By Robert Z. Chew
Old school versus new school: Who are Hollywood's best players?Hope and Crosby are gone, but a new generation of movie and television actor/golfers has emerged. Although it is difficult (and very subjective) to compare the great Hollywood players of yesteryear with today's stars, a fantasy "Best of" list might look something like this one, a combination of the great golfers of Hollywood's golden era (1920-'65) with those of modern times (1965-present).
The Top 25
1 Jack Wagner: The Tiger Woods of Hollywood. A true scratch and regular sub-par player with multiple championships under his belt, the soap-opera superstar has won more than $350,000 on the Celebrity Players Tour and is currently ranked seventeenth with a stroke average of 74.5.
2 Bob Wilkie: You probably don't know the name, but this golden-era film and television-western bad guy cleaned up on the course in the '40s, '50s and '60s. The "man in black" was clearly the guy to beat, but few could manage it.
3 Bob Sterling: Sterling was Bel-Air Country Club champ and big '50s television (Topper) and movie (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) star. Sterling was often pitted against Wilkie, battling it out for the top position as Hollywood's best golfer.
4 Bing Crosby: Along with Bob Hope, der Bingle was a Hollywood golf legend. He was a legitimate two-handicapper, four-time Lakeside club champion, and in the 1940s qualified for the L.A. Open. Crosby founded his own celebrity clambake/golf tournament, now the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. His son won the U.S. Amateur. Crosby played the game until the day he died, literally. He passed away in 1977 on a golf course in Spain.
5 Richard Arlen: In the 1920s, Arlen was a Paramount messenger boy. He became a leading man and starred along with Buddy Rogers in the World War I epic Wings, the first movie to win a best-picture Oscar. This golden-era star regularly beat Crosby and Hope at Lakeside Golf Club. He also played a lot of golf with funnymen W. C. Fields and Oliver Hardy.
6 James Garner: Garner is one of Hollywood's great golf ambassadors. A serious single-digit stick in his day, The Rockford Files star can still play, provided old injuries from Rockford stunts don't flare up. In the 1960s and '70s, Garner broke seventy on numerous occasions and competed regularly for top celebrity player, along with Wilkie and Sterling, in tournaments. He maintained a handicap in the three-to-five range for a quarter century.
7 Dennis O'Keefe: O'Keefe made it to MGM leading-man status after his acting impressed superstar Clark Cable, another actor/golfer. In the '50s, O'Keefe had his own TV show. He played well enough to qualify for the L.A. Open and frequently challenged Wilkie, Sterling and Crosby at celebrity tournaments.
8 Howard Hughes: In the 1920s, the young Hughes had a Spanish-style mansion overlooking the eighth green at Wilshire Country Club in L.A. He played and practiced with the best. Even squired Kate Hepburn around the links. Shot consistently in the seventies, but when pro Willie Hunter told him he wasn't good enough to win the U.S. Amateur, he stopped playing. What would be the point?
9 Tom Dreesen: Another Lakeside Golf Club great and considered the top comedian on the Celebrity Players Tour, with winnings totaling more than $85,000. Of course, he's the only comedian on tour. A five-handicap, Dreesen is no joke on the course. Acts occassionally.
10 Randolph Scott: A young engineer, Scott was playing golf with Howard Hughes one day. The eccentric millionaire took a liking to him and gave him a few bit parts in his movies. By the '30s, Scott was a romantic lead. By the '50s, he was a Western-movie legend. By the '60s, oil-well investments made him one of the wealthiest men in Hollywood. He was a fixture at three L.A. clubs.
11 Randy Quaid: He says he's quit the game, but there's no denying he's a player. He and his big swing starred in the golf-movie classic Dead Solid Perfect. Quaid can get his seven handicap down to three or four if he's not working, but that's rare. He's a member at prestigious clubs in both L.A. and New York.
12 Bob Hope: Thanks for the golf memories, and there are volumes. Never without a golf club in his hand, Hope was good enough to qualify for the British Amateur in 1951 and at one time carried a four handicap. Hope joined Crosby at studio-close Lakeside in the 1930s. Hope was never as good as his friend, but the two were always an entertaining twosome on the course, in tournaments and in their movies. Humphrey Bogart once teed a ball up on Hope's famous nose and hit it. Hope joked that he was never able to breathe properly again.
13 Chris O'Donnell: Splits his golf between Bel-Air and Chicago's Shoreacres. A solid four handicap, O'Donnell (Scent of a Woman) played a lot growing up in Chicago's North Shore suburbs. He's won several prestigious club events and can play with the big boys.
14 Mac Davis: The legendary singer-songwriter-actor has been a single-digit handicap for decades. A seven now, Davis came close to winning a club championship in 1990 but fell victim to Jack Wagner.
15 Dennis Quaid: The younger of the Quaid brothers, the athletic Dennis was a struggling fourteen-handicapper until he got hooked on golf. Now Hollywood's most improved player. With a single-digit handicap, as low as three by some reports, he is considered one of Hollywood's strongest sticks.
16 Dean Martin: Dino loved golf more than he did entertaining. Arriving in Hollywood in 1948, Martin enjoyed the camaraderie of the era's best amateurs. He often scored in the high seventies at his two favorite clubs, Bel-Air and Riviera, once shooting seventy-two at Bel-Air. Later, Martin played every day at Riviera at noon, even on Fridays, the day he taped his show. He drove straight from the course to NBC's Burbank studios. No rehearsals needed.
17 Sean Connery: A member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, Connery maintained a single-digit handicap for decades and now plays to a ten. He's won several club tournaments and a few celebrity pro-ams, including the 1996 Lexus Challenge in Palm Springs. Connery said he received more pleasure from winning the 1987 and 1991 St. Andrews Queen Victoria Jubilee golf tournaments than he did winning his Oscar for The Untouchables.
18 Thomas Gibson: The Dharma & Greg star is a seven-handicap and plays as often as he can at Bel-Air Country Club. He's been known to shoot low, and can break seventy, but he is usually in the high seventies or low eighties.
19 David James Elliott: The Canadian-born JAG star Elliott carries a six handicap and is an all-around athlete and creative guy: a runner, kickboxer and musician.
20 Kevin Sorbo: All that pumping up for his most famous role, Hercules, helps him pound out drives of more than three hundred yards. A seven-handicap, he plays most of his golf in Las Vegas.