- Historic Sites
The 18-hole Hustle
During the golden age of golf, many of the sport’s greatest players never went pro. They couldn’t afford the pay cut.
August/September 2005 | Volume 56, Issue 4
Finally, Redmond said, “I think I can make a trick-shot artist out of you,” and asked if she would mind coming in two or three times a week.
“Sure,” she said. She hit nearly every day, sometimes for hours on end, for six months. Then she was ready.
“I could stack three balls on top of each other, which itself is very hard to do. I’d hit the middle ball 200 yards, the top ball would pop up and I’d catch it, and the bottom ball would rest, untouched. I could hit the ball 200 yards while standing on a chair on one leg. I could hit a flagpole 150 yards out.”
She and Redmond traveled up and down the East Coast, putting on three shows daily at various clubs and earning upward of $1,000 per day. For their finale, she would have a volunteer from the gallery lie flat on his back and tee a golf ball between his lips; then she would drive it 200 yards without disturbing so much as a whisker.
Within a year personal differences ended this lucrative partnership. Carmen then met a dapper young man from Chicago, John Roselli, and moved with him to Las Vegas. Roselli was a lackey in the Chicago mob who helped run the Sands Hotel. When he found out about Carmen’s golfing talents, he told her, “Look, honey, we’re going to play a little game here.” The way he described it, she says, “He said we’re never going to take a nice guy. We’re only going to take the assholes, and I know who they all are.”
“I could hit the ball 200 yards while standing on a chair on one leg. I could hit a flag- pole 150 yards out….”
“Well, that sounds good to me,” Carmen recalls saying. “What did I know?”
Roselli would plant her in a lounge reading a magazine. He’d sit at the bar, scouting for pigeons. Eventually he’d strike up a conversation and steer it toward golf and gambling.
“That’s not so great,” Roselli might say. “Even I could beat that.” Then, pointing at Carmen, “Hell, even she could beat that.”
Says Carmen: “And the guy might say something like ‘Maybe in the bedroom but not on the golf course.’”
The group then would go over to Carmen, who, pretending to be a stranger, would innocently agree to be a pawn to their betting proposition. Dressed as provocatively as the era would permit, she would stand on the first tee and spin the club around in her hand, feigning to have never played before.
“I’d hold the club all wrong and then duff it, or slice it, whatever. After a couple of holes the guy would say, ‘This is getting to be a bore. I’m going to win this hands down.’ And John would say something like, ‘Give the lady a chance. Give it a few more holes.’ And then I’d get a little better and a little better. Until right at the end, when I’d start reeling them in. We’d win every time. They never knew what hit them.”
The two worked the scam for about a year, until one day when Carmen slipped. She’d had a drink while waiting for Roselli to set up the mark, and, a bit tipsy, started playing too well too soon. The man knew he had been set up. “He was carrying on, complaining,” Carmen says, “and Johnny said, ‘Look, pay up, you lost the bet. Pay up and let’s call it a day.’ But this guy refused.”
Roselli told Carmen to go to her room; he’d call her later.
“He then roughs this guy up. He calls me and tells me to get to the roof of the Sands Hotel. I get up there and open the door to see Johnny toss this guy over the side. Oh, my God. I’m in shock. I’m crying. So Johnny says, ‘Come over here and look.’ I didn’t notice that the guy had a rope tied around his ankle. I go over and see this guy dangling down there… . He pulls the guy up and … Johnny’s got his money and cuts the guy loose.
“Right then I decide I’m in too deep. I had to get out of there. I go pack my things.” She moved to Los Angeles and became a star in B-movie potboilers such as Guns Don’t Argue , Reckless Youth , and Born Reckless .
For Riggs, the bigger the foe, the sweeter the victory. “Listen. I love millionaires,” he said. “I really do. Give me a millionaire every time. There were a lot of them around then. Beautiful, the salt of the earth. Wherever I went, they were lining up waiting for me. They loved playing with me. They loved playing with me. It was a challenge. They liked being taken by the best.”
Eventually Riggs left Florida for New York, where his wife got him a job at the family company. He settled down, more or less. By the time of his match against Billie Jean King in 1973, the golf-hustling scene he had left behind had largely faded. Scandals convinced many clubs to clamp down (by the time he left Miami, Riggs had been banned from most private clubs and forced to ply his talents on public courses). This, and the injection of big money into the professional game, meant that career hustlers had not only fewer places to play but more incentive to earn their money legitimately.