Par Tee On!

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For Carter and other Valley pros, who often spend 30 weeks or more of the year on the road, the Open gives them an opportunity to sleep in their own beds. But because of the time of year and the reputation of the event, golfers also get an influx of family and friends who come to visit. The Carter household has "gotten pretty crazy" in years past. But family and friends have learned to give him some peace. He has to work, after all.

"The bottom line, though, is that it's a total blast of a time," he says. "For me, with that crowd, with family and friends around in my hometown, it would be a dream come true to win the thing. Heck, yell more. Bring down the house."

The phone rings as Bob Goldwater is reminiscing in his den.

"Hey, I saw the little bit in the paper about your friend Sandra O'Connor," Goldwater says. "Said she had a hole in one. That must have been something to see."

A few minutes after hanging up, Goldwater still is in a political mood. He says he loves golf mostly because of the camaraderie. But he also loves golf, he says, because "you're regulating yourself. It's based on your honor to play fairly. I like that."

He watches his guest with a playful grin to see if the political metaphor landed.

Okay. Golf is the official sport of Goldwater conservatism. So what about the cheats?

"In my experience, the vast majority of golfers are very honorable people," he says.

Besides impeding business, bureaucrats and their regulations also get in the way of good fun. In its early years, the golf tournament itself was a much more casual, cavalier event. Thunderbird pranks, many instigated by Goldwater, were common on the course. All the golfers came to Goldwater's parties. And most didn't mind playing with a little hangover.

"It was wonderful," Goldwater says. "You'd have Bing Crosby, Phil Harris there. Hoagy Carmichael would sing songs and play the piano. Ken Venturi played the drums. Lionel Heber played trumpet. And all the players were there and they were all just real relaxed and friendly and fun. They were just ordinary people back then.

"The culture was just much different. The only two people who didn't drink were Horton Smith and some other fellow from California. But they've got more to play for now. And you absolutely can't win on today's tour with any shade of a hangover. You take a guy like Ben Hogan. Ben Hogan worked hard. But you take a guy like Tiger Woods. He works even harder. And that just makes everybody else work that much harder."

Most of the tour players in the 1930s and '40s had come to the game through the caddyshacks of America's country clubs. There wasn't enough money in professional golf for anybody who had a college degree. At the time, too, there was no separation between tour and home professionals.

By the 1950s, though, tour professionals were organizing and soon increasingly took control of how tournaments were run. And sometimes, the professionals were a bit at odds with the Thunderbirds and their fun-loving tournament.

"Have you ever heard about the years we put the speaker in the cup in the 18th green?" Goldwater asks, his sly grin turning impish. "We put a loudspeaker in the bottom of the cup and ran the wire under a sand trap over to a wooden platform where Barry and Willie Low were standing. When a golfer was getting ready to putt, he'd start talking into the microphone. So you'd have Jimmy Demaret there ready to putt on 18 and Willie would say, 'Hey, Jimmy, your wife is waiting for you. Hurry up.' And the poor guy would stare at the cup thinking he was going crazy. The crowd had a lot of fun with it.

"Well, we did that for two years before the PGA tour guys stopped us. They finally just said it probably wasn't such a good thing to do."

Over the decades, fewer and fewer of the tour pros would show up at Goldwater's party. At the same time, the Bird's Nest and the tournament continued to expand.

By the 1980s, Goldwater says, he no longer recognized his old tournament or his old party tent. Like the city that hosted the event, what had been a group of hundreds he knew became thousands he didn't know. The small cocktail party had turned into a giant kegger. Goldwater still stops by the modern Bird's Nest. It doesn't make complete sense to him, he says, but he still enjoys the spirit of the place.

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Robert Nelson