The face of Toledo, Jamie Farr, is celebrating two big anniversaries in the same week. The 25th anniversary of the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic kicks off June 29, and his 75th birthday is July 1. Blade sports writer Maureen Fulton spoke with Farr as he prepared to come to Toledo after spending several months in Kansas City performing in the dinner theater attraction Don't Dress for Dinner.
Q: What's more exciting, 25 years of the Farr Classic or your 75th birthday?
A: They're exciting packaged together. The fact that you could have a tournament for 25 years, and this being the 25th year, with the recession and everything going on. A lot of these tournaments have been canceled as you've probably read. The 25th anniversary is quite an accomplishment. And when you're a little boy you never think about how old you're going to be. Thus far I seem to be doing well. My mom lived to be 93. I hope I have her genes.
Q: Do you feel 75 years young?
A: Other than a few of the ailments that you get, body parts that don't work as well as they used to work, I'm having a good time. Doing eight shows a week is an accomplishment when you're young, so that's quite difficult for me. I seem to have the energy. I enjoy the show especially, it's at the New Theatre in Overland Park, Kansas. It's been awarded the best dinner theatre in North America six times. We're sold out. It's a good deal.
Q: When you agreed to have your name put on the tourney in 1984, what kind of commitment were you thinking it would be?
A: The thing is, I had just really taken the game of golf up when my series was coming to an end. I was invited to the Dinah Shore tournament. I didn't know that much about golf, I had just purchased my first set of clubs. I had no idea how difficult the game was. Stupidity was all in my favor. I agreed to play, and the first person I played with was Nancy Lopez, a great Hall of Famer. I got so nervous. I had no idea. That would be like an actor getting his first role and walking on stage with Laurence Olivier.
I wanted to do something for charity. My parents weren't very wealthy, and growing up I would go to the Friendly Center in Toledo, and the Boys' Club, and was a member of the Boy Scouts. And so I had great memories of a lot of the things in Toledo. I thought, what a great way to give back to the community. Judd [Silverman] had the vision of this tournament because there was an opening on the LPGA tour. He went to Don Michael knowing Don was my childhood friend. He said getting a sponsor and a name connected would benefit Toledo. That sounded good to me.
We started out with a tiny show at the Sheraton Westgate with card tables around the swimming pool where people came to sign up. We told Tom Dreesen, the comedian, and Frankie Avalon we didn't have any money, and they said, we'll put the show on for you for nothing. They flew to Toledo and put on a great show. The next year we did the same thing, and now it's at the SeaGate.
Q: There aren't any other celebrities with their names on tournaments anymore. Are you proud you have kept up the commitment?
A: There was an era when tournaments were named after celebrities and had an actual person that was there. They just don't have that anymore. It's more corporate now. Listen, anything that you accomplish in life is nice. When you have a real person's name on it it has that community flavor to it. Once you put a corporation on it, it doesn't have that. Tommy Dreesen and Scott Record, they say that when they come to Toledo it's like coming to their own hometown.
Q: When tournament director Judd Silverman first approached you did he seem like he had the wherewithal to keep this going for 25 years?
A: When you're young, you have dreams and things you want to do. Judd was the same way. He is really enthusiastic. This was a big thing, besides the PGA at Inverness, we never had any major sporting events. This would be one that would be yearly. That was quite a thing to be able to put that together. He probably didn't know what he was getting into. I certainly had no idea of the intricate things when getting involved.
Q: How is life out in California?
A: I'm always on the road. When you don't do a television series and you're still working, you've got to go out on the road. I did Off-Broadway last year and next year am booked in Canada. Even though I live there, I spend about half of my time in California, six months on the road.
Q: Do you have any favorite LPGA golfers?
A: I got to know a lot of them a little more than others. Nancy Lopez, and Beth Daniel, and of course Se Ri Pak. Kris Tschetter. I joke around with her. When Patty Sheehan was on the tour, we had a lot of fun. Jane Geddes. Meg Mallon. You joke around with them. Some of them are more personable than others. One of the nice things is, our tournament is one of the favorite stops. It's a community golf tournament. A lot of these players, they stay with families in the area there. Some of them have come back how many years and the stay with the same families.
Q: The first year, you said you loved having the tournament over July 4. Glad it's back there this year?
A: At the time that was a tough time to fill because you couldn't get on television. July 4 wasn't a great time to have a sporting event. Then the U.S. Women's Open wanted to have it so we had to give that back to them. Now we've suddenly got it back. It's always fun because all of the children, the picnics, and the fireworks in our hometown. We used to go to Fort Meigs for big picnics. It has the slice of Americana.
Q: How is your golf game?
A: It's terrible. I haven't played in some time. Doing eight shows a week, and the weather was just dreadful. But the fans, they're not coming to see me play golf.