Golf / Randy Harvey : Arnie Has Permanent Pass to Skins Game

With the recent announcement of a new televised Skins Game for seniors in 1988, there was speculation that Arnold Palmer might not be invited to play in the regular Skins Game next winter at PGA West in La Quinta.

The speculation lasted only until Don Ohlmeyer heard it.

"It comes down to whether Arnold feels he wants to play in both," said Ohlmeyer, who, as chief executive officer of Ohlmeyer Communications, was one of the creators of the format for the Skins Game, which has become a phenomenal success for NBC. It again had better ratings than any other golf telecast last year, including the Masters and the U.S. Open.

Ohlmeyer also produces the event along with Barry Frank, senior vice president of Trans World International. They are allowed to select one of the four players for the show. Rounding out the field are the defending champion and two players selected by a panel of golf experts.

"Arnold will tell us when it's time for him not to participate," Ohlmeyer said last week from his Beverly Hills office. "But as long as he wants to play, he's got my half-vote. If it was totally up to me, Arnold would play even if he was in a wheelchair."

The 57-year-old Palmer, who is playing in the GTE tournament, a PGA Seniors Tour event at Wood Ranch Golf Club in Simi Valley, said last week he wants to play in both Skins Games. He and Jack Nicklaus are the only golfers who have played in all four of the regular Skins Games.

Ohlmeyer, Frank and Arthur Watson, president of NBC Sports, announced two weeks ago that Palmer, Gary Player and Chi Chi Rodriguez are three of the four players who will participate in the initial seniors' Skins Game in '88 on Super Bowl weekend, Jan. 30-31.

"Nicklaus and Trevino and Player and Fuzzy Zoeller and Tom Watson have all contributed to the success of the Skins Game in the first four years," Ohlmeyer said. "But the only reason we were able to get off the ground is because it was a format where Arnold was really competitive.

"He's the most special person ever to play the game. When he gets to be 75, we're going to have a super seniors' Skins Game. When he reaches 100, we'll have a century Skins Game."

Having Palmer in a skins game is such a good idea that Centinela Hospital Medical Center did it last Tuesday at Wood Ranch, where the seniors will conclude their 54-hole tournament today. He won one of the nine holes for $14,000 against Bruce Crampton, Gary Player, Dale Douglass and Chi Chi Rodriguez.

On the same afternoon, Mary Beth Zimmerman won a skins game against Jan Stephenson, JoAnne Carner and Pat Bradley that preceded the LPGA's Turquoise tournament in Phoenix. There also was a skins game before the LPGA tournament earlier this month in Glendale.

"It's a terrific promotion for a golf tournament," Ohlmeyer said. "They had 8,000 people out (at Wood Ranch) Tuesday. They never would have had that without a skins game. It raised a lot of money for charity. I'm all for that."

Ohlmeyer said he doesn't believe the proliferation of skins games will adversely affect the popularity of his televised games.

He, of course, didn't invent skins games. They've been around since Auld Tom Morris was young. But Ohlmeyer does have a television copyright for his format, in which the value of winning a hole increases with each three that are played.

"If all of these were on television, we'd be disturbed," he said. "But after a certain period of time, the wire services will stop carrying the results of these things, and they will be just local promotions, and that's fine. As long as it doesn't impact us and it's good for golf, it's terrific."

Many professionals complained about PGA West's Stadium Course during the Bob Hope Chrysler tournament, but Ohlmeyer said he's looking forward to returning to the course for the regular Skins Game this winter.

"We were ecstatic with PGA West," said Ohlmeyer, whose three-year contract with the club began last year. "I was scared to death about having 10,000 spectators following the players around, but the gallery added to the excitement. I thought it was a hell of a show.

"I don't have much sympathy for the players who didn't like the course. I'm a mediocre golfer. But if you gave me the opportunity to play for $180,000, I don't believe I'd complain about the severity of the sand traps. Some of the players today need to mature a little bit.

"American golfers are too spoiled. That's why you're seeing foreign players beginning to dominate. If you ask some of these players how they did in a tournament, they'll tell you they finished fifth, like it was a big deal.

"If you asked Arnie how he did 20 years ago, even if he finished second, he'd say, 'I lost.' "

Golf Notes Two charity tournaments are scheduled Monday. A few spots remain open for the Child Abuse Prevention tournament at the Brookside Golf Course in Pasadena. There is a $100 entry fee. Proceeds go to the Exchange Club Child Abuse Prevention Center of the Inland Valleys in Alhambra. For further information, contact Jim Allen, (818) 449-0171, or Homer Weller, (818) 799-5306. The La Canada Youth House Community Center and the Crescenta Canada YMCA Outreach Program will be the beneficiaries of the Roger Barkley Charity tournament at the La Canada Flintridge Country Club. The entry fee is $150. For details, contact Paul Smith at (818) 796-6091.

The ninth annual Jack Youngblood celebrity tournament is scheduled May 4 at the Newport Beach Country Club. The entry fee is $200. The tournament benefits the John Tracy Clinic for deaf children in Orange County. The number for the tournament office is (714) 220-2958. . . . The date for the NutraSweet Classic is April 6. It will be held at the El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana. Peter Falk is the honorary chairman of the golf and tennis event. Proceeds will be used for diabetes research. For details, call the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation at (213) 461-5816. . . . PGA tour wives donated $100,000 to a north Florida drug rehabilitation center that will be named for Nancy Reagan. She accepted the check last week at the Tournament Players Championship in Ponte Vedra, Fla.

The Women's Professional Golf tour, not to be confused with the Ladies Professional Golf Assn., has a tournament April 14-16 at the Canyon Crest Country Club in Riverside. Michelob is the sponsor. There is a pro-am April 13, from which a portion of the proceeds will go to the Guadalupe Homes for abused and orphaned children. For details, contact Paul Hjulberg at (714) 682-1164. . . . The Los Angeles City youth championships will be decided April 13 and 14 at the Sepulveda Golf Course. The entry deadline is April 2. The tournament is for golfers 17 and younger. Bob May of La Habra and Debbie Koyama of Monterey Park won the titles last year. For more information, call the Municipal Sports Office at (213) 485-4871.

The VIP tournament is scheduled for Rio Hondo Country Club in Downey April 17. The tournament is designed to promote various golf programs in Southern California, including a clinic for junior golfers and adult beginners. The entry fee is $45. . . . The "Day With the Pros" tournament at Friendly Hills Country Club in Whittier last month raised $20,000 each for the Whittier Boys and Girls clubs, the Child Guidance Center and the Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital Foundation. Most of the proceeds came from an auction, at which a lithograph of Bobby Jones sold for $20,000. . . . April 27 is the date for the Padua Village/Budweiser tournament at Red Hill Country Club. Proceeds from four previous tournaments have enabled Padua Village to build a six-bedroom home for developmentally disabled young adults.

UCLA's women's team has signed LaRaee Sugg, a four-time Golf magazine junior All-American from Petersburg, Va. . . . Joe Kosco, the starter at Penmar Golf Course, has retired after 13 years with the Los Angeles City Parks and Recreation Dept. . . . Ben Hogan will begin appearing again today in commercials for his company, which manufactures golf clubs, apparel and accessories. They were filmed at Riviera. This is his first appearance in commercials in seven years. . . . Wake Forest is No. 1 in the Jones Sports Co. college golf poll for men. UCLA is sixth, Arizona State seventh, Fresno State ninth and USC 12th. In Division II, Cal State Northridge is third and Cal State Dominguez Hills 18th. . . . The Futures Golf tour for aspiring women professionals stops in Oxnard, April 7-9. The tournament will be played at the River Ridge Golf Club. . . . Gary Player is designing the course at the Pacific Golf Club in San Clemente. . . . Georgia Frontiere of the Rams was the first woman and first NFL owner to qualify for the Super Bowl of Golf tournament, held Saturday at Superstition Springs in Mesa, Ariz. She was on a team with Dick Bass, Jack Faulkner, Dr. Stuart Brein and Steve Novak.

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