In professional tournament golf the clubhouse veranda can be a noteworthy blend of rumble seat, wax museum, promenade deck, theater wings and courthouse steps. As the tour moves from one Crystal Rancho Happy Avocado Creek Country Club to another, the verandas undergo some severe botanical changes—for example, palm trees become pines and vice versa—but the human plant life remains practically changeless. Except for the occasional intrusion of a spectator, fully equipped with binoculars, periscope, chair seat, transistor and hot dog, and the almost invariable presence of at least one young girl in Capri pants beneath a large straw bonnet, the regular veranda standers comprise a remarkably homogeneous and identifiable part of golf. They are the in-group, style-casual, up-scale, hanging-in, cooling-it businessmen of the game. And as they spread across the lawn, gazing toward the nearest leader board while a tournament progresses, they are not unlike a cluster of military commanders watching the glow of shellfire from a distant valley.
To almost anyone who knows the difference between a Black Dot and a Titleist, the faces of these fringe personalities look as familiar as casual water, but only the true insider will be able to identify them by name, to know that the stocky, pink-faced man in the dark suit with his hands folded behind him, the one telling Sam Snead stories, is Fred Corcoran, Snead's lifelong agent; to know that the tall, blond fellow talking to Winnie Palmer is Mark McCormack, the Cleveland lawyer and agent for golf's Big Three; to know J. Edwin Carter of the World Series of Golf; Bob Rickey, the Brunswick-MacGregor vice-president; Ernie Sabayrac, the golf equipment distributor; Bob Drum, the freelance promoter; Jim Gaquin, the PGA tournament manager. And it takes an insider, too, to know the name that goes with the most familiar face of them all, the one belonging to a man called Bubble Head, a man who is always there and is never doing anything.
On or off the verandas, the man with the nickname that annoys him is George Low—stand-around champion of two decades, America's guest, comedian, consultant, inventor of the overlapping grip for a beer can and, of foremost importance, a man who has conquered the two hardest things in life—how to putt (better than anyone else ever) and how to live luxuriously without an income.
For nearly 20 years George Low has been the vaguest, most mysterious figure in all of golf. Usually decorated in a plaid jacket, his tall (6 feet 2), heavy (240 pounds) figure and his solemn, deeply tanned, immobile countenance have been seen around tournaments for so long that in those rare instances when he is not present sponsors have a tendency to get unsettled. When the Western Open was held at the Field Club in Pittsburgh in 1959, George did not reveal himself until the final round. A friend on the committee scolded him about being tardy and giving the event a bad name. George said, "Well, you got to understand that a man who don't have to be back to his office for 30 years is sometimes gonna be lax."
The only office that George Low has ever really had is the trunk of someone's automobile, which, if he borrows it for long, begins to look like a rummage sale of golf clubs, clothes and photo albums. For most of his 52 years George's home has been a convertible couch in a friend's living room, a rollaway bed in a friend's hotel room or, when he's "going good," the vacant wing of a friend's mansion. But always these places have been where the sunshine is. If that does not always turn out to be the PGA tour, it quite often will be Palm Springs, Calif., Phoenix, Ariz. or Miami Springs, Fla.
"Wherever," says George, "some rich guy's got a bed and a kind heart. Everybody ain't an if-come," that being a George Low expression, borrowed from the language of the dice tables, to describe someone who rates somewhere between phony and stingy. "I got to be where it's warm." says George, "because I can't afford no overcoat."
If a person is "straight," which is to George a man who manages to hold down a steady, respectable job, it may seem that Low's existence is mostly a matter of survival. But he has never thought of it quite that way. On the contrary, George has always lived comfortably, and often far better than almost any "straight" who rides a commuter train or even purchases clubhouse badges for everyone in his factory.
The main reason why George Low has been able to survive in reasonable splendor is that he has one of those personalities that appeal to gentlemen of means. He has a sense of humor that makes him one of the great put-down artists of his age, an unobtrusive manner for being "around" and not bothering anyone and a crashing basic honesty, all of which can add up to good company. Aside from these things, George knows as much about golf as anyone, and a lot of gentlemen of means like to play golf, apparently while being put down unobtrusively, honestly and without being unduly bothered.
Among the celebrities who have demonstrated that they enjoy George's company, and have therefore been his happy hosts, are, just to touch on four different sports, Jimmy Demaret, Willie Shoemaker ("the best little man who ever played the game"), Horace Stoneham, the owner of the San Francisco Giants, and Del Miller, one of the biggest men in harness racing. George has Novembered with Stoneham near Phoenix, he has Christmased with Demaret in Houston and he has week dayed with Shoemaker, Miller and many other people while wandering off from his "steady job" on the golf tour. Paul Grossinger, of the resort of that name in the Catskills, is the man who nicknamed George " America's guest," and then, of course, provided a "freebie," or free room. Bob Johnson, when he was president of Roosevelt Raceway outside New York City, said it perfectly for all of George's hosts one evening when Low kept asking Johnson for another $100 to buy drinks for everyone at a Palm Springs party. "Just associating with George Low," said Johnson, "is better than having a Dun & Bradstreet rating."
One freebie was especially pleasant for George just last winter. Says George: "Me and Rosburg [Bob] was in at Julie London's in Palm Springs for no." And he adds, "You can't beat that price. Bobby Troup, her husband, is a friend of Rosburg and let him in, and I let myself in."