There, on the California desert, Consciousness II and perhaps some leftovers from Consciousness 1½ celebrated the ultimate trivial happening. They came in all shapes and sizes—sausage makers, millers, weavers, builders, bankers, broadcasters, admen—408 of them in all, flying in to Palm Springs on 747s and executive jets from Alabama and Wisconsin and New York to play golf in the Bob Hope Desert Classic. One thing they all had in common: they could afford to spend a couple of Gs for a week of golf. And that's about the minimum it costs to get into the Hope, which is becoming a hotter invitation than one to a prayer breakfast at the White House.
In its last two convocations the Hope has earned a special White House flavor of its own, which might be called the Agnew syndrome. It was just a year ago that Hope himself introduced his new chum, the Vice-President, to the world of big-time sport and accidentally uncovered a novel political weapon—the uncontrollable slice. Playing in his first Desert Classic, Agnew lashed one of these off the skull of pro Doug Sanders, his playing partner, thereby achieving a whole new image for himself. He was a hapless athlete but he was a good sport about it, and the Classic would never again be the same without him. So last week, as a special favor to Hope, he was back.
Nor did the Vice-President disappoint the thousands who turned up at the Bermuda Dunes Country Club on Saturday morning for his encore. Moms and Dads from the desert trailer camps watched with dogs and cameras as the Vice-President strode to the 1st tee, splendidly attired in his yellow Izod shirt, olive slacks and white shoes. The undaunted Sanders, again the Vice-President's pro partner, drove first. Then it was the turn of the three amateurs (the formula in the Hope is one pro and three amateurs in each foursome). Willie Mays—yes, the Willie Mays—hooked badly into the gallery, hit a mulligan down the middle and allowed, "It was the most nervous moment of my life." Bob Hope was next and after a few gags looped a lazy one down the fairway.
Now Agnew. His first swing of the tournament caught the ball on the toe of his driver and sent it into the gallery to the right of the tee, where it ricocheted off the arms of a man and his wife. Agnew cringed. He walked over to the crowd, under the careful surveillance of a few dozen Secret Service men, apologized, kissed the lady, retrieved the ball and tried again. And did it again. On his second swing the ball took much the same route, although this time it struck the ankle of a lady who had to be carted off to the Valley Memorial Hospital for X rays and repairs. Fortunately, this hospital has benefited from some of the $1,692,108.52 raised during the first 11 years of the Desert Classic. With the addition of Agnew's act, the tournament should soon double that amount.
Once under way (he finally decided to start from the 2nd tee), the Vice-President demonstrated a golf game that is not all that bad. He addresses the ball properly and the backswing obeys most of the fundamentals. Coming into the ball, he is a bit rigid and formal, bearing down too hard, with erratic results. The analogy to his rhetoric is too obvious to avoid.
The presence of Agnew at the Desert Classic tended to overshadow the basics of the tournament, much as Air Force Two, which delivered him to Palm Springs, dominated the smaller planes at the airport that brought the less celebrated amateurs. The first whisperings of his imminent arrival crept across the various golf courses late Tuesday, the day before the tournament was to begin. Stragglers driving down from Los Angeles and still trembling from the earthquake had heard that the Vice-President would be out from Washington the next morning to survey the damage. That meant he could reach the desert some 48 hours ahead of schedule. "He'll be at Mollie's on Wednesday night," people whispered.
Mollie's was the cocktail party at La Quinta that Mollie Cullum was throwing in honor of Edgar Eisenhower, Ike's older brother, who is 82 now and still shoots his age on the desert courses when he isn't practicing law in Tacoma. When Mollie throws a party you can be sure that everyone comes. By nightfall all the corporation presidents and board chairmen from near and far were sipping cocktails and munching hors d'oeuvres on the lawn in front of Mollie's condominium—Ed Crowley of Sheraton Hotels, Dick Gelb of Bristol-Myers, Del Webb of Del E. Webb Corp., Carl Loeb of Loeb, Rhoades and on and on. The motif for the evening was red, white and blue. Each arrival was presented with a small American flag and then signed an enormous parchment tribute to the guest of honor that read: "Our Rights and Our Liberties. Edgar Eisenhower, a Real American."
This set just the right mood for the Vice-President, who arrived a bit late inside a cocoon of Secret Service. He stood beneath a eucalyptus tree and greeted those who could wedge their way between his bodyguards, his sad mountain-sheep face looking down benignly on those around him. You would not say he made the party, but he certainly added the romance of power.
A few hundred American executives absent from their desks at one time could leave quite a lot of command decisions unmade by American business in the course of a week. It is a possibility that bothered some of the Hope golfers. "Twenty-five-million-share days," muttered Dick Jones, a partner in the brokerage house of Mitchum, Jones & Templeton. "What am I doing out here cursing at a golf ball?"
Don Durgin, president of NBC-TV, had part of the answer to Jones' question. "As an amateur hacker you get to play four days with four different professionals," explained Durgin. "And of course that quadruples the name-dropping potential. The real thrill, though, is to be close to them and root for them as you play. They're all pretty nice young men, too, and most of them seem to have been to the Arnold Palmer public-relations school. 'O.K., Charlie; O.K., Jim; O.K., Bill,' they say to us amateurs after we hit the ball. Never mind where it went. It makes you feel good.