleason, rest his soul, would have loved that. The Great One died of too much life almost 15 years ago at age 71, having eaten, drunk, smoked or fondled practically everything within his reach. He was best known for his TV shows and movies, but Gleason was also host, from 1972 through '80, of Jackie Gleason's Inverrary Classic in Lauderhill, Fla. In '82 the tournament was renamed for a Japanese car not much bigger than the luxury golf cart Gleason drove around Inverrary Golf and Country Club. The Honda Classic has since moved four times, lost its ability to attract the game's top players and generally forfeited its cachet. At last week's tournament, at the Tournament Players Club at Heron Bay, in Coral Springs, officials announced that the Honda will move again next year. This time, as Gleason did in his role as the frustrated sheriff in Smokey and the Bandit, they're chasing the tournament clear across the Broward County line.
Heintz, who was born in 1970, was asked if he remembered Gleason in Smokey. "Absolutely," he replied. "He was always saying, 'I'm in hot pursuit!' " When asked if he knew that the Honda was once called the Gleason and that celebrities had flocked to Lauderhill just to hear the Great One shout, "How sweet it is!" Heintz shrugged and said, "Most people probably aren't aware of that." The half-life of television fame, apparently, is about 20 years.
There are three reasons for picking Heintz to talk about the Honda Classic's difficulty in finding a permanent home: As a Yale graduate with a degree in economics, Heintz is smarter than the average Tour bear; he spent the 2000 season, his rookie year, writing an online diary about Tour life; and in a column titled Top 10 Coolest Things about Being on the PGA Tour, his No. 8 pick was "warm chocolate-chip cookies at the Honda." Heintz, who reads psychological thrillers and collects chess sets, had no problem coming up with a fourth reason to connect him with the Honda. "We're both kind of vanilla," he said. "I don't have much personality, and neither does the tournament."
Actually, the tournament has a history of quirky, spectacular and historic play. John Huston won the 1990 Honda in store-bought Footjoys after the USGA ruled that his stance-building Weight-Rite shoes were illegal. The following year Steve Pate won despite nearly losing his ball in greenside rough on the final hole. In '92 Corey Pavin won by holing a 136-yard eight-iron shot for eagle on the 72nd hole and then beating Fred Couples in a playoff. In 2000 Brian Gay missed a chance to win because he waited more than the allotted 10 seconds for a putt to topple into the hole, incurring a penalty. Last year a high school kid, Ty Tryon, qualified and made the cut. And way back in '87, when equipment companies and rule makers still got along, Mark Calcavecchia kicked off a nasty legal battle by hitting a shot from deep rough that landed with backspin, thanks to square grooves. No, the shortcoming of this event has never been a lack of compelling action. It has been that hardly anybody remembers where all these interesting things happened.
It doesn't help that the tournament has had more homes than Ken Lay. The first move, in 1984, from Inverrary to the TPC at Eagle Trace, was about as popular as Waterworld. Greg Norman complained of "carnival golf." Other players griped that there were too many forced carries and greenside water hazards for a tournament played in March. "Eagle Trace can make players look stupid if the wind blows more than a breath," Heintz says.
After eight years the Tour tired of the whining and moved the Honda to Weston Hills Golf and Country Club. Weston Hills had a nice four-year run, but once the club's upscale housing development was built, the owners saw no promotional value in hosting a tournament. The Tour, planning to move in 1996 to the new TPC in Coral Springs, asked for one more year at Weston Hills. Unfortunately, the club had already booked a bar mitzvah for the weekend of the '96 Honda, and the family refused to give up the date without compensation, so the players smote their foreheads and trudged back to hated Eagle Trace for a final go-round.
Hoping to stop the wandering, the American Honda Motor Company and the Classic Foundation, the tournament's designated charitable organization, signed a 25-year agreement with the town of Coral Springs and the TPC of Heron Bay. Alas, when the Tour players tested the new course for the first time, in 1997, they pronounced it boring. Course architect Mark McCumber, remembering the criticisms of Eagle Trace, had softened the contours of the greens and reduced the number of forced carries to make Heron Bay playable in high winds. "If it blows, it's fine," Heintz says. "If it doesn't blow, it plays like a resort course."
The Tour might have ignored the complaints but for one thing: Top players were skipping the Honda. Tiger Woods played at Weston Hills on a sponsor's exemption when he was 17 but has never returned. Norman, who lives just up the coast in Hobe Sound, is another perennial no-show. Vijay Singh, the victor as recently as '99, now sends his regrets.
It's not simply the course. Wedged between the Genuity Championship and two can't-miss events, the Bay Hill Invitational and the Players Championship, the Honda suffers from the reluctance of the stars to play too many consecutive events. Phil Mickelson was a surprise entrant last week, and PGA champion David Toms and defending champion Jesper Parnevik supplied some TV punch, but the Honda has become a fast check for hungry-for-a-first-win players like Sunday's champion, Matt Kuchar, who shot a 19-under 269 to edge a pair of veterans, Brad Faxon and Joey Sindelar, by two strokes. Or Heintz, whose best finish on Tour is a tie for 10th at the 2000 B.C. Open.