While on PGA suspension in 1961 Tommy Bolt made out well on TV’s All Star Golf!

“Did You Know”
While on PGA suspension in 1961 Tommy Bolt made out well on TV’s All Star Golf!

Tommy Bolt, who won the 1958 US Open, was known for his temper. He had nicknames like “Thunder” and other similar ones, and he earned them.

In early August 1961 Bolt was playing in the PGA Championship in Chicago. When an osteopathic doctor could not be provided to treat his 43-year old aching back, he used profane language in the presence of Olympia Fields CC members. The PGA suspended Bolt indefinitely. He was already on PGA probation for failing to fulfill a commitment to play in a New York charity tournament the day after winning the 1958 US Open.  

All Star Golf-1961 x

All Star Golf, a series of prerecorded golf matches, was in its fifth year. The matches were head-to-head between two PGA professionals with the winner moving on to play another professional. After filming several matches in New York’s Catskill Mountains in early August, the production crew of 52 moved to Pocono Manor Resort, in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.  

Five matches were scheduled for Pocono Manor, Monday through Friday. Summer weekends at those resorts were too valuable to give up. For Monday’s match, Tommy Bolt, who had defeated Frank Stranahan on the last day in the Catskills, was playing Jack Burke, Jr.

The PGA had a rule that the PGA Tour members could not play in tournaments at the same time a PGA Tour event was being played, unless they were being held in the PGA Section where the professional was a member. But, the professionals, like Burke, could participate in All Star Golf because these were exhibitions, not tournaments and All Star Golf was not the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour was in Maryland for the Carlings Open that week, with a top prize of $5,300.

With All Star Golf coming to Pocono Manor, the resort decided to charge the spectators an admission fee of $1, with the money going to the Stroudsburg General Hospital. For the previous four years All Star Golf had been on CBS, but now it would be on NBC and filmed in color for the first time. The producers asked the ladies to dress in colorful attire for the filming.

The filming took all day, beginning at 9 a.m. and finishing at 4:30 in the afternoon. Cameras were transported around the golf course on golf carts and small trucks and had to be reset for each shot. The colorful Jimmy Demaret was the announcer. Pocono Manor was a quirky golf course that presented plenty of challenges to the touring pros. One of its great holes was a downhill 77-yard par 3 that had a creek fronting a green that sloped from back to front. There was only one bunker on the 6,500-yard golf course, that being just a splash of sand near the 18th green.

On Monday Bolt shot a three under par 69 to easily defeat Burke. The match became so uneven many spectators left to follow Sam Snead who was playing a practice round for the next day on another part of the course. On Tuesday it was Bolt versus Snead, which was somewhat closer, but Bolt turned in another 69 to win by four strokes.

At the beginning of the week Art Wall, who represented Pocono Manor on the PGA Tour, was scheduled to play on Wednesday against Tuesday’s winner, but instead on Wednesday it was Cary Middlecoff versus Bolt. The Pocono golf fans were not pleased. They thought that Wall had been moved to a later day due a perceived unfair knowledge of the golf course. With Wall now moved to Friday he would have only one chance to win a match at Pocono Manor.

The Bolt-Middlecoff match was tightly contested. It was only when Middlecoff overshot the par three 18th green and made a bogey, that Bolt prevailed with a 68 against Middlecoff’s 69. Bolt’s next victim was the 1953 PGA champion, Walter Burkemo, who shot a 70 only to lose to Bolt’s 67. On Friday Art Wall got his opportunity, and Bolt’s winning streak came to an end; Wall 69-Bolt 70.

Art Wall had to wait until September for a chance to win a second match, when the production team would resume filming in Las Vegas.  

For the six days Bolt picked up $12,500, $2,000 for each victory, and $1,000 for his loss to Wall, plus bonus money paid for 3 consecutive birdies. Not bad for a golf professional on suspension. Earlier in the month Jerry Barber had taken home somewhat less, $11,000, from winning the PGA Championship.

The matches had drawn about 2,500 spectators each day with the largest turnouts on the days that Snead and Wall played.

The next week, on the eve of the American Golf Classic in Akron, Ohio Bolt appeared before the PGA’s Executive Committee with his lawyer, to appeal his suspension. After a 90 minute hearing, Bolt was given a retroactive one-month suspension dating back to July 30, with no fine. Bolt told the reporters that he thought the decision to be a fair one, and he was heading home to Crystal River, Florida to rest his ailing back.   

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