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James Murray
February 15, 1960
Palm Springs' rollicking golf tournament had a huge field, $150,000 in prizes and Joe Campbell's now-famous hole in one
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February 15, 1960

California's Desert Extravaganza

Palm Springs' rollicking golf tournament had a huge field, $150,000 in prizes and Joe Campbell's now-famous hole in one

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In a bold bid to justify their self-bestowed gaudy title of "Winter Golf Capital of the World," the desert communities of Palm Springs, Calif. last week pooled their resources, drafted the facilities of four of their poshest country clubs, called in the services of the world's most venerable insurance institution and then turned loose on their artificial fairways a horde of 528 golfers of all swings and sizes in a tournament grandly dubbed "the Desert Classic." With $150,000 in prizes posted for the 132 pros in the field, it is the richest event in golf.

The net result of all this extravagant effort was that Palm Springs lost $40,000 (plans for national TV fell through at the last minute)—and an obscure pro from Yuba City, Calif. who did not even qualify for the final round became rich, famous and the leading money winner of the 1960 tour to date.

This strange turn of events, which saw the tournament degenerate into a benefit for Buddy Sullivan, came about, of course, as a result of what will doubtless become one of the famous golf shots of history, rivaling in its own wacky way Bobby Jones's putt in the 1929 Open or Gene Sarazen's double eagle in the 1935 Masters. Joe Campbell's hole in one was, like most holes in one, largely due to an error in his calculations. On the 205-yard fifth at Tamarisk on the third day of play, the Indiana-born pro underclubbed himself. He pulled out a two-iron, frowned and replaced it with a three.

It was not quite enough club but the shot rolled downhill toward the hole and in. The Hoosier's hot shot at once rang the bell at Lloyd's of London, which, for reasons known only to itself, had insured the tourney sponsors against this sort of disaster. The underwriters proved to have underclubbed themselves, too. The $50,000 policy cost Tournament President Milt Hicks and his staff only $4,800, a 9-1 bet that paid off.

If underwriters at Lloyd's London office had taken a closer look at the odds they might not have been so hasty about snapping up the policy at such a ridiculously low fee. The chances against a duffer scoring an ace at one specific par-3 hole (aces are seldom made on the par 4s) range from 8,000 to 10,000 to 1. For the more skillful professionals, however, the actual odds, based on last year's harvest of 29 aces in 46 tournaments, shape up like this:

A given pro at a given hole 2,800 to 1
The pro during a given round 700 to 1
The pro during an entire 72-hole event 175 to 1
The field during a given round (based on an average of 110 pros per round) 13 to 2
The field during a 72-hole event 13 to 8
120 pros at Palm Springs (90 holes) 6 to 5

Campbell's shot also put a gloss on Sullivan's credit rating. Sullivan, who won only $92.68 on the tour last year and was doing even worse this year, might have crept through the annals of golf forever unnoticed if his crony, Joe Campbell, hadn't sent for a deck of cards a couple of nights before the tournament. Over a gin rummy game, Campbell, a considerably better golfer than fortune teller, was incautious enough to suggest to Buddy that they split their interest in the hole-in-one prize. If either made one, both shared. Sullivan, as it happened, never came close. In fact, he had a great deal of difficulty merely negotiating the course in par and struck off a hairy 290 for his four rounds, not even good enough to qualify for the final day. Campbell, after his bonanza, played steadier but indifferent golf and picked up an additional $572 for his 24th-place finish.

But when the man-swarm of press, officials and just plain curiosity-seekers descended by cart, helicopter auto and foot on Campbell after his hole in one, they learned even more of the complicated credit financing of today's golfers. Most of the information was volunteered by Joe's chatty, friendly little wife, Imogene, and as Imogene talked away, Joe began to look less and less lucky and the writers began to call on their fragile remembrance of mathematics.

Like most of the young players of today, the jaunty Campbell has a sponsor. In this case, it is Charles Faust of Knoxville, who encouraged Joe to set out on the pro swing and, in order to take the specter of possible poverty out of his ward's mind, he agreed to bank-roll him to the extent of $200 a week, with Joe to split all his on-course earnings over $10,000 with his sponsor.

Faust deposited $5,000 in a Knoxville bank for this purpose, but neither Joe nor his angel have had to dip into their capital, Campbell managing to stagger from meet to meet out of current earnings. Campbell's $25,000 cut will go into this account. He says that he and Faust will each pay taxes on $12,500. This presumes, of course, that Joe makes over $10,000 on the tour.

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