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.

Unfortunately, the board never got serious, and one result is that the future of Sanders' tournament is in limbo. Sanders says he and the board are in a legal dispute over some of his expenses -- he claims to have received only two paychecks in the last eight months. "I'm a working man. I've given up a month of my life for the last 16 years," he says. "The board never told me to pay any money back. They owe me some money."

"Hey, I'm not painting a sad story," he adds. "I'm not broke. I don't owe a quarter. But dammit, it just hurts me that a guy tries to get a couple of extra ratings points by putting a man's life at stake. I'm not a villain. I'm a golfer who has made his living doing something else. Whatever they say, I helped a lot of kids along the way."

Wayne Dolcefino is still on VCR pause when a ringing phone awakens Doug Sanders from his pain-induced trance. He perks up when he hears the voice on the other end -- it's Andy Williams, one of his oldest "friends." Within seconds The Peacock has returned to his normal colors. "Hello, Andy... I've been fine, thank you.... I'm on my way in a few days to California to dedicate a golf course...." Sanders is no longer grabbing his neck; his cardiac arrest is long forgotten. He's back in his element, schmoozing with a celebrity friend, conjuring up the good old days, still selling the tournament to which he dedicated a decade and a half of his life but no longer can work for. "Thanks so much for your generosity and support.... To walk down a fairway with two living presidents.... I was so honored."

After hanging up, Sanders' thoughts turn, as they always seem to do, toward the death of his Classic. "Do you know what this has cost the city of Houston in millions of dollars?" he asks. The question is rhetorical because, in part, it's immaterial, in Sanders' opinion, to talk about monetary wealth and, in part, because Sanders himself doesn't have the faintest clue. "I don't know," he answers, "but the city of San Antonio says its [tournament] is worth $12 million. Mine has been here for 14 years. Add that up."

I ask him where the IJG's money is, if it's not currently being used for scholarships. What follows is another dose of entrepreneurial naivete. "It's in a fucking savings account," he says. "Shit yeah. How much we got in there today I don't know. Fucking $600,000 or $700,000."

Sanders' attention is diverted. He points out a white golf bag -- it's been signed by every living president as well as by the late Richard Nixon, who penned his name less than two weeks before his death. Sanders then pans over his wall of pictures again, landing on a snapshot of him and Willie Nelson. He starts another story. "If only the world had more Willies. We drank beer, told stories. I can understand Willie because Willie is a lot like me. A flair about him. His pigtails are part of him. Like my bright clothes or my lavender undershorts and socks."

Sanders recently started attended Alcoholics Anonymous. He says he has stopped drinking. He also attends Bible school every week and goes to church twice on Sundays. He and Scotty have pulled out of the Houston social scene -- they're more interested in helping out needy children at a local mission, several of whom often stay at the house, and who are quite close to the couple.

Sanders believes that golf's future lies in three-hole driving ranges. He's planning to buy some land for that purpose. He also remains under contract to the IJG and will continue to host the organization's series of tournaments around the world.

But Sanders' biggest scheme is revitalizing his lost child, his injured tournament. That's made clear one day recently out at one of his golfing homes, the Westwood Country Club. Sanders is dressed in azure golf splendor, his shirt personalized with his tournament's name in flowery script, an extra-proud peacock roosting above his left nipple. Though everybody else appears to be sweating profusely on this hot Houston day, Sanders is barely moist, his perspiration discreet, almost dainty.

Stepping up to a tee, he begins to knock some balls down a fairway. Despite his neck tick, one ball follows another in a straight line, each flying true some 225 yards. It's an impressive display, and a display obviously meant to impress, just as the calls he keeps taking on his portable phone are meant to be heard. He drops names, and numbers, loudly. As he flips the phone on and off, Sanders talks a steady stream about his comatose Classic. "I'll get Clint Eastwood for the next tournament, and we'll name it for Clint and we'll give away some dough and Charley Pride will come to sing and it'll be bigger than ever," he says, and slaps a few more pistol shots toward a faraway green. "All I need is 12 corporate sponsors at $200,000 each, and I've already got one.... And for the next tournament we won't have no damn interference from no damn board and it'll be like the old days."

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