The late Bob Hope – Toluca Lake resident and best friend to the American soldier – and businesses have raised more than $52 million for the Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Desert and more than 70 other Coachella Valley charities thanks to a charity golf event started 54 years ago. Hosted by Hope for most of those years, the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic – now the Humana Challenge – has also enjoyed the support and participation of Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Residents of the L.A. area – including myself – would love to see President Barack Obama add his name to that distinguished list. From my perspective, there is no better time for the president to participate than in January 2016, during the last full year of his presidency.
In 1961, publicity was sought for the very first time for this special event and shortly thereafter, presidents, vice presidents, Hollywood stars, chief executives and senior executives, the world’s best golfers, celebrity amateurs and professional athletes from practically every sport – as well as ordinary folks like you and me – have flocked to the low desert to play or watch golf, volunteer and be part of something bigger than themselves. As a bonus, attendees get to see the big horn sheep come down the rugged Santa Rosa Mountains to graze on the fairways and on the fringe of the putting greens. These beautiful animals are by themselves more than worth the price of admission.
A veritable who’s who of Hollywood and Southern California luminaries have made the annual trip from the City of Angels to participate and show their support for this great cause: Craig T. Nelson, Michael Bolton, Bill Morrow, Lucas Black, Alice Cooper, Frank Sinatra, Desi Arnaz, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., James Garner, Clint Eastwood and countless others. Los Angeles Dodgers standouts including Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Maury Wills have played there, too. Arnold Palmer, Johnny Miller, Fred Couples, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and many other top pro golfers have won in years past, with “Arnie” being the only five-time winner.
My father took me to what was then the Bob Hope Desert Classic for the first time in 1970, and my wife and I have served as volunteer marshals on the 16th green at the Palmer course at PGA West for many years. Since Humana, a large health insurance organization, first teamed with the Clinton Foundation in 2011, the tournament’s roster of businesses and top pro golfers has grown even larger. This year, for example, we had multiple opportunities to watch 2014 Hyundai Tournament of Champions victor Zach Johnson, 2012 FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker and winner of the 93rd PGA Championship Keegan Bradley as well as crowd-pleasers such as Davis Love III, Charlie Wi and David Toms. Also there were such rising stars as Ryo Ishikawa, Ricky Fowler and many more of the top 30 on this PGA Tour stop.
In their recent book “The Presidents Club,” Time magazine editors Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy describe how former presidents since Eisenhower are linked forever by their respective Oval Office years yet they are rivals for how history will treat them. It seemed altogether fitting when President George W. Bush suggested Obama should play golf often: “I know what it’s like to be in the bubble. And I know the pressures of the job. And to be able to get outside and play golf with some of your pals is important for the president. It does give you an outlet.” Interestingly, figures show that 15 of the last 18 presidents played golf.
I couldn’t agree more and I invite the president to join us in beautiful Southern California in January 2016. He can escape Foggy Bottom for the coveted locale of Coachella for a few days, contribute to the legacy of Angelenos Bob and Dolores Hope and all they did for American troops around the globe, and shine a light on an event that supports the Eisenhower Medical and Betty Ford centers as well as provide a boost to all the other Coachella charities that benefit from this “Jewel in the Desert.” All of this while enjoying a few rounds of golf!
Ritch K. Eich is the principal at Eich Associated, a marketing and public affairs firm in Thousand Oaks. He just published his second book, “Leadership Requires Extra Innings.”
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