The Mapes tournament always started on the day after Mother’s Day, so that it was easy to remember and came at a time when most wives were happy with the gifts they had received on the previous day. Since about only two-thirds of the playing field in the Mapes tournament was accompanied by wives, it meant the 300-seat SkyRoom of the hotel could easily accommodate everyone for the nighttime festivities. During the three days of the tourney there were 60 golfers on each of three courses; Hidden Valley, Washoe County golf course and the championship course at Incline Village. The 120 wives/girlfriends were free to go shopping, gamble or see the sights of Reno and the surrounding countryside. However, since the Monday night affair atop the Mapes was always a “stag” event, the accompanying members of the distaff side were bused to out of town locations like Virginia City, north shore Tahoe or south shore Tahoe where they were sumptuously wined and dined and on some occasions treated to a floor show.
The Monday night stag party usually featured a top comic that had been brought in from Hollywood to emcee the raucous event. I recall Dick Shawn and Jim Backus, of “Mr. Magoo” fame, as being two of the best. One year however, no suitable comic was available so Mapes committee member, the late Jud Allen, who was head man at the Chamber of Commerce, suggested we give Renoite Don Manoukian a try. While most of us were skeptical about the idea, Don was signed-up. He proved to be so hilarious that he continued on for all of the subsequent tournaments.
At that first engagement we were honoring S.F. quarterback John Brodie. Manoukian and Brodie hit it off so well that they eventually became a two-man emcee team for sporting events all over the West Coast. In fact, Manoukian is still in high demand locally for emcee work.
The Mapes Invitational was third in line for hotel/casino golf tournaments since they had been started by Newt Crumley when he took over the Holiday hotel (now the Siena) in downtown Reno. His event was called the “Mug Hunt” and it featured major league baseball hall of famers for its celebrity draw.
Harrah’s was next to put on a similar tournament but they held it primarily at south shore Tahoe. For celebs they had a mixed bag of entertainers and former sports greats.
When Mapes called me in to discuss getting into the golf tournament business I noted that I was not a golfer and asked him if he played very often. He replied, “Only once in a while.”
Thus our first job was to find a tournament director and fortunately one surfaced in the person of local insurance magnate, Ben Dasher. Dasher was a regular golfer and with the knowledge he had picked up playing in the Holiday and Harrah’s tournaments, we were able to craft a fairly decent format for our first try.
The three pros at the courses in those days were Eddie Jones at Hidden Valley, Pete Marich at Washoe and George Baer at Incline Village. All were extremely cooperative and added greatly to the success of the Mapes ventures. The three tournaments together proved to be a bonanza for those high rollers that were invited to participate in all of them. As a courtesy Mapes was invited to the their two tournaments and he, in kind, invited the sponsors of the other two to his outing. He confided in me once that while playing as invitee all of the owners would be busy hustling the big spenders to come to their events, so the “pirating” was a mutual affair.
In order to get some star attractions ala the Holiday baseball greats were able to prevail on chamber employee Don Burke, who had been a 49er and was well connected in the NFL Alumni Association. It was through Burke that we got Brodie initially and other top names like Hugh McElhenny, Y.A. Tittle, Tobin Rote and Dandy Don Meredith.
Of all those Meredith was my favorite and for a very good reason. Prior to departing Reno form the tournament where he was the honoree I chanced to ask him what sort of team the Dallas Cowboys would have in the upcoming season and was taken somewhat aback by his response, “I don’t know and I don’t care!”
I reminded him that he was still the starting quarterback for the Cowboys and he replied, “The first thing I’m doing when I get back to Texas is announcing my retirement!”
Unable to resist I said, “The other night you mentioned if you could ever do me a favor to reciprocate for the great time you were having in Reno to let you know.”
“That’s right,” he said, “what do you want?”
I then asked him if he would announce his retirement while he was in Reno.
“Why not?” he commented.
Subsequently we gave the scoff to Nevada State Journal Sports Editor Ty Cobb and then held an afternoon press conference at the hotel and the big news went to every wports page in the world via the two wire services.
Following the news conference I questioned Meredith as to what his future plans might be. He told me that he couldn’t announce it yet but that he would be joining Frank Gifford and Howard Cossell on the Monday Night Football TV show. Eventually that job led him to a successful career in show business.
The last time I spoke with him was shortly after he went home following the Mapes tournament. He phoned to tell me that coach Tom Landry had given him a royal chewing-out about the Reno press conference, but he said it didn’t bother him in the least.
Back to the weekend Sheehan tournament; the most interesting aspect of which is that it has local golf buffs wagering on whether or not it will outdraw, fanwise, this year’s version of the Reno Tahoe Open.
Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.
Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.