More celebrity golf trouble in Vegas: Timberlake out?

When Bob Hope was the host of the Bob Hope Classic, there were times when he had almost nothing to do with the tournament. He was a busy guy, remember, what with movies and television and touring. And there was a board of directors to win the event. But as busy as Hop was, when the tournament needed him, he was there for a luncheon or a photo op or of course the tournament itself. He took the charities, especially Eisenhower Medical Center very seriously.

That apparently hasn’t been the case in Las Vegas, at least if you listen to the people who run the tournament’s charity arm. According to a story in the Las Vegas Review Journal by Steve Carp, that tournament will be severing ties with singer/actor Justin Timberlake after this year’s event. And the reason, it seems, is there is a disconnect between Timberlake and the tournament, Shriner’s Childrens Hospitals.

Quoting from the Review-Journal story . .

“We’re a world-class organization,” (Raoul) Frevel said. “At the time we got involved with golf, we were told by the Tour we needed a big name, and that’s how our relationship with Justin came about.

“Justin’s a wonderful person. But we tried everything we could to get him more involved with our kids and the hospitals. But it seemed that when the TV cameras weren’t on, he disappeared.”

Uh, ouch!

Timberlake is hardly the only celebrity who was little more than a figure head for a tournament, although there has been no comment from Timberlake about the decision by the Shriner’s Childrens Hospitals to end their relationship. And Timberlake is hardly the first celebrity to host a golf tournament where the hope was he would bring bigger celebrities and better PGA Tour players to the event. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby could do that, but few others have succeeded. You may recall the two years George Lopez hosted the Bob Hope Classic, where there was little movement in the celebrity field and almost a step backward in the professional field. When Lopez left or was pushed out the back door at the Hope, there was talk that Timberlake would make a good replacement.

Timberlake, for at least this week, is the last celebrity to have his name on a PGA Tour event. The Vegas event is a tough sell for players, as it is part of the Fall Series and comes right after a tough run of tournaments from the PGA Championship and a WGC event in August to the FedEx Cup playoffs through the Ryder Cup. The chance of a Tiger Woods, a Luke Donald of a Phil Mickelson playing this week are pretty slim.

So it’s Bye, Bye, Bye to Justin in Las Vegas, unless something changes pretty quickly. And that might just be the last hurrah for celebrity hosts (other than Bill Clinton) on the PGA Tour.

Andy Williams one of the first celebs to put his name on a PGA Tour event

Bing Crosby lent his name to a PGA Tour event before World War II, a little tournament down in Rancho Santa Fe. After World War II, the tournament moved to Pebble Beach and became famous as the Crosby Clambake.

In 1965, Bob Hope officially put his name on the tour event in the Coachella Valley. Three years later, it was the San Diego stop that had a celebrity on the title of the event. The San Diego Open became the Andy Williams San Diego Open.

Williams, the long-time La Quinta resident who died Thursday night at his other home in Branson, Missouri, was never as identified with the game as Crosby or Hope. Still, he had a 20-year run as the host of the San Dieo tournament, bringing attention to the tour stop there and having friendships with pros. He also was a fixture in other tour pro-ams, like the Hope event. Williams told me a few years ago that there was never an agreement that, hey, I’ll play in your tournament if you play in mine among celebrities. But what celebrity, given the chance, wouldn’t want to play in a pro-am in San Diego or La Quinta?

In many ways, Williams was the example of how the celebrity host on the PGA Tour was born, grew strong and eventually drifted away. After Williams joined the San Diego tournament, people like Danny Thomas, Glen Campbell, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis. Jr. and others put there names on events. But slowly the tour and tournaments began to understand that corporations could bring them more money than celebrities, and that celebrity fame could only offer a tournament so much. In his 20 years with the San Diego event, Williams was forced to share the marquee with a furniture store, a car manufacturer and eventually a financial company. After the 1988 event, Williams name was off the tournament.

When talking to me for a book I was writing about the Bob Hope golf tournament, Williams did express frustration that he was kind of kicked to the crub by the San Diego event after 20 years of working hard to promote the tournament and putting on gala shows during the week of the event. It was a feeling many celebrities had as their names were replaced by corporations at tournaments.

But Williams remained an active member at La Quinta Country Club and he continued his highly successful singing career. He was one of the first celebrities to truly embrace the possibilities of Branson, building his own theater there, the Moon River Theater. And Williams continued to return to the desert and his beloved La Quinta Country Club.

First came Crosby, then came Hope to PGA Tour events, but Williams was just behind Hope on that list. Hopefully the golf world will remember that today.