An often-repeated connection between Bob Hope and Winnipeg is that it was here, back in his vaudeville days, that he played his first game of golf. Some accounts go so far as to specify the location as the Kildonan Golf Course.
Hope, of course, was an avid golfer, a proponent of the game and host of the long-running Bob Hope Classic golf tournament. In the book My Best Day in Golf: Celebrity Stories of the Game They Love, Hope wrote: "I consider golf my profession and comedy just a way of paying my green fees."
That is an impressive bit of sports trivia so I thought I would look back and see if there was any truth to it.
Hope wrote numerous times about his introduction to the game of golf, and over the course of 40 years the account remained the same:
In early 1930 he was on the northern vaudeville tour with the Orpheum theatre chain, which included Minneapolis, Winnipeg, Calgary, Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver. Among the travelling troupe of entertainers were the Diamond Brothers, who were avid golfers. With their nights busy but nothing to do in the mornings, they went golfing and would bug Hope to join them. Eventually, he did and the rest, as they say, is history. (The exact wording of some of these accounts can be seen below.)
February 1, 1930, Winnipeg Free Press
The dates and general circumstances do hold up. Bob Hope DID come through Winnipeg in early 1930 as part of a travelling Orpheum show.
Despite the theatre's name in the above ad, the "RKO Capitol", (Capitol Theatre), was part of the Orpheum chain. In 1929 RKO, (Radio-Keith-Orpheum), took over the Capitol and after some renovations, located all of its Winnipeg vaudeville shows there starting in September. The Orpheum Theatre then underwent renovations of its own and reopened in late October as the "RKO Winnipeg", a motion picture house. (So in 1953 when Bob Hope asked about playing "at the Orpheum", he was actually taking about Orpheum's RKO Capitol.)
You may have already noticed the main flaw with the golfing story - the month. Winnipeg was an early stop on the tour. They played here during the first week of February, then travelled west.
On Wednesday, February 5th, for example, the noontime temperature was forecast to be minus 13 degrees Celsius, hardly golf weather. Even if it had been plus 23 degrees, it is unlikely, if not impossible, that any Winnipeg golf course could have been open. (Checking the Free Press archives, the Kildonan Golf Course was the first city course to open for the season at 7 a.m. on April 16, 1930.)
February 1, 1930, Winnipeg Tribune
I also scanned the archives for subsequent visits by Hope and the next one appears to be in 1953, which you can read about here.
Where did this story get its start, then ?
Most claims, if they reference a source at all, refer to his generic "autobiography", (Hope wrote and co-wrote numerous memoirs and biographies). The first mention that includes any detail appears to be a 1988 article in Manitoba History magazine about early theatre in Winnipeg. The author credits a biography called "My Love Affair with Golf", (he likely meant the 1985 book Bob Hope's Confessions of a Hooker: My Lifelong Love Affair with Golf):
"My Love Affair With Golf acknowledges that he learned to play golf in Winnipeg while appearing at the Walker Theatre with a juggling act called the Diamond Brothers. While on the David Letterman Show about a year ago, Bob went into great detail about his first contact with golf in Winnipeg."
Unfortunately, I cannot find an online version of the book and the Winnipeg Public Library doesn't have it. There is a Google snippet view version and the term "Winnipeg" only appears once, as a stop on the Orpheum circuit.
"Then in 1930, my real love affair with golf began. I was in vaudeville, playing the Orpheum circuit, the northern route. I was doing afternoon and evening shows in Winnipeg and Calgary up in Canada, in Minneapolis MN, and in Seattle and Tacoma WA…. Then, one day in Seattle, they invited me to come along. I borrowed a set of clubs and started hitting the ball pretty well, to my surprise. I got hooked on Golf that day, and I’ve been addicted to it ever since."
July 4, 1986, Winnipeg Free Press
It's hard to tell without seeing the clip whether Hope actually came out and said "he played his first game of golf in Winnipeg" or if the fact that he mentioned Winnipeg as being on the theatre circuit on which he played his first game of golf led the reporter to jump to conclusions, (as is what appears to have happened with his written versions).
Hope in Winnipeg, 1953
Given the fact that golf was not being played in the city at the time of his visit and the Seattle reference in his own book, I have to say that the claim that Bob Hope played his first game of golf in Winnipeg is not true.
I'd love to be proven wrong, though. If someone knows of another book or has that 1986 Letterman appearance handy, please let me know !
Hope's accounts of his first golf games:In Have Tux Will Travel: Bob Hope's Own Story, (Pete Martin, Bob Hope, Ted Sally - 1954), Hope explains how he caddied in the 1920s as in Cleveland but just couldn't get the hang of the game, (p. 227):
"I didn't touch the game again until I landed in the bigtime in vaudeville and a couple of lads on the bill persuaded me to play. After that, I couldn't leave it alone, and vice versa."In the biography Bob Hope: A Life In Comedy, (William Robert Faith - 2003), the author describes the 1930 tour then quotes Hope, (p. 43):
… they moved up to the Twin Cities for a split week at the St. Paul Orpheum, and then on to the Orpehum in Winnipeg. Up to this point they had been travelling in winter wind and snow but by the time they reached Calgary the weather was springlike. Hope was restless for some physical activity, and he began talking about learning to play golf….
“But during the Spring of 1930 on the Orpheum circuit, I’d be waiting around the hotel lobby in the late morning when the Diamond Brothers, another act, would come down with their golf clubs…. One day I said, “Oh, hell, I’ll go out there with you."As mentioned above, in the 1990 edition of Golf and Sports Turf Hope wrote My Diamond Anniversary in Golf and relates the story his first game of golf as originally told in his book Bob Hope's Confessions of a Hooker: My Lifelong Love Affair with Golf, (Dwayne Netland, Bob Hope - 1985):
"Then in 1930, my real love affair with golf began. I was in vaudeville, playing the Orpheum circuit, the northern route. I was doing afternoon and evening shows in Winnipeg and Calgary up in Canada, in Minneapolis MN, and in Seattle and Tacoma WA…. Then, one day in Seattle, they invited me to come along. I borrowed a set of clubs and started hitting the ball pretty well, to my surprise. I got hooked on Golf that day, and I’ve been addicted to it ever since."Related:
My post about Bob Hope's 1953 return to Winnipeg
Bob Hope Biography American national Biography
Bob Hope official web site
Bob Hope 2003 World Golf Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Video
Stories of later Bob Hope visits to Winnipeg can be found here and here.