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Liguori: Happy To Play Hope

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(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

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By Ann Liguori
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One of the top golf tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule, The Bob Hope Classic, is right around the corner and guess who will be playing in the pro-am tournament for the first time ever? Yes, yours truly!

And what a thrill to participate and report on an event so rich in tradition and golf history in the winter golf Mecca of LaQuinta, California, as the Bob Hope Classic will be played for the 52nd straight year, January 17-23, 2011. The tournament, with its unique five-day format and played on four desert courses, features 128 top PGA Tour professionals and 384 amateurs and a list of celebrities. Most importantly, since its inception in 1960, the Classic has donated nearly $49 million to the Eisenhower Medical Center and other local charities throughout the Coachella Valley.

For someone who has interviewed celebrities throughout my radio and television career, many interviews taped on the golf course while walking and playing with an ‘A List’ of celebrities in sports, business and entertainment, it will be a treat to play in this pro-am, mingle with a variety of personalities and pick up some pointers from some of the top PGA Tour pros in the world.

Monday was media day and it just so happened that I was in the desert and was able to play an unusual sixth straight day of golf and experience the Arnold Palmer Private course at PGA West, which will be one of the four courses played during the Bob Hope Classic, including LaQuinta Country Club, SilverRock Resort and the Nicklaus Private Course at PGA West.

If you are passionate about playing the game, PGA West and LaQuinta and the entire desert area is golf paradise in the winter (the East End of Long Island balances that out in the summer and fall with some of the top courses in the world, although Irish and Scottish golf links are right up there as well). But desert golf is a different kind of golf and I’ve always enjoyed it (I was also fortunate to play the ultra-plush Madison Club as well while I was in the desert. What made it even more special was partnering with Doug Sanders, winner of 23 PGA Tour titles and still the owner of over 354 brightly colored golf shoes that perfectly match his golf shirts. In our match, Doug and I were one down going into the 16th hole where I drained a long putt for birdie to tie up the match and then we beat our opponents with a par on the par 3, 17th hole and ended up winning the match, one up).

Members at PGA West enjoy a plethora of spectacular golf courses and a large community of very friendly golfers to grab a game with. There are a variety of reasons that the La Quinta Resort & Club and PGA WEST have recently been recognized as the “Golf Resort of the Year” for North America by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO), the global trade organization for the golf tourism industry.

On the Palmer Private course and several of the courses at PGA West, the mountains border one side of many of the fairways with greens tucked into corners of the majestic rocks. The size of the mountains sprinkled with palm trees and immaculate fairways, bunkers and greens, take your breath away. It’s difficult to get too absorbed with a poor shot when you’re surrounded with the scenic beauty of each course and the gorgeous weather.

Defending champ Bill Haas talked about the excitement of winning his first PGA Tour title at the 2010 BOB Hope Classic. His Dad, Jay Haas, winner of 9 PGA Tour Titles and 14 Champion Tour titles so far, won the Bob Hope Classic in 1988. Last year, he surprised his son by being there in person to watch his birdie-birdie finish and first PGA Tour victory.  “This was my first win and it couldn’t really have been at a better place; a place where my dad has won,” recalls Bill. “I was 6-years-old when my Dad won and I remember being more concerned with what celebrity he was playing with…He would always tell me about the athletes he played with and the other celebrities that were a lot cooler than he is,” joked Bill Haas. And to make the story even more interesting, Jay’s caddy at the time was Billy Harmon who now teaches Bill. After the press conference on Monday, Billy Harmon and Bill Haas put on a clinic on the driving range.

Bill Haas enjoys being an Ambassador for the Bob Hope Classic. “If somebody asks me, ‘what do you think of the Bob Hope?’ I say ‘Go.’ And that’s before I won. This is a place that I will always play. With Billy (Harmon) living out here and, through my dad and people he’s met, I’ve always stayed with a family out here and it’s always been very comfortable for me. And I would tell people it’s hard to find a place that’s better for golf!”

Bill seems to be following in his father’s footsteps as an excellent Ambassador for golf. Jay Haas is one of the classiest guys on the Tour. Years ago, Jay Haas was the professional on my team in a pro-am I played in on the Blue Monster Course at the Doral Resort & Spa. Jay never forgot my name after that afternoon and when I run into him at a tournament, he is always such a gentleman. He also says he is a big fan of WFAN Radio!

Some of the personalities who will be playing the Bob Hope Classic include Wayne Gretzky, Sugar Ray Leonard, Evan Longoria, Sterling Sharpe, Bruce Smith, Bo Jackson, Alice Cooper, KISS guitarist Tommy Thayer and actors Kurt Russell and Craig T Nelson, to name a few. And the fact that I will have the opportunity to experience the tournament first-hand (in addition to writing about it and reporting on it) is truly an honor.

Fun Facts about the Bob Hope Classic:

-Arnold Palmer won the inaugural Classic in 1960 when he shot 22-under-par 338 to win $12,000. The purse that year was $70,000. The 338 score would stand as the tournament record for 17 years.

-The winner of the 2011 Bob Hope Classic will earn $900,000, which is more than the total of the purses ($705,000) from the first 10 years of the event.

-Phil Mickelson ($2,029,861) is the Classic’s all-time leading money winner.

-Lefthanders won the Classic three years in a row when Phil Mickelson prevailed in 2002 and 2004 and Canadian Mike Weir in 2003. Mickelson is one of six two-time winners of the Classic. Weir (2003) and Mickelson (2004) both went on to win the Masters.

-David Duval shot the greatest round in the history of the Classic, as well as the PGA TOUR, at the Palmer Private in 1999 when he became the first ever to shoot a closing-round 59. He started the day seven strokes off the pace and finished it with an eagle on the final hole.

-During an era of record low scores, it was also an historic time when President Bill Clinton played in the same five some with former presidents George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, tournament host Bob Hope and defending champion Scott Hoch in 1995. It was the first time a sitting president had played in a PGA TOUR event and was also the first time three presidents had ever played together.

-Tom Kite, who set a then Classic record in 1993 when he shot 35 under par, credits Bob Hope with the soaring popularity of golf. “I don’t know whether the popularity of golf would have ever reached the current level were it not for people like Bob Hope, President Eisenhower and Arnold Palmer,” Kite said. “Hope is right up there in terms of creating popularity for golf that will probably never be matched.”

Be sure to visit Ann’s web site at www.annliguori.com to place your Holiday gift orders for a copy of her book, “A Passion for Golf, Celebrity Musings About the Game,’ or a DVD copy of her interviews with legends in sports.

pixy Liguori: Happy To Play Hope
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