For years, maybe since the start, the media room at the golf tournament that bore his name was Jamie Farr’s occasional refuge from the masses.
It is air-conditioned and off-limits to tourney fans, he could joke around with his friends in the press, hand out a cigar or two, make phone calls, go over his schedule, grab a beverage, check the scoreboard, watch the action on TV for awhile, and generally chill out.
The last couple years were different. It wasn’t happy-go-lucky Jamie who stopped by the media room a few times a day. It was usually a quiet, tired, heat-frazzled, sometimes ailing and aching older gentleman. One look and the denizens of the room, at least the wise ones, could tell the tournament host should not be bothered.
When the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic debuted in 1984 at the old Glengarry Country Club, the Toledo-born-and-raised actor was 50 years old. Last summer, when the LPGA Tour made its regular stop at Highland Meadows Golf Club, Farr was 78.
“That was one tough week for me last year,” Farr said in a series of recent emails. “I was beginning to suffer physically from the activities.”
The tournament itself was doing everything possible not to suffer financially, but times were not easy, and the Farr Classic took a body blow in the midst of the 2012 event when a longtime supporter, Kroger, informed the board of directors it chose not to continue as a presenting sponsor.
The tournament got lucky. It found a new sponsor in Marathon Petroleum and that corporation went all-in as not just a presenting sponsor but as the title sponsor. The company’s investment in the tournament is believed to exceed $1 million a year.
Thus, the Jamie Farr Classic has ceased to exist, at least in name. Enter the Marathon Classic, presented by Owens Corning and O-I.
“Jamie was fully aware we needed to fill a void financially,” said Marathon Classic Executive Director Judd Silverman, the event’s founder. “So with the timing of Marathon stepping up, and considering Jamie’s professional schedule and the things going on in his life, I think he felt like the timing was right to step away knowing the tournament would be in good hands.”
Farr seemed surprised to learn there was a suspicion among some longtime volunteers and fans that he may have been squeezed out. There is, of course, a big difference between a host and a sponsor, although the tournament’s title might have gotten in the way.
“It’s quite simple,” he wrote. “On July 1, I’ll be 79 years old and to be truthful, I am slowing down. My mind is quite a bit younger than my body usually feels. I am a hands-on individual and always enjoyed playing in every event we offered during tournament week. But I discovered recently I just cannot participate without aching for weeks after.
“Also, other pending show business concerns made my hosting the golf tournament in the future doubtful. Tournaments need sponsors, so when Marathon got interested and wanted to be the title sponsor, I figured it was a good time for my departure, to let them have it and make it theirs from the start.”
Jamie’s tournament week schedule included three days of pro-am scramble events (sometimes more than 18 holes a day), a yearly celebrity golf event, awards luncheons, volunteer parties, the tournament’s annual banquet and show, nightly dinner affairs, frequent trips to the TV booth, a stack of interview requests, signing countless autographs, and attending and hosting the actual LPGA tournament for four days.
See why he slipped away to the media room so often?
“I tried to tell him that nobody expected him to do all that,” Silverman said. “But he always responded, ‘No, that’s why I’m here.’ Jamie always gave it everything he had.”
By the end, Farr figured he didn’t have much more to give to a hometown event that proved over nearly three decades that despite celebrity he never forgot his roots.
Farr, already an accomplished actor, became famous through his portrayal of Cpl. Max Klinger on the long-running and beloved TV show, M*A*S*H. You don’t see him much on TV these days, but he still is very active on the stage and has become immensely popular in Canada, where his work has received rave reviews. Plus, there are a couple Broadway stage possibilities simmering on a back burner.
Farr, who lives in Bell Canyon, northwest of Los Angeles, will not be at the first Marathon Classic on July 15-21. He said he would miss “those great ladies of the LPGA,” but will watch on TV.
“I am not a great one for good-byes,” Farr, who celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary with wife Joy in February, wrote. “I experienced that when our TV series went out of production and that was a sad time. The losses of several of our cast members over the years took a toll on me. More recently, I lost my only sister and that was a really rough good-bye for me.
“So just say ‘so long’ to me for the time being and say hello and welcome Marathon. I hope it is a roaring success. I will continue being proud of the cities of Toledo and Sylvania and all the fans for the good they do through the tournament for all the worthy charities in the area.”
Farr’s name will remain associated with the tourney through its scholarship program, which has provided 70 local students with $689,500 in college grants, Silverman said. The tournament’s board has permanently named it the Jamie Farr Scholarship Fund.
“We will always be grateful for everything Jamie did for so many years,” Silverman said. “Through the scholarship fund, his name will live on for as long as the tournament exists.”
And Silverman hinted we may not have seen Farr for the last time at the tournament he helped start and grow.
“It will be our 30th anniversary in 2015,” Silverman said. “You never know.”
Maybe we will get to say good-bye after all.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.