Bogie Busters golf tourney drew presidents, celebrities to Dayton

Many years ago, I received a telephone call from Cy Laughter.

“I’ve got Bob Hope coming in this afternoon,” he said. “Can you get a photographer out to the airport to take his picture getting off the plane?”

Hope was arriving to participate in the annual Bogie Busters golf tournament, and Laughter wanted the great comedian to know that his appearance was appreciated.

“Bob is used to seeing some cameras when he makes an appearance,” Laughter explained.

Laughter, who died Wednesday at the age of 86, always made a great effort to make his guests feel important, and that’s why Bogie Busters had such a long and successful run. Perhaps that is why he had more connections in high places than any Daytonian I’ve known.

Over the years he played golf with four presidents of the United States — Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. Ford attended the annual Bogie Busters bash 10 times — once while occupying the oval office — and Bush made five appearances.

Born in Dayton, the 6-foot-3 Laughter played baseball, basketball and football at Oakwood High School and graduated in 1944. Drafted into the Army, he was a 19-year-old machine-gunner during the Battle of the Bulge.

He and eight others were in a fierce fight with the Germans in January of 1945 and only he and his assistant gunner survived the battle. He suffered injuries to the neck, shoulder and arm and was discharged after weeks of treatment.

He came home and played center for the 1945-46 University of Dayton basketball team. Then he went to work for his father.

Laughter became a decent golfer, which opened the door for his association with many celebrities and nationally known business, civic and political leaders. He played golf with entertainers like Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Perry Como and Hope.

How did all of this come to pass? It began when Laughter, a staunch Republican, met many celebrities while campaigning for Nixon in his unsuccessful presidential bid against John F. Kennedy in 1960.

Bogie Busters happened by accident. Laughter arranged for famed Oklahoma football coach Bud Wilkinson to speak in Dayton in 1967 and invited a dozen people, including Ara Parseghian, Paul Brown, Don Shula, Otto Graham, Eddie Arcaro, Tom Frericks and Don Donoher, to join Wilkinson for some golf at Dayton Country Club.

That outing grew into Bogie Busters, which became a two-day event with 175 players on the two courses at NCR Country Club. The event was sponsored by the Laughter Corp., a tool-and-die company founded by Cy’s father, Bob Laughter.

The celebrities always enjoyed themselves because Laughter knew how to entertain and he knew which guests would benefit from playing golf with certain others. He made the pairings.

Former baseball great and “Today Show” host Joe Garagiola once described the event as “the Laughter Tupperware Party.”

Laughter was proud of Bogie Busters, and he believed that bringing so many power brokers to Dayton helped the community. He felt it planted the seed for the construction of Miami Valley Research Park. He thought the participation of Michigan basketball coach Johnny Orr set up a 10-game basketball series between UM and Dayton.

Bogie Busters had a long run, but all good things come to an end, and so did Bogie Busters. The gradual demise of the Laughter Corp., which filed for bankruptcy in 1991, had a huge impact.

Bogie Busters originally generated money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, but eventually there was little for charity.

To reduce expenses, Laughter moved the tournament from NCR to the municipal Kittyhawk Golf Course, which had no clubhouse. I can’t imagine that the move was popular with celebs accustomed to playing at Bellaire Country Club in Los Angeles. In 1999 BB was played at Beavercreek Golf Club, but the last die had been cast.

After 25 years, the Bogie Busters guests had gotten old and so had its host.

Laughter, who had enjoyed relationships others could only dream of, finally had to concede that his days as a party planner were over. But he had the satisfaction of knowing that he had been a good one.

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