Dialogue: George Lopez

The actor and comedian steps into the host role for next year's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic tournament.

As a boy, comedian George Lopez learned to play golf by hitting lemons in his backyard in San Fernando, Calif., using a garage-sale 7-iron purchased for home security. Now an 11 handicap, Lopez and his game have come a long way. One of stand-up's biggest draws, his sitcom, "George Lopez," is entering its fifth season on ABC. And success has allowed Lopez to feed his golfing passion. He's a member at Lakeside Golf Club, where Bob Hope played, in Burbank. He has a house at Pebble Beach. And in an ultimate fantasy fulfillment, he's been tapped to host the 48th annual Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, which starts Jan. 15 with practice rounds outside Palm Springs. The Hollywood Reporter's Chris Koseluk caught up with Lopez to discuss his determination to make the tournament -- which features celebrities and athletes playing with the pros the first four rounds -- the hottest stop on the PGA Tour.

THR: How did you get the Hope hosting gig?
Lopez: I was a huge fan of the tournament. A friend got his tour card in '97 and I went to see him. He didn't play in the celebrity rotation, but you could feel the energy of the celebrities being around. At that time, I didn't have anything really going on that would validate me getting an invitation. After I'd gone to my car, the course was empty and it was getting dark and I remember thinking, "Man, how great would it be to play in this thing?"

I got invited in 2003. I was really thrilled, but I couldn't play because of my production schedule. So I made room for it the next year. The attention from the fans was overwhelming. I ran into people's backyards. I ate what they were eating. I drank beer. I threw balls to the kids. I signed gloves and gave them away. I was just really happy to be playing. To me, that's what golf is.

We started talking about hosting the next year. They were receptive, but Bob had just passed, and they didn't want it to seem as if someone was taking his place. For a Chicano dude to step in and replace Bob Hope ... I mean, that wasn't going to be easy. But I said, "Look, whatever happens, happens." I had the support of the celebrities and the players because it was evident that I was having a good time and respected the game. I wasn't going to disrespect what the pros had to do. It came about when Dolores Hope said that I would be a great choice to continue Bob's legacy.

THR: What concerns you more about the tournament: being funny or hitting off the first tee?
Lopez: I've been playing pretty hard for the last year and I understand the game better. So I expect the tee shot to be pretty straight and pretty far. I've got a house in Hawaii, and I was playing by myself and kicking ass. I'm this badass and nobody's watching -- a couple of gardeners and, what, the wild turkeys there? And I'm thinking, this is not going to happen in front of a lot of people. The strongest part of my game is the short game -- the wedges from 100 (yards), the putting and sand (shots). I really don't have a problem with driving or fairway woods. But the weakest part is the long irons ... it's that 175-, 195-yard shot. I use a hybrid sometimes, but I'd still like to be able to hit a 4-iron that far. I love it. It's a sword, man!

THR: What will your duties be as host?
Lopez: They're not really clearly defined, but you can feel you want this to be the best tournament it can be. It has a template of what it used to be. So, what I've done, since I knew about it in March, has been to restore the celebrity aspect.

I got Clint Eastwood to play. He hasn't played there in like 13 years. He's a friend, so he's playing on Saturday. Jimmy Kimmel doesn't play a lot of golf, but he wants to play. Huey Lewis plays in the AT&T (the pro-am tourney at Pebble Beach), he's going to play. Sam Jackson's going to play. I got (Oscar) de la Hoya to come back. Andy Garcia's never played, he's coming. Ray Romano's never played, he's coming. I've got invitations out to Donald Trump and Bill Clinton. I'm going to land one of those big fish.

It's not going to be boring. There's going to be things to do. When Bob got older, it became sort of the same ever year. There really wasn't a drive to do things because he was unable to attend a lot of the functions. Not me, dude!

I want it to be spring break for golfers. We're not going to turn cars over. We're too old. But I've got a party going every night. I'll be at them all. I'm going to the golf course to get away from the parties. I'll have a '70s night, and then there's a big party with go-go girls on Wednesday. I'm performing with War on Friday night at Fantasy Casino. I play the cowbell on "Low Rider." I've got a jam session at the Classic Club (one of the four courses used in the Hope) after the round on Saturday.

On Tuesday, I've got an In-N-Out Burger truck to make burgers for the guys. They're like, "We don't travel that far." But for me, they did.

This will be good, being in The Hollywood Reporter. There's great actors who play golf and a lot of them don't play celebrity events. So many guys play ... (Greg) Kinnear, Luke Wilson, I think Owen Wilson plays, Dennis Quaid, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jack Nicholson. ... All those people would be great to have. If they could just remember when they weren't celebrities and playing and how much fun they were having. It's even more fun when you are a celebrity because that's what you work so hard for.

To get the adulation of fans ... as corny as it sounds, man, those are the people who buy tickets to see your movies or sit down and watch your TV show. It's really kind of a vote, and you need to keep that vote.

THR: What about the pros?
Lopez: My dream would be to get Phil Mickelson to play the celebrity rotation again. He got turned off. He told me he was putting for birdie and a ball came out of nowhere and hit his ball. It was an athlete practicing putting. That scared him away from the celebrity part of it. You're never going to get Tiger (Woods) out there. I've talked to Vijay Singh and it doesn't fit into his schedule. If Camilo Villegas played, or some of the Latino guys, they would be exciting. Or if Sergio (Garcia) were to come. Mike Weir and Justin Leonard always come. The guys who are there always make the Bob Hope one of their stops. You gotta be patient because it takes a long time to play. And then there's five rounds. Those guys are just starting their season. Five rounds is long.

THR: I understand that Chrysler presented you with a limited-production, high-performance, black 2007 300C SRT8.
Lopez: Yeah, that thing is hot. The first thing I did was what any Chicano would do. I took the stickers off and I tinted the windows. Don't tell them that I got a blow dryer and took the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic stickers off the side of the car. I couldn't roll like that, dude.

Jesse James (of the Discovery Channel's "Monster Garage") is working on a '51 Chevy for me that he gave me for Christmas. If that's ready, I'm driving that. If it's not, I'll probably take the Chrysler. A gang of dudes who work on my show golf. So I'll have lots of people with me. Yeah, I think I'm going to take both cars.

And there's a guy in San Fernando, where I grew up, who has a $45,000 low-rider, custom hydraulic golf cart. That's coming on a flatbed. You know how Bob had his ski nose golf cart? I'm rocking this thing. It's crazy. It's going to get a lot of attention.

There's a picture of me from Pebble Beach in mariachi pants. And my caddie had a leather bandoleer with golf balls in it instead of bullets. The lady who made it is a master leather craftsman, and she's making me a leather bag with an Aztec calendar and different Latino designs. It's an $18,000 golf bag. I'll be using that.

I don't mess around when it comes to golf. You know, my wife doesn't know how much that bag cost.

THR: Well, your secret's out.
Lopez: Yeah, go ahead. But you know what it is? Nobody played in my family, in my neighborhood. For me, it's been like a father I've never had. It's taught me to control my temper. It's taught me respect and it's taught me patience. The game has taught me so much, and to be rewarded by being asked to host the Bob Hope tournament ... I don't care if I shoot 300, man. To be playing with so many friends who are celebrities, who I used to watch when I was growing up, is something that I'll never be able to understand -- but I'll appreciate it every time I grab my clubs.