There will be tributes, mentions and flashes of the statue that now sits at the entrance of Mission Hills Country Club. But, sadly, few of the players at this week's Kraft Nabisco Championship will know much about Dinah Shore or the impact that she has on women’s golf.
“I bet a good number of the young players don’t even know who she is,” said former LPGA Rookie of the Year Laura Baugh, who counted Shore as a good friend for more than 20 years. “When you look back at where our tour was in 1972, Dinah took us to another level. She was years ahead of her time.”
Long before the LPGA began actively marketing players as celebrities, Shore had them on her variety and talk shows. Sometimes she had them hit balls, but they were often cooking with her in a studio kitchen or singing with her at the piano that was always close by.
A recording artist with a string of hits in the 1940s and '50s, Francis Rose Shore (Fanny to her friends and Dinah to the public) was the female Bing Crosby of her day, a versatile performer who could sing, dance, act and charm an audience with her infectious smile and exaggerated air kisses. Few can name a single song from that period, even though her hit, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which she recorded with Buddy Clark in 1949, is played hundreds of times every Christmas season.
Dinah became a star because of her voice and her magnetic personality, starting at the Grand Ole Opry in her native Tennessee before she headed to New York and then California. But she remained a star for half a century by adapting. When her songs fell out of vogue, she hosted a music variety show sponsored by Chevrolet. Then she entered the talk show arena, holding her own against heavyweights like Merv Griffin and Michael Douglas. Oprah Winfrey owes most of her initial success to the road paved by Dinah Shore.
The players who tee off this week in Rancho Mirage owe a huge debt to her as well. It struck her as wrong that her good friends Crosby and Bob Hope had successful professional golf tournaments for men, but no one had anything for the women. Even though she was a far more serious tennis player than golfer, Shore founded the best tournament of the spring with a purse that was three times higher than anything else on the circuit.
“Colgate did not initially get involved because they suddenly discovered the LPGA,” Baugh said. “They did it because of Dinah.
“She would go out of her way to make us feel welcome in the most genuine ways you can imagine. She would cook spaghetti for everyone and she would get Bob and Dolores Hope involved. They had a big house on the hill (overlooking Mission Hills) and everyone would go over for a parties. Dinah did it all.”
She looked after the players in other ways as well.
“I played with her (in the pro-am) just a couple of years before she died,” Kris Tschetter said. “She was wonderful, as always. But I remember this one especially, because I was young and we had a man in our group who got a little touchier than I felt comfortable with. Dinah saw that and ran interference for me. We were rolling our eyes and laughing about it together, but she was just great.”
That concern for others stayed with her until the end. When her ex-boyfriend Burt Reynolds was going through personal struggles in late 1993, he called Dinah to talk. She listened and consoled him and did her best to buck him up. She never mentioned that she was dying.
Dinah passed away from ovarian cancer in February of 1994, a month before the 23rd playing of the tournament she founded.
“I think it’s absolutely horrible that (the tournament) is not the Dinah Shore anymore,” Baugh said. “Nothing against Kraft Nabisco, they are wonderful people and a great sponsor, but you could certainly call it the Kraft Nabisco Dinah Shore. It’s a disgrace not to have Dinah’s name front and center. She is in our Hall of Fame. Putting her name back on her tournament is the least we could do.”