Dinah Shore didn’t take up the game until the ripe age of 52, and by her own admission she was not a quick study. “Whenever I break 100 they send up a flare,” she once said. And yet Shore was an illuminating presence for women’s golf. Since 1972, her eponymous tournament has been one of the LPGA’s most visible.
Shore’s name helped insure network television coverage back when it was a precious commodity, which in turn helped her tournament set the curve for purse increases. Shore had such a lasting effect on the LPGA Tour that in 1994 she was posthumously made the only honorary member of its prestigious Hall of Fame. “This is not an honor given, it’s an honor earned,” then LPGA Commissioner Charles Mechem said.
Born Frances Rose Shore in Winchester, Tenn., in 1921 (the Dinah came from a New York disc jockey who forgot her name but remembered she sang a song entitled “Dinah”), she began her singing career in Memphis. She gained fame on the radio in the late 1930s in duets with Frank Sinatra and later Eddie Cantor’s show. She was one of America’s first television stars, first on “The Chevy Show,” which ran from 1951 to 1961, and later on the Dinah Shore Show, “Dinah’s Place,” and “Dinah!” She won 10 Emmy Awards, nine gold records and a Peabody Award.
"Ability is the only thing that matters. The tournament we play is awfully powerful proof of that."
Shore took a circuitous route to becoming one of the game’s matriarchs. She was stricken with polio when she was 18 months old, and in the years that followed she used sports to bury the disease’s legacy.
“I began to think that it was some dim, dark secret and that if anybody ever found out they would refuse to play with me because I was different,” she said.
In junior high, Shore played softball, basketball and ran track, and at Vanderbilt University she made the varsity swimming and fencing teams (and, naturally, was part of the drama club, glee club and cheerleading squad). That she didn’t play golf was something of an upset because Shore once described her mother as “one of the finest, most enthusiastic golfers in the state of Tennessee. She died when I was young but her encouragement stayed with me.”
Once Shore fell for the game, she fell hard. She became the first female member at Los Angeles’ tony Hillcrest Country Club, and her home away from home was Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage, where she had a house off the ninth green. She became the first woman to play in PGA TOUR pro-ams at San Diego and Westchester. Her ambition in golf was to shoot 85, after which she said, “I will smile forever.”
Dinah Shore’s real name is Frances Rose “Dinah” Shore.
Shore brought to the women’s tour a star quality that was sorely missing. She invited many of the players to appear on her television variety show, and even hooked some up with commercial endorsements. “The tour was still Podunk when we went to Palm Springs, and suddenly we were celebrities,” said Jane Blalock, the champion of the inaugural Dinah Shore. “It changed the perception of women’s golf.” So, too, did the champion’s dive into the lake on Mission Hills’ 18th, a frolicking tradition Shore and Amy Alcott started.
For all the good times her tournament generated, Shore’s legacy is steeped in far more important matters. “I don’t like discrimination on the basis of sex,” the First Lady of Golf once said. “Ability is the only thing that matters. The tournament we play is awfully powerful proof of that.”