Arnold Palmer flitting around in his twin-booster, partly deductible rocket ship
PGA One, and Billy Casper eating baked leopards' feet and sea-lentil casserole for all those allergies, and Gary Player, the Lord improving his lies, always suiting out in bondage black—you call this colorful? You like it that the pros play the same event every week, a $500,000 Lucky Desert Cajun, everybody getting rich by finishing a nervy 29th? It doesn't bother you that Jack Nicklaus isn't there because he is limiting his play to five tournaments a year—the Grand Slam plus one to be announced—and is off in Addis Ababa filming a TV series? You chuckle and nudge your friends, do you, when Al Besselink grins at a lady scorer and hollers, "Say, bey-bah, old Al done got hisself a birdie"? You wink all around when you see that full parade of snug, flowered bell-bottoms foraging after Doug Sanders? And it really swings, does it, upstairs in the cocktail lounge when Lionel Hebert works his handicap down from 8 to 6 on the trumpet? Say, bey-bah, you know something? If you think the tour is fun now, you would have gone right out of your Spalding Dot back in the Thirties.
Boy, those Thirties. Fun Time. The years when Sam Snead had hair, right there on his head, parted on the left; when Ben Hogan was a runt with a wild hook and a snap-brim hat; when Jimmy Demaret had pink shoes and violet pants; when Ky Laffoon anointed the greens with tobacco juice; and when Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell, in their sailor suits, couldn't do the Big Apple much better than Joan and Paul Runyan or Emma and Harry Cooper. It was Fun Time, all right, Fun Time on the pro golf tour—because if you couldn't laugh about it you might as well go back to mowing fairways and raking cottonseed-hull greens.
The game still belonged to the amateurs in the early Thirties, you see, to aristocratic young men with hyphenated names and blonde sisters. A professional was anyone who had caddied after he was 14, who could wrap leather grips and who took his meals in the kitchen. The exact date is not recorded when people first realized a pro could make a nine-iron back up better than an amateur, but it happened somewhere in the Thirties. At about the same time Walter Hagen finally convinced everyone you could let a pro in the front door and he wouldn't steal the crystal. These two circumstances began to combine, introducing America to the age of the alligator shoe. This, then, was the beginning of the era that launched the big-money tour that buys 20 alpacas for Don Massengale today, that keeps Conni Venturi in Balenciagas, that overnight makes a renowned author out of any player who can chip from sand.
One result of it all is that going on the pro golf tour now is as easy as getting through the University of Houston. You birdie four holes in a row at Bleeding Birch Country Club and some automobile dealer with a coat of arms on his blazer gives you $12,000 and an air-travel card. A day later you are standing around on a putting green with Gardner Dickinson—you are on the tour. To say it was more of an adventure in the Thirties would be like saying Cary Middlecoff's dental patients had to hold their mouths open a long time. Right away there was one primary challenge, to try to put chuckburgers down your neck from Flagstaff to West Palm. If you shot over 74 in the first round you could forget it—15th was the last pay spot and, of the 30 to 40 regulars who were out there beating you, Ben Hogan was about the least known. But whether you won or lost, leaving town was always the same. You loaded into somebody's Graham-Paige or Essex and drove until you threw a connecting rod. Air travel? That was for Noah Beery Jr. up there in the sleet without any deicers while Jean Rogers wept softly in the radio tower.
The tour began in Los Angeles, just as it does now, but there the similarity ends. Everyone piled into the Hollywood Plaza for $1 a day, went directly downstairs to Clara Bow's It Cafe and began contemplating the happy fact that L.A. offered one of the biggest purses on the tour. And, next to the U.S. Open, it pulled the most spectators—so many one year, in fact, that in the congested excitement of a certain round Dick Metz had to park two miles away from the course and buy a ticket to get in. This would not have been so embarrassing for the sponsors if Metz hadn't been leading the tournament at the time.
From L.A. you went to Agua Caliente or Sacramento, maybe, or you scooped wedges around the Rose Bowl in the Pasadena Open. Wherever you were, you stuffed the bag with oranges from the citrus trees in the rough. It kept the food budget down. At the San Francisco Match Play you spewed challenges at anyone in the locker room you figured you could beat, and tried to get the pairings arranged accordingly. One tournament, the 36-hole Crosby at Rancho Santa Fe, was a little special, because a lot of Hollywood stars like Richard Arlen, Clark Gable and Randolph Scott were sure to be there, and, say, those lugs were just swell, to use one of Margaret Lindsay's more dramatic lines.
After the giddy times out on the Coast, fan belts permitting, the tour wended lazily through the Southwest, the South, the East and the Midwest until, quite sensibly, it ended as football season began. It embraced a variety of tournaments, many of which sounded as if they ought to be on the billiard circuit, namely, the Miami-Biltmore Four-Ball, the Goodall Round Robin, the Westchester 108-Hole Open, the Dapper Dan and the Vancouver Jubilee. It swung through San Antonio, oldest of the winter events (1922), for the Texas Open at Bracken-ridge Park, which was the place where sun-goggled Jug McSpaden once stunned himself by shooting a practice-round 59 at Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Paul Runyan. It was also there that Wild Bill Mehlhorn climbed a live oak beside the 18th green on the last day and loudly heckled Bobby Cruickshank, wishing for a three-putt so Wild Bill himself could win. Cruickshank survived, and Mehlhorn had to go on making most of his expenses at the bridge tables.
The tour moved on to New Orleans, where Lloyd Mangrum arrived one year so busted on Mardi Gras eve that he joyfully slept in the city jail. He remembers how the only bad part was going without cigarettes for two days. It hit Pinehurst for the North and South Open. There, busted or not, you had to wear a tux and your wife had to wear a formal gown if you wanted to eat dinner. There was Palm Beach, where Paul Runyan's partner in the Seminole pro-am one winter drove 310 yards on the first hole, hit his approach within 18 inches of the cup but then—just as Runyan began to think the tournament was in the bag—putted 18 feet past the hole! The partner's name was Gene Tunney.
In Florida the pros got their first inkling that they might be some kind of semicelebrities. It was all because of the Miami-Biltmore Four-Ball, a partnership tournament sponsored by a hotel that figured sports-page stories with the word Biltmore in them might give rewarding ideas to tourists. The Miami-Biltmore also may have invented appearance money, for it always paid the Open and PGA champions $1,000 each to show up, as if they had anywhere else to go. The whole field got a bottle of White Horse Scotch and a tin of Lucky Strikes for each birdie. And every day both players and wives were hoisted by autogyros over to Miami Beach for a swim. If at any time the sponsors grew lax at providing entertainment, the players took over. Such as the evening that Walter Hagen came back from a fishing trip and dumped his entire catch, including an alligator, into the clubhouse.
When the tour moved through Greensboro there were no fish, but there was a weird species called "Sammy's Lambies," a name the pros gave the girls who traipsed after Snead. Arnie's Army was not golf's first militant unit. Georgia was quail-and-wild-turkey country, and part of the deal at the Thomasville Open was playing your round quickly so you could get out and hunt, slowly, no limit, to stock up as much free food as possible.