The Burial and Resurrection (maybe) of Doug Sanders

For 14 years, Doug Sanders ran Houston's most celebrity-filled golf tournament. Then he was accused of sticking his hand in the till. Now he wants to come back.

But while Sanders declines to accept any of the blame for his tournament's problems, he's more than willing to accept the glamour and the glory. And he refuses to acknowledge his tournament's shortcomings. When asked about the IJG's claim -- false, as it turns out -- that it provided college athletic scholarships, Sanders responds that it was "a printing error."

"Doug had been telling people that he gave out a lot of scholarships," says Kelley, the former tournament director. "Only in recent times had the board of International [Junior] Golf even considered giving away scholarships."

"I just made a blanket statement one day about helping maybe a hundred kids go to school," says Sanders. "It should have been 'assistance' or 'made available' or 'gave 'em exposure.' It's a wrong term -- I'll go with that." The IJG does provide money for an academic-loan fund set up with the State of Georgia, and a memo from the Georgia Student Finance Commission states: "We are forwarding a check in the amount of $282,250.98 to the Doug Sanders International Jr. Golf Inc.... The funds have provided financial assistance to over 75 students." Still, "financial assistance" is quite a bit different from scholarships.

Then there was the question of the ceremonial oversized check, made out to the United Negro College Fund, that was presented by Sanders and ex-Oilers quarterback Warren Moon at a tournament banquet. The figure on the check said $185,000, but according to Dolcefino's report, that was about $100,000 too generous; Sanders' tournament actually contributed only $78,250.

"Doug Sanders is a very interesting guy who should not deal with money and should not be in charity," says Dolcefino. "We gave him a break. A big break." On the final day of his expose, Dolcefino touched on a police complaint filed by a teenage ball girl after a Senior PGA tournament in Grand Rapids, Michigan in July 1991. The police report detailed how Sanders "kept patting his hand on her knee" and "asked her numerous questions about her sex life" and "offered her food that was already bitten into." And on the 14th hole, said the report, "Doug rubbed her upper thigh and started fondling ... [the] apron that was around her waist." After the incident, Sanders took some time off from the tour. He refuses to admit that he was suspended by the PGA, which in turn refuses to discuss disciplinary actions against its members.

"Doug has always been the lady's man," says Kelley. "That's no secret. I think he has a sex addiction, so he's constantly hustling women."

Dolcefino agrees. He claims that on the days preceding Dolcefino's story, he received numerous phone calls from prostitutes around Houston, all worried that they'd be included in the reports.

When I ask Sanders, at our first meeting, for the names and numbers of some of his closest friends, he responds with a wink. "You mean my hookers?"

When asked about how he ran his celebrity tournament, Sanders recalls a line Frank Sinatra offered during a stay at the Sanders residence. "Doug," the entertainer told Sanders, "we both did it our way." It's a mantra that Sanders lives by. In 14 years as director of his tournament, he refused to back down or relinquish any control. His primary business motif was simple: always cater to the celebrities.

According to Kelley, the allegation that hit Sanders the hardest was that he was taking care of his celebrity friends instead of his charity. "He's a master of favor-getting and favor-receiving," says Kelley, referring to allegations that Doug and Scotty Sanders gave Waterford crystal to their celebrity friends and put the costs of the celebrities' hotel stays on the charity's tab.

"Hey, we buy nice things for people all the time," Sanders responds. "And if Frank Sinatra comes to town and Frank Sinatra wants a room, well, would you ask questions? I paid for the rooms."

"You have to spend money to make money, especially when you're dealing with celebrities," explains Scotty Sanders. "You can't bring them in coach and feed them dog food. You have to take care of them."

In Sanders' mind, simply by bringing his friends to Houston he has done a wealth of good. The fact that his tournament's books were a mess is, to his mind, inconsequential. And though Sanders insists, "I can't be responsible for everyone," nothing at the classic happened without his knowledge and input. People who challenged his authority quickly found themselves out of the picture. Such was the case with Kelley, whose reign as tournament director lasted only six months. Sanders fired him on the Monday of tournament week.

"Doug and I got into such a huge kind of battle all the time," says Kelley. "It got to the point where it wasn't a job anymore. It was a crisis. He thought I was trying to run the tournament and trying to run the staff. Those weren't my objectives at all."

Kelley, who is involved in corporate-turnaround work, was hired to right the sinking tournament. In his opinion, the real problem with the Sanders Classic was its board -- an organization that consisted of "good old boys and friends of Doug." He claims they had no concept of their charitable responsibilities. "The first thing I did when I got on the board was to bring in a book from the American Bar Association [Guidelines for Directors of Non-Profit Corporations]. And I told them, 'You guys need to read this book and when you get through throwing up all over yourselves, you need to start getting serious about running this charity.' "

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