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Incredible Las Vegas golf history tale of Littler and Laine

Arguably the most legendary tale in Las Vegas golf history involves PGA Tour golfer Gene “the Machine” Littler and singer Frankie Laine.

In 1955, Laine purchased Gene Littler in the Calcutta betting of the Tournament of Champions, which was played from 1953-1966 at the Desert Inn and in 1967-68 at the Stardust Country Club (now Las Vegas National). Littler died on Feb. 17 at 88.

Laine earned a king’s ransom because Littler won in 1955, 1956 and 1957.

“That is one of the most incredible things that ever happened,” remembered Littler, who won $30,000 in official earnings, an amount dwarfed by Laine’s haul. “He bought me all three years and won. The next year I finished in the top three and I think he doubled his money. Then the next year I finished a little farther down, but he still got a return on his money. And then the next year I played terribly and finished close to last.

“It happened to be the year they cut out the Calcutta so he never knew how lucky he was. He ended up giving me a 1955 T-Bird. At the time I was into cars, and boy, to have one of those was unbelievable.”

Las Vegas city councilman Bob Coffin, a former UNLV golfer and 1970 Nevada State Amateur champion, vividly recalls watching Littler.

“He was an unlikely hero and not a big man, but he had powerful arms similar to Arnold Palmer,” Coffin said. “His swing was very smooth so it concealed his hitting power. The Desert Inn was a flat course with fast greens. The fairways were 25 to 30 yards max width, and the rough was a gnarly, sharp-edged grass called alta-fescue. You had to be as straight a hitter as if in a U.S. Open to be successful. That was the reputation head pro Howard Capps and the ownership wanted.

“Littler was a great example for us kids. All you had to do to learn from him was watch him strike the ball and burn the greens with his Bullseye putter. He made that putter number one in golf.”

Weekly deal

Local rates at Los Prados start at $25 for twilight that includes hot dog and drink.

Book positively on course

Class A LPGA instructor and former Las Vegas resident Jennifer Holt, who grew up taking lessons with the late Las Vegas Country Club head professional Bill Farkas, has released, “Two Little Golfers Being Positive.”

Holt, the daughter of Annie Rockwell, the first LVCC tennis pro, now teaches at Murrietta Valley Golf Range in California. The book is for kids 10 and under and is available on Amazon.

“I deal with so many people being negative on the golf course, but you are out there for five hours so you might as well be positive or train yourself to be positive,” Holt said.

Stars on, off course

PGA Tour player Ryan Moore took a lap at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday with NASCAR racer Matt DiBenedetto, who finished 21st in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 race.

The golf notebook appears Wednesdays. Freelance writer Brian Hurlburt is a two-time author who has covered golf in Las Vegas for more than two decades. He can be reached at bhurlburt5@gmail.com or @LVGolfInsider.

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