Q and A: The hope, and challenge, that Bob Hope’s legacy continues in the PGA’s Humana Challenge

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Bob Hope, second from left, is flanked by former presidents Gerald Ford, left, and George H.W. Bush, far right, as well as standing president Bill Clinton, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and PGA Tour golfer Scott Hoch during the 1995 Bob Hope Desert Classic.

Linda Hope has a vested interest in the success of the PGA Tour’s Humana Challenge, far beyond what takes place this weekend at La Quinta Country Club.

Her father, Bob Hope, invested more than just his name to the event the previous 44 years, before the title changes were the first noticeable alteration for the event.

Since the legendary entertainer’s passing at age 100 in 2003, the golf tournament has struggled to keep its identity in the desert. Former President Bill Clinton’s involvement with his foundation have kept it from disappearing all together.

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It’s the hope now of Linda Hope that her father’s legacy will continue to be an underlying thread to connect the past to the future. Still a TV producer living in Toluca Lake, she discussed how she saw that happening while she was at the tournament, including the unveiling of the new winner’s trophy today in her father’s honor.

Q: Does it feel to you as if the transition from what was known as the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic to the Humana Challenge is moving along the right way?

A: Very much so. Dad would be excited to see all this. He was a real showman and first one to realize it was getting not as exciting as had been in early days. And this really brings back a new energy to the game, and the tournament and to the desert charities.

Q: Could you dad see the day coming when the event would eventually change, even while he was involved?

A: He’d always talked about the fact that Chrysler was a longtime sponsor, one of Dad’s sponsors, and he was concerned, and voiced it, on what would happen when Chrysler and he was no longer with the event. Chrysler had the ongoing commitment, but then the way the market reacted and circumstances made it impossible to have that level of corporate sponsorship. Dad would be the first to recognize it and also be thrilled that Humana stepped in with an eight-year commitment.

Q: He would have OK with, for example, having it condensed from five rounds to four?

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A: I think he would have. It makes more economic sense, and I think he’d still feel it was a good challenge for the player. That had been a problem, not being able to get a lot of the top players who told him it was just too big of a commitment to make. And truthfully, the desert elements sometimes worked against the tournament, with the winds and sometimes the rain. It’s a beautiful setting, but when there were arduous conditions, it made it even tougher.
You know, my dad’s career was based on change, recording it and reacting to it, with his topical sense of humor. I don’t think he’d be adverse to say this was a good move.

Q: The emphasis of the Humana Challenge is all about getting more exercise. How did that fit into your dad’s work schedule?

A: It was an integral part. Every single night of his life, he’d take a walk after dinner before going to bed, at least a mile at a brisk pace. I know, because sometimes I’d be with him. He’d get his golf club, which he always walked with – maybe for protection but he was secure with it – and frankly, he’d go for walks around the downtown areas of some of the cities that may have been a little scary. But somehow he had an angel on his shoulder and never had any problems with that. I think of stars today with their huge entourages and security. Dad never had that. People stopped him all the time to talk to him.
He was also a big believer in massages – he’d have one almost every day for the last 40 years or so, and that was really important for circulating and his well-being.

Q: He was good with his diet as well?

A: Pretty good. Mother made a point to have balanced meals and green vegetables and fish and starch foods. But that was when he was home. When he was away, I’m sure with hotel food and banquet dinners, it wasn’t as good. But he was always conscious of his weight, and my mother would always warn him about putting on extra pounds. Although he loved his lemon meringue pies.

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Q: In 1995, Bill Clinton played in the Bob Hope event as a sitting president. How gratifying would have been to your dad to have President Clinton involved in keeping it moving?

A: He’s been absolutely wonderful. He and dad had a special relationship and Dad adored him. It turned out they were friends for many years. Dad first met him at the University of Arkansas when he was doing a show and the President, who was then governor, came up afterwards and met Dad, and he felt he had such an amazing amount of charisma and would go very far, which proved to be true. Many years later, when he was president, there was a knock at the door when my parents were staying at the Waldorf Towers in New York. Mother was in her bathrobe and getting ready to have supper and she opens the door, and there’s President Clinton, no body guards to be seen, and she invited him in and they had a wonderful visit. He was charming and captivating.

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He has taken that affection for my dad and insisted that dad be a part of this event. They’ve named the pro-am after Dad, and created a very stunning trophy in his name for the winner.

Q: So physically you can see the changes, but emotionally does it feel the same?

A: It really does. One of the things I found interesting, we were just out the other morning at a place called The Living Desert, a habitat for animals and desert plants and all that. The man guiding the tour said to me, ‘They can call it the Humana Challenge, or anything they’d like, but to all of us, it’ll always be the Bob Hope Desert Classic.’ And I’ve heard that so many times. They’ll say that on the local TV coverage, too. It’s still in people’s minds, just like the Dinah Shore LPGA event even though it has changed sponsors years ago. It’s interesting how that happens. I think it’s wonderful and a lovely thing that people still care about what Dad was trying to do and had so much fun with it. So many good times and memories that are imprinted on everyone.

Q: What was the most important element of the tournament to keep going – the pro-am? The charities tied to it?

A: They’ve certainly stuck with the same desert charities that have been recipients of the purse – particularly the Eisenhower Medical Center, which was a real favorite of my Dad’s. He gave the property for its construction and wanted it named in honor of his friend. The funding is very important to it continuing as a hospital. The pro-am is also so vital to the fun part of the event and that was dad’s favorite part, to call upon his friends who loved golf and tried to get them to come and be part of the tournament. Now, President Clinton is able to bring in a lot of those people to be part of this.

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Q: Maybe there’s a time when President Obama, who seems to be quite an avid golfer, gets an invite?

A: You can be sure Dad would have been on the phone working to get him out here. He enjoyed his playing days with all the presidents and I think also allowed them the opportunity to get a break from all the things they have to deal with, all the pressures. With President Obama, you never know. We’ll see if he’s elected again and make he can make time for it.

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