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Palm Springs calls itself the Golf Capital of the World, and part of that claim, at least now, is based on its being the home of the Bob Hope Desert Classic, an unusual event on the pro tour and the one that marked the end of my three-week association with big-time golf. Here I played on a team with two other amateurs, joined each day by a different professional. The four pros who played with us were Larry Mancour, from Lake Tahoe; Bill Martindale, a tall gum-popping Texan; Bruce Crampton, an easy-going Australian; and Joe Taylor, an older pro who saw my cramped stiffish swing and kept telling me to forget about everything and really "belt" the ball. "Big tall guy like you," he said, "you really ought to poke it out there."
In the Desert Classic the pro-am partnerships play through four days of the five-day tournament, each team moving in succession to four major courses in the area—Bermuda Dunes, Eldorado (where Eisenhower has his bungalow off one of the fairways), La Quinta and Indian Wells.
I never quite got adapted to Palm Springs. It is a community set down in a forbidding corner of the desert under the flank of a bleak mountain range with humped hills as desolate as slag heaps. A city ordinance forbids the building of homes over a certain height (presumably to insure that the inhabitants get an unimpeded view of their raw surroundings), so that, seeing the identical low buildings with flat roofs and stucco walls, one has the sense of being in a vast adobe housing development.
"Wait for the sunsets," I was told. "You've heard about our great desert sunsets."
I had heard about them, but they seemed to hold off while I was there. Night fell quickly but not mercifully. It was then that the bonanza of artificiality and gimmickery became most evident. To ease the gloom of the landscape, water pipes have been run partway up rock piles to create artificial waterfalls and streams. In the daytime the water tumbling down those barren slopes looks oddly unnatural, like a freshet gushing out of a window of the Chrysler Building. At night colored searchlights are brought into play, turning the waterfalls orange. Many of the palms of the area have tiny spotlights set about them; the trees glow blue and red, and one often feels surrounded by the garish props of an opera set. "It's all so fake," a golf writer said, staring up moodily from his drink on the terrace of one of the country clubs. Bells were ringing from a carillon tower, echoing against the bleak hills washed by searchlights. "The whole place seems to have been doused with Jade East."
On the golf courses the same quality of artificiality seemed to prevail. One was always conscious on the lovely links used for the Crosby of the natural surroundings—even with big crowds in attendance—emphasized by the deep forests, the deer moving through the green shadows like phantoms, and the sea shifting against the rocks and beaches of the ocean holes.
At Palm Springs the atmosphere was urban and carnival. On the third hole of my first day of play I looked up from my drive and saw two figures dressed in bear costumes ride out on the course in a golf cart.
"Those are the Hamm's Beer bears," I was told. "The company's involved in the tournament promotion."
Quite a few of them were around the course, the implacable cardboard bear heads staring at one from the crowd.