Golf was about family for Ford
VAIL ” Above all else, Jerry Ford was a family man and the Jerry Ford Invitatational golf tournament was a big family reunion.
Bob Barrett, Ford’s military aide during Ford’s White House years, was invited to remain with Ford’s staff afterward. He put together the first Jerry Ford Invitational golf tournament in 1977, along with Rod Slifer, John Purcell and John Donovan. Kathy Meyer ran the tournament and held the keys to that kingdom.
The Jerry Ford Invitational was a study in networking. Ford met Jack Nicklaus and other PGA luminaries playing member-guest events on the PGA tour.
He knew Bob Hope already, which led to Telly Savales, Dinah Shore, Clint Eastwood and the Statler Brothers. Athletes like Yogi Berra and Julius “Dr. J” Erving weren’t much of a stretch. Of course, political pals like Tip O’Neill just showed up because they liked Ford, even if like O’Neill they happened to belong to the other party.
“By the sixth and seventh year, it had reached a happy saturation point,” Barrett said. “They couldn’t get any more people in it, no more celebrities and performers.”
Ben Krueger was superintendent of the Vail golf course from 1967 through 1991, when most of the 25 Jerry Ford Invitationals were being played.
“I did get to play golf with him, so we did get to know him well,” Krueger said. “He was very easy going, comfortable to be with.”
“When he was president, the Secret Service was always around, and that was something,” Krueger said. “They’d stand out in the woods and check the place out. It was quite a safe-guarded situation when he was president.”
One time, at a 40th birthday party at Purcell’s, the guest of honor received a mo-ped and President Ford agreed to take a ride, much to the chagrin of the Secret Service.
Then there was the time the Garton boys and Packy Walker got their hands on an armored Cadillac limousine. Ford used to arrive at the course and one or two agents would pop out of the car and walk over to the first tee. Shortly afterward, Packy and the Gartons came rolling up.
“They had flags and the whole diplomatic schmere,” Barrett said. “They got guys to pose as Secret Service agents wearing sunglasses. Packy jumped out and walked over to the first tee and joined them. He just stood there laughing.
“It was a gift for all of us to be around him, and it all happened in Vail.”
The Ford Cup was the winter version of the golf tournament. The Ford Cup beget the American Ski Classic, which beget Vail’s two World Alpine Ski Championships ” 1989 and 1999.
Ford launched the World Forum, a conjunction between the Vail Valley Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.
“That grew almost immediately, and has been enormously successful,” said Barrett.
Basically, it’s a gathering of Ford’s old running buddies, which happens to include former heads of states from around the world, former and current high officials in the U.S. government, CEOs from all over the world.
“It added a great deal of stature to the place,” Barrett said.
Longtime Vail locals who knew him all sing the same songs of praise, as they have for years. He had lots of great Vail Valley friends: Fitzhugh Scott, Pepi and Sheika Gramshammer, Bill and Sally Hanlon, Dave and Rene Gorsuch, Rod and Beth Slifer, Harry Bass, George Gillett ” the list is endless.
People remember he succeeded Nixon, pardoned Nixon and that Saigon fell shortly after he took office. They don’t remember that in spite of all that he still lost to Jimmy Carter by only 1.2 percent in the popular vote.
“You might have voted for someone else,” Barrett said. “But not because you didn’t like him.”