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A Swingin' Affair
Franz Lidz
July 13, 1998
The B list teed it up to play tribute to Ol' Blue Eyes at the inaugural Frank Sinatra Celebrity Classic
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July 13, 1998

A Swingin' Affair

The B list teed it up to play tribute to Ol' Blue Eyes at the inaugural Frank Sinatra Celebrity Classic

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The machines that flank the gaming tables at the MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas are an army of greedy, slightly insolent robots, coughing up winners with a consumptive clunk. In the wee hours of the morning, when the action on the slots has begun to slow, a stranger in the night arrives to heat things up. He ambles by the Directors Club, past the Studio Cafe and through the gaggle of saints and sinners, acknowledging them with a curt nod. The stranger wears an exquisitely cut Italian suit, a hat set at a jaunty angle and the thin, weary, seen-it-all expression common to homicide detectives, White House correspondents and the Chairman of the Board. Easing up to a blackjack table, he slides a small Everest of chips across the green baize and narrows his baby blues. The dealer snaps two cards toward him—one up, one down. The one up is the ace of hearts; the one down, the king of spades. "Ring-a-ding ding," sighs the stranger. "Ring-a-ding ding."

Faux Blue Eyes set the tone for the inaugural Frank Sinatra Las Vegas Celebrity Classic, a faux golf tournament played recently by faux notables in the faux entertainment capital of the world. Conceived two years before Sinatra's May 14 death, the celeb-am featured some of the smallest names in the industry: Susan Anton, Jack Carter, David Cassidy, Mike Connors, Norm Crosby, Vic Damone, Mac Davis, Tom Dreesen, Robert Goulet, Hal Linden, Jerry Vale and other luminaries too faded to mention.

For a guy who hated to play golf, Sinatra had almost as many eponymous tournaments as wives. The Frank Sinatra Invitational kicked off 35 years ago in Palm Springs, but fizzed out faster than his two-year marriage to Mia Farrow—the PGA decided that the desert needed only one Tour stop and picked the more wholesome Bob Hope to host it. Since 1988 the town has harbored the Frank Sinatra Desert Classic, a small charity affair at which OF Blue Eyes gave his final performance during tournament week in '95.

The last major triangulation of Sinatra, golf and Vegas was in 1967. Angered at being denied credit at the Sands, Sinatra steered a golf cart into a plate-glass window. A brawl ensued with the casino's manager, who slugged the Voice in the chops, knocking the caps off his two front teeth. Of course, the Vegas of Sinatra's Rat Pack is long gone. The Pack's Xanadu, the Sands, was demolished in '96 to make room for a megaresort. Sin City is now the City of Entertainment, and the skin trade has been supplanted by skins games.

Tuesday, 4 p.m. The MGM Grand. Wayne Newton's skin is a shade of red that doesn't appear on any color chart. His cheeks look as if they've been exposed to the same radioactive isotope that spawned Godzilla. The Midnight Idol is here in all his nuclear glory for a ribbon-cutting at a temporary Sinatra memorabilia exhibit. "I never asked to cohost this tournament," he says ominously. "The Sinatras told me to."

Spread throughout 10 glass display cases in a hotel ballroom, the mementos offer a kaleidoscopic view of Sinatra's life. The grand array is dazzling: photos, albums, magazine covers, 78s, 45s, medallions, busts, buttons, paperbacks, comic books, film posters (including one in French for that Rat Pack classic Les 7 Voleurs de Chicago) and the program from Sinatra's Sept. 8,1935, breakout performance with Major Bowes. There's plenty of sheet music—The Coffee Song, Don't Cry, Joe ("Let Her Go, Let Her Go, Let Her Go")—but not a single toupee, and no golf clubs, trophies or scorecards. "I do have a golf ball with FRANCIS ALBERT SINATRA engraved on it," says archivist Ric Ross. "The fact is, Sinatra wasn't much of a golfer. He tried it on and off for 35 years, but never perfected his game, and anything he didn't do well, he didn't do. He gave it up for good in the early '80s."

Thursday, 8 p.m. Poolside. Desert Inn. Back in the Stone Age of celebrity, a celeb was anyone famous enough to have his 8-by-10 nailed to the wall of the Stage Deli. Today it's anyone whose renown can be summed up in three words, or lasts 15 minutes. Sinatra evolved from bow-tie boy to wounded torch singer to scotch-fueled swinger to dissipated saloon singer. Most of the famous who show up at the pairings party are of the 15-minute variety.

"I performed on The Tonight Show 59 times," says Dreesen, maybe 59 times. "I was Sinatra's opening act for 13 years and a pallbearer at his funeral." And what makes a golf celeb? "A golf celebrity," muses Dreesen, "is someone who has been celebrated."

Dreesen competes in 10 events a year on the Celebrity Players Tour, an athlete-heavy alliance that requires a handicap of 10 or less—which is about 20 strokes fewer than the handicaps of most in the Sinatra's field. "I'm the CPT's leading money winner among stand-up comics," Dreesen boasts. He's also the CPT's only stand-up comic, not counting the unintentionally hilarious Dan Quayle.

"What's my handicap?" Dreesen repeats. "Being half-Irish and half-Italian. There's a constant war going on inside me."

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