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How Dinah Shore came to discover golf, which suits her to a tee

Usually when a public relations firm invites you to lunch with someone like Dinah Shore to learn the details of her upcoming golf tournament, you wind up sitting in a crowded room with 100 other people, often in the most remote corner.

Only this time was different. This time I actually did get to eat at the same table as entertainment's First Lady of Golf.

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Of course I had met Dinah several times before; even watched her play in a celebrity tournament with Robert Stack and Nancy Lopez in Palm Springs. But this is the first time we ever shared the same salt and pepper shaker.

What happened in this restaurant? Well, it was about what you'd expect: nothing that would make headlines, but a lot of fun conversation nevertheless.

The way Dinah Shore discovered golf is the way Christopher Columbus discovered America - by accident! Here was a thoroughly hooked tennis player who had made this her game as a kid, stayed with it all through high school and college (with time out as a cheerleader), and also made it her chief form of adult recreation.

''When I was living in Palm Springs one year, I played doubles almost every day with friends,'' Dinah told me. ''Usually we played on courts that were surrounded by cement walls that would hold in the heat like an electric blanket. Palm Springs is often hot anyway, and sometimes the combination of the temperature and those cement walls was just too much.

''My friends and I had started a doubles match early one afternoon when one of the girls said, 'This is ridiculous. When it's this hot, you don't play tennis, you play golf,' '' continued the singer who has nine gold records. ''My feeling is that the temperature that day was somewhere in the high 90s.''

When Dinah tried to beg off by saying that she'd never played golf before, didn't know anything about the game, didn't own any of the proper equipment, including shoes, her friends simply refused to take no for an answer. They told her they would lend her the right clubs and that she could play in her bare feet.

''I went along with them to be a good sport,'' Dinah explained. ''And I didn't play well at all. But you know, I loved what I was doing. I loved the kind of relaxed atmosphere I suddenly found myself in, and I loved feeling the cool grass under my feet.

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''Whenever I played tennis with these same people, we were always so intense about the game that we never talked socially with each other. Now here I am walking along chatting with these same friends and taking time out to look at the flowers, trees, and mountains.

''Of course I still like tennis and I still play tennis. But there's something about being out on a golf course in beautiful weather that makes you feel great. For a while, when I first started, I used to play the entire course with a three-iron. Over the years I've taken lessons from a number of different instructors, but my first teacher was tennis pro Ellsworth Vines.''

Celebrity tournaments, Dinah says, do not necessarily bring out the best in her because of a combination of being too crowd-conscious and trying too hard.

''One time, because the gallery following the group I was playing with was so large, I desperately wanted to do well on this particular hole,'' Dinah recalled. ''What I needed at this point was a chip shot that would land close enough to the pin so that I'd have an easy putt.

''Well, I thought I did everything right and when I lifted the ball toward the green everything looked and felt good. But the ball sailed over the green and hit a spectator on the shoulder. I didn't think he was hurt, but I felt so bad I ended up giving his wife a piece of my jewelry.''

Asked how often she plays golf these days in view of her heavy schedule, Dinah replied: ''I'd play every day if I could. I really like the game that much. But usually it depends on my schedule and my schedule the last three months has let me get out on the course just once.''

New York disc jockey Martin Block gave Shore (born Frances Rose Shore) her show-biz name. Returning to Nashville from a New Hampshire summer camp, the Vanderbilt University sophomore stopped in New York to audition for Block. When she later appeared on his show, Block couldn't remember her name, but did remember she'd sung ''Dinah'' in auditioning and went with that.

Oh, yes, the 1984 edition of her women's golf tournament, the Nabisco-Dinah Shore Invitational, will be played April 2-8 at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., which is near Palm Springs.

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