%tWith the wind flapping at their trouser legs and fatigue from transatlantic flights and late-night partying, coloring their eyes, a golf team dubbed the "fearsome foursome" stepped to the tee. Lee Elder, the internationally known golfer; Bob Hope, the internationally known archive of one-liners; Greg Morris, the actor best-known for "Mission Impossible," and Buddy Clarke representing Anheuser-Busch Inc., the principal sponsor of the tournament, took some practice swings.
Putting and missing the cup, Bob Hope groused, "you make one here and you get decorated." As Morris swiped the earth, someone yelled, "Foul Ball!"
But when it was time formally to tee off, no one missed.
"Way to hit it, baby," an onlooker cheered as Hope fired a no-nonsense shot. As Elder's ball sailed above the oak trees, the spectators cried, "Bring home the trophy, Lee."
With that foursome off yesterday afternoon, the Ninth Annual Lee Elder Celebrity Pro-Am Golf Tournament headed into the final hours of play on its second day. Hours before the Elder-Hope crew hit the rought, rolling fairways of Langston Golf Course in Northeast Washington, almost 50 squads of celebrities, professional golfers and capable sportsmen had already competed the 36-hole event.
Of the celebrity entries, Greg Morris was the most sought-after, former basketball star Bill Russell was the tallest, television actor George Savalas was the chunkiest, though he got competition from Joe Black, the former Brooklyn Dodgers great, and Dick "Night Train" Lane, past superstar of the Detroit Lions. Television star James Pritchett of the soap opera "The Doctors" was the most recognized after he was introduced.
Rounding out the celebrity gallery were singer Freddie Cole, brother of Nat and uncle of Natalie; K. C. Jones, former coach of the Washington Bullets; Dennis James, the television game host; former Redskins Ted Vactor, Roy Jefferson, Larry Brown, and Brig Owens; sportscaster Kyle Rote Sr., PGA pros Calvin Peete and Skeeter Heath; and last year's champion, Ron Cerrudo. Also participating were local name, such as Frank Fitzsimmons, Teamsters Union president, Jack Pohanka, automobile mogul; Paul Berry, newscaster, and Bob Brown, a political consultant who worked in the White House under Nixon and Ford. Substituting for Sammy Davis Jr., who couldn't break his date at Caesar's Palace, was his press agent, Billy Rowe, who allowed, "I play better golf than Sammy."
The tournament, returning to Washington, Elder's adopted hometown, for the first time in eight years, gave a glimpse of the special word of the Pro-Am tour, where the pros moved at a leisurely pace and the celebrities picked up a few tips.
Generally the games, and the accompanying social activities, are cooled-out, laid-back mutual-admiration clubs. Barney Childton, 61, a Dun Eden Fla., construction company president and a sponsor of the PGA tour, as well as the Elder tournament, was gleeful. "Last year I got to play with K. C. Jones, Hank Aaron, Gerald Ford and Jack Pohanka. And now I'm playing with Night Train Lane. Can you imagine the thrill?" As Childton waxed on, Larry Brown, resplendent in a cowboy hat, walked by and shouted, "Hey, he's the chairman of the board."
For some, the Washington night life competed with, and interfered with, the 8 a.m. call to the links. Dennis James, whose son, an international lawyer, lives here, spent a quiet family evening. Ron Cerrudo spent two evenings at the Apple Tree and also hit the Palm, Ruby's and Tiberio. He and his party made their way to the course straight from the night sportin'. On Friday former Redskin Roy Jefferson went home early to psych his son for his first Woodson High School football game. "And he gained 100 yards on the ground, 100 yards in the air and scored three points," said Jefferson. "I don't scream, but if I were from Arkansas, I would say 'wow wee.'"
The one person missing from most of the social activities was Robert Lee Elder, who was busy with tournament details. A native of Dallas, Elder played in the old black tour, the United Golfers Association, until he qualified for the PGA in 1967. Since then he has made sports history by becoming the first black to play in the Masters tournament and has won four major tournaments, as well as the Nigerian Open. This year he played the British Open and finished 12th on the PGA.
The one tournament wrinkle was the lack of spectators. "This town should be ashamed of itself," said Greg Morris, who had taken a 2:45 a.m. flight from Las Vegas and gone straight to the course on Saturday afternoon. Only two dozen spectators and 50 volunteers were watching. "Lee Elder is a black man, he's done wonders with a course that's named for a black hero (John Mercer Langston, a 19th century Congressman from Virginia) and I'm just angry. It's deplorable that Washington residents period can't support this. It's just as important, because we are talking about scholarships, as the Roy Clark tournament, the Jackie Gleason tournament or the Jerry Lewis telethon."
Rose Elder, who with her husband has been managing the course since last August, was plainly annoyed at the lack of support.
"It's the first time in this city that there has ever been this number of celebrities and this number of pros. We had some good crowds, but not what the celebrities deserve," said Elder, who holds top offices in the four Elder enterprises and is the tournament director. She thought a minute and toughened up her tone. "I guess the turnout is disgraceful. When you have a gate that's so low ($6 per ticket), an unemployed teenager could buy a ticket, that's bad. And the local businesses have been more apathetic than the national ones. I'm going to close a bank account where they sell Redskins tickets but wouldn't sell ours."
On the greens, three black men were having a heated, friendly discussion about sportscaster Kyle Rote, who was passing by. "I don't know how he made it in the pros, he's so small," said one. His companion corrected, "Look at Tony Dorsett, he's small." The third added, "But look at what's in front of Dorsett." Said the first, "That's what I'm saying." Suddenly, they gave Calvin Peete, the second black to qualify for the Masters, hovering around 24th on the PGA winnings, their undivided attention. Lloyd Genus, the University of the District of Columbia publicist and tournament announcer, was saying, "In purses Calvin has made over $100,000 this year. His caddy can carry his bag; I'll carry his wallet."
And Peete, one of 19 children of a Florida farmer, a soft-spoken 36-year-old who was selling clothes to migrant workers when he was introduced to golf 13 years ago, made the swing smoothly. "No games are easy, but this is a weekend to relax. It gives me a chance to see the friends Lee has introduced me to. But it's more a vacation."
Though the tournament has another round of celebrity demonstrations this morning, about 300 of the participants and sponsors attended a three-hour banquet that didn't start until 9:30 last night.
When Bob Hope entered the room at the Capital Hilton, Joe Burden's trio struck up "Thanks for the Memories," and the evening maintained that meandering pace. Paul Berry helped with the introductions, telling a few weak jokes, a local hairdresser gave a 30-minute hair-fashion show and Hope told some jokes: "When Greg Morris said he was in my company, that's a lie. He was so deep in the woods, he ran into Amelia Earhart's luggage three times."