GOLF : Dinah Survives as the Cookie Crumbles

The Ladies PGA tour will open its 40th-anniversary season this week in Jamaica with what should be a collective sigh of relief from the membership.

Spared, when the ax fell on RJR-Nabisco's golfing horn of plenty, was the Dinah Shore tournament, the crown jewel of the women's tour. Dinah's $500,000 party at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage has been sponsored by Nabisco since 1982.

This year's tournament will be played March 29-April 1.

"We kept our fingers crossed and so far, so good," an LPGA spokeswoman said shortly after it was announced that RJR-Nabisco was planning to end its $50-million sponsorship involvement with the men's PGA Tour, including the season-ending, $2.5-million Nabisco Championship, the richest event in golf.

Rumors of major cuts in the sports budget of RJR-Nabisco had been circulating since the $26-billion leveraged buyout of the company a year ago by Kolhberg Kravis Roberts & Co. Nervously awaiting the almost certain cut were the men's, women's and senior golf tours on the Nabisco Brands side, and motor racing on the RJR Tobacco side.

Only men's golf--so far, at least--was affected. And not until 1991. Everything remains the same for this season.

Next year, however, only one vestige of RJR-Nabisco's 10-year involvement will remain, the Vantage electronic scoreboards. Curiously, the scoreboards were the company's first venture into golf, in 1981.

Also spared was the $4-million Senior PGA Tour program, but it will have another name--its third change in less than two years.

Originally called the Vantage when the company became a major sponsor in 1987, it was changed to Premier in 1988 to publicize a smokeless cigarette. When Premier was pulled off the market last March, however, the sponsorship name was changed to RJR.

This season it's back to Vantage.

The long awaited appearance of Jack Nicklaus in the world of the seniors is almost here.

The Golden Bear turns 50 Saturday and will play next weekend in the Senior Skins Game at Hawaii's Mauna Lani Resort with fellow rookie Lee Trevino and veterans Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.

Three of the four--Nicklaus, Player and Palmer--were involved in the first Skins Game in 1983.

There has been much speculation about how serious Nicklaus might be about playing with the graybeards instead of the fuzzy-cheeked youngsters. There are two viewpoints, and Nicklaus, who has long prided himself on being goal-oriented, has contributed to them both.

"I'm not goal-oriented (going into the seniors) now," he told Golf Digest. "That's my problem. Senior golf doesn't give me any goal."

But in Golf World, he claims that he does have a goal--to win a tournament on both the regular and the senior tours in the same year.

"This is the first goal I have set for myself in 10 years," he said.

Bet on the second statement.

Nicklaus will play his first full tournament as a senior March 29-April 1 in the Tradition at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Ariz.--the week before the Masters. For years, Nicklaus has made a habit of taking at least a week off before the Masters to prepare himself for Augusta.

Do you think he's serious about the senior tour now?

Of course, there is another factor in the equation. The course at Desert Mountain was designed and built by Nicklaus.

What better place to launch a new career.

Golf Notes

Sierra La Verne CC, a course built by Dan and Judy Murray, has been sold for an estimated $13.5 million by developer Glenn D. Chanslor to Shuwa Resorts Corp., a Japanese group that also owns Seven Hills GC in Hemet. . . . George Johnson, 88, who shot his age or better 14 times when he was 87, opened the new year with an 85 at Santa Anita, his home club. Johnson has reportedly accomplished the feat 184 times.

The Brookside course is back in top playing condition after having had 14,500 cars parked on its fairways New Year's Day for the Rose Bowl game. . . . The National Kidney Foundation of Southern California will hold its third Glenlivet Scotch Scramble Jan. 23 at Industry Hills.

John Zoller, former executive director of the Northern California Golf Assn., has been named winner of the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects for his role in the development of the Poppy Hills course at Pebble Beach. Zoller spearheaded the project, which marked the first time that a golf association of volunteers had financed, constructed and operated its own course for the benefit of its 110,000 members as well as the public.

Jack Nicklaus Jr. did not make it through the Ben Hogan Tour qualifying, but three other second-generation players did--Johnny Miller Jr., son of Johnny Miller; Rob Boldt, son of senior tour player Bob Boldt; and Donnie Massengale, son of Don Massengale. The Hogan Tour will start Jan. 29-Feb. 4 with the $100,000 Bakersfield Open. The top five players on the 30-event tour will receive an exemption to play the PGA Tour next year.

The Newport Classic Pro-Am, formerly the Crosby Southern Pro-Am, will be played Jan. 26-27 at Newport Beach CC, formerly Irvine Coast. Proceeds will go to the Hoag Memorial Hospital. . . . When Mario Biscutti of Encino aced the 119-yard ninth hole at Rancho's nine-hole course, it gave him a clean sweep of holes-in-one on all nine holes. . . . Tournament director Bob Heer reports that a few starting times are available in the annual Sire East tournament Jan. 22 at the Jurupa Hills and Indian Hills courses in Riverside for the benefit of the Riverside Community College athletic program.

Members of the Avondale GC, formerly del Safari, are in the process of attempting to purchase the Palm Desert facility for $4.5 million from owner Bill Stevens. The initiation fee for an equity membership is $20,000. . . . The 17th annual St. Francis Hospital pro-celebrity tournament at the Santa Barbara Community course will be Jan. 29 with Santa Barbara golfers Steve Pate and Sam Randolph as host chairmen.

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