Monday, November 29, 2021

Deltona Duo Were Confidantes to Two of Golf’s Biggest Legends Part 2

“Deltona was done,” remarked Eleanor Creighton. “I was offered a job in Miami, but I never lived in a big city in my life. That wasn’t for me. Jim (Stackpoole) went to Miami to work. But it wasn’t for me. At that point in time, I was director of the high rises and everything for Deltona on Marco. I was the only one left. It was fun, but different.

“Things changed once the Mackles left here,” Creighton said.

One thing that didn’t change was the relationship the ladies shared with Sarazen and Venturi.

Creighton, an avid golfer, enjoyed playing golf with Sarazen over the years.

Sarazen is one of the greatest golfers of all time. The winner of seven major championships. He was the first golfer to win golf’s Career Grand Slam. The only others to accomplish this feat are Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Sarazen is famous for hitting arguably the greatest shot in the history of the Masters, scoring a double eagle on the 15th hole of the final round of the 1935 Masters. He ended up winning the Masters the next day in a playoff.

“When I played with Mr. Sarazen, he’d say, ‘Take a practice swing.’ But if you took a practice swing, you might as well walk to the next hole because he was gone. He wouldn’t wait on ya. We’d play with some of the assistant pros. He would say, ‘If you’re going to play with me, you tee it off from that same place I do if I’m giving you shots.’ And he meant it, too. We’d take on the young assistant pros. It was a lot of fun.”

Creighton also took to the links with Ara Parseghian, the famous Notre Dame Football Coach who lived for many years on the island. Parseghian led Notre Dame to two national championships. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1980.

“He was a little bit more reserved,” Creighton recalled. “He was quiet. I used to play golf with him, but he would use gamesmanship on you. I’d go out after work and play golf. He would say, ‘Watch your ball, Ellie. See that water over there.’ He was good at that. But he and (his wife) Katie were good people. He wasn’t a mixer. Usually if you saw him when he wasn’t playing golf, he was with his wife. I ran into them several years ago. He remembered me from playing golf. We got to talking and laughing.”

Creighton’s memories of Sarazen are special.

“We were good friends,” she recalls. “He and (his wife) Mary and I would go out. We ate dinner a lot together. We’d go to Mr. Mom’s. We’d go there for fried chicken and apple pie. He always wanted fried chicken and apple pie. He and Mary and I would go in there all the time to eat. People always migrated to him. And he would always say something to them. He wasn’t one of these ‘Ha, ha, ho-ho’ people. He was quiet, but he was friendly. He wouldn’t put himself out. Just keep moving.

“And I used to go up to New Hampshire with him and play with him when they went home for the summer. Then Mary died in 1986.”

After Mary’s death, Creighton became more of a confidante for Sarazen.

“Many times he’d call me,” she said. “He drank Chivas Regal. He had a bottle that sat on a thing that tilted. He’d have his little bowl of nuts, and one for me. I drank scotch and water and he drank scotch and soda. I think some of my fondest memories were sitting there watching golf matches with him on TV and he’d talk about when he played at the different tournaments. I think it was Westchester, he said, ‘Oh, I can remember the plumbing, all night long it would go clang, clang, clang.’ He’d tell these stories while we were sitting there watching because he had played there. I had a lot of one-on-one time with Mr. Sarazen. I’ve just got a lot of just good memories of that. The stories.

“I just saw the invitation from when he was honored at Far Hills at the United States Golf Association Museum—when they honored him with all of his memorabilia. I went up to Far Hills with him for that. That was pretty cool.”

Their friendship started at the Marco Island Country Club.

“He really went to the Country Club a lot at the beginning,” she said. “He was a dear friend of Mr. Mackle’s. They were very close. I did a lot of his personal business for him. I guess that’s a lot of why we started hanging out. That was probably a lot of it. We had a lot of good times. Honest to God. He was a special person. Mr. Sarazen was a very nice person. I think he was a kind person. Very smart. He maintained his mind till he died. He could tell me everything that was going on in that stock market. The news, what was happening in the world. Then he would tell stories from 80 years ago. It was his body that gave out. I think he was a very humble man. He loved to tell stories. It always amazed me how he could tell you about a certain golf game he played in, or about a win, or about people that he knew. I don’t think he socialized a lot, but he was older. I don’t think he and Mary socialized a lot. He was very much a homebody.”

Creighton developed a bond with Sarazen’s daughter, Mary Ann, that continues to this day.

“Mary Ann and I became friends,” she said. “So I guess I was just with the family a lot. I traveled to Europe with the family. One of the funniest things was… Mary Ann and I went to Royal Troon, where he hit the famous hole in one on the Postage Stamp Hole when he was 71 in 1973. Mr. Sarazen had given us this letter of introduction. Colin Montgomery’s father was the secretary there. Secretary means Club Manager. Mary Ann and I go to the front door—and we’re instantly walked around the building to a side entrance. But women aren’t allowed in a lot of those clubs—even today. There’s certain areas—no way. Then they take us into a library-type room. They bring us tea, and they’re most gracious. Then they brought in all these albums of Mr. Sarazen. The years that he’d been there. They talked about him and things like that. They asked us if we wanted to see the hole Mr. Sarazen made the hole-in-one on. They put us in this old station wagon with wood sides. We were granted a ride out to this hole. So they gave us a ride out to the hole and we were allowed to walk out to the green and we’re put back in the Woodie and taken back. In fact, I reminded Colin’s dad of that. He still follows Colin playing golf.

“Mary Ann and I went to Turnberry and a lot of the clubs he played at. It was at Turnberry that we had tea with the Queen. That was a special thing that was done. We had some great times. 

“I went with Mr. Sarazen to the Masters a few times. It was an experience, but a lot of the Masters is for the champions only. You’re not going in that clubhouse. It’s for the players. You might sit out under the big tree at a table or go over to the cabin. Going to the Masters was the thing for him. It was special to all of them.”

Klimas’s relationship with Venturi was similar to Creighton’s relationship with Sarazen.

“That’s the same way I was with Ken,” Klimas said. “I worked for him while he was at the club. Then I worked for him at Eagle Creek. I continued to work for him until he died. 

Submitted Photo | Joe Klimas, Stan Gober, and Ken Venturi at Stan’s Idle Hour. The three men liked to gather at Stan’s to tell jokes.

“We just happened to hook up when he was at the Marco Island Country Club. He needed someone to do some correspondence for him and he didn’t know anybody. So I told him I would do it after work. I would just whip out some letters for him. It was no problem—and that’s how we got started together. Pretty soon he was asking me to come to his house on my day off and pay his bills. Next thing you know I was making his hotel arrangements and his airline arrangements—and it just grew.

“I went with him to Eagle Creek after he left the club and worked with him for 8 years there. After he left, I continued to work for him on my days off. When he finally moved out to California, and he wasn’t doing too well, they asked me to come out and clear up his desk. So I was there till the bitter end. It was a great friendship. 

“My husband Joe loved him, too. He and Joe and Stan (Gober, of Stan’s Idle Hour on Goodland) had some joke-telling sessions that wouldn’t quit. We would go down there on an afternoon, when it was quiet, not a weekend, and just sit around the table and they would start. And they just fed off each other. They entertained whoever was there. Nobody talked. They were all listening—it was a riot. They had a blast. 

“I always felt like he was my big brother. That’s the kind of relationship we had. I think he felt the same way. We’re both only children. My father was a commercial fisherman and his father sold fishnets to the commercial fishermen in San Francisco. I was in a certain sorority in college and he was a busboy in the same sorority house out in California. We had all of these crazy connections and we’d get silly about it. He was just a good guy. 

“He stuttered. He was a real bad stammerer. You never overcome it, but you learn to work around it. He did avoidance. He avoided words that would stump him. He worked real hard at it. But he also worked with some kids on the island that no one ever knew about. He heard them stutter and he tried to teach them little tricks to do. He did lots of neat little stuff like that. He had a couple of theories (about how his stuttering started). One had to do with a Catholic nun in school when he was little. Getting rapped across the knuckles with a ruler, that sort of thing. He kind of had the feeling it was something like that.” 

Venturi won the U.S. Open in 1964 when he was PGA Player of the Year. He had 14 PGA wins in a playing career that was shortened by injuries. He went on to become one of the best broadcasters in golf.

“He got into announcing,” Klimas said, “and he was good at it, and he knew the players. Frank Chirkinian was the head of CBS golf and guided him. Told him not to talk too much, just say what’s important, and that’s what he did. That fit well with his stuttering. He didn’t have to talk too much.”

Chirkinian is a legendary sports producer and director. He is known as the father of televised golf.

“He loved Mr. Sarazen,” Klimas said. “They had a wonderful relationship. They told stories to each other. Mr. Sarazen would come into Kenny’s office. They were very nice friends—and he really respected Mr. Sarazen. And he always called him Mr. Sarazen, except to his face, he called him Gene. But when he talked about him, he always called him Mr. Sarazen.”

“Almost everybody did,” Creighton said. “Nobody really called him Gene.”

The two longtime best friends, Eleanor Creighton and Barbara Klimas, showed that same respect to their famous friends.

“I never called Ken by his first name,” Klimas said. “It was always Mr. Venturi or Mr. V.”

“Oh yeah. Yep,” Creighton confirmed. “All the times I was out with either one of them, they were ‘Mr.’ only. I would never call them by their first names. They had earned that respect.”

Eleanor Creighton had one final thought on an afternoon filled with reminiscing.

“You know, we’ve talked about a lot of the famous people who have come to the island,” she said. “But me and Barb, we love to talk about just the regular people who lived here. And all the fun times we had. Everybody knew everybody. It was just easy. There were no groups. No one was standoffish. It wasn’t that way. It’s just the way it was.”

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