I was only a couple of hours into my first day of work at Pebble Beach Golf Links when I knew for sure that I had stepped into a whole new world. A paunchy, middle-aged man had just finished his first round on the famed course, and I innocently inquired how the experience had been. "It was," he said earnestly, "better than sex."
The earth moved for me, too.
For three years, from 1991 through '93, I had the most exhilarating summer job imaginable. My official title was customer service representative, but those less delicate with the language might have called me a cart boy. Regardless, I was not unlike Tattoo of Fantasy Island: Men and women came from all points on the map to fulfill a dream, and I was there to help them along.
Pebble Beach is often called the Marilyn Monroe of golf courses, and with its spectacular ocean holes, it is indeed one of golf's pinups. And it has an unparalleled glamour to go with the beauty. Credit some of that to the Hollywood flavor of the old Bing Crosby Clambake, now the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and to three stirring U.S. Opens. The 76-year-old links course is one of golf's great landmarks, and because it's open to the public—the course is owned by Pebble Beach Company and is not a private club—ordinary people can actually play it. The golfers who roll through are a mix of jet-setters, celebrities and inspired weekend hackers. The pro shop and 1st tee cozy up to the stately Lodge at Pebble Beach and its glitzy shops, and loads of tourists, including those in double-decker sightseeing buses, pour in all the time.
My duties were fairly simple: Schmooze the golfers when they arrived and get them on their way when they were finished playing. I was well suited for the position. More than a few people have suggested that my B.A. should be in b.s., and I employed this gift of gab with the golfers as much as the wet rag I toted for buffing out their dirty golf clubs. In fact, I had brownnosed my way into this plum of a job in my senior year of high school. Escorting my politico mother to a brunch during the annual PGA Tour Pro-Am, I found myself seated next to the president of the Pebble Beach Company. When he benignly asked my plans for the summer, I said that, gee, I would really love to work for him. Once I was hired, the running joke at the pro shop was that I was the president's illegitimate son. Most of my coworkers—an eclectic group of fuzzy-cheeked college boys, surf rats and rudderless burnouts—were nice to the golfers only because they had to be, but I loved getting to know them and their stories. I became an expert at regionalizing my small talk, and in time I could pick out accents practically state by state. The one thing all the golfers shared was a common gusto for the course, and it didn't take long for that to rub off on me, too.
To be sure, with the greens fee cracking $200 and rooms at The Lodge another three bills during my second summer, most of the golfers were of a certain station. Everybody was at least a vice president of something. It was interesting to see how the other half lived.
But Pebble's allure beckoned the famous as well as the merely rich, and it was always fun when celebrities were on the premises. Things didn't go so well during my first encounter with a luminary, Hal Linden, an early father figure of mine from the reruns of Barney Miller. All I had to do was give Linden a lift to the driving range in the company van. Simple enough, but in my excited state I slid the van into park while we were still rolling forward. Linden was catapulted out of his seat, leading him to growl, "I thought you needed a license to drive one of these things." "Sticky transmission," I offered weakly.
A half hour later I picked him up. After parking without incident this time, I scurried out of the van and grandly opened its double doors. Unfortunately Linden's spikes slipped on the van's metal step. He pitched sideways into the door frame and sliced up his arm. I was horrified. The blood of Barney Miller was on my hands.
My other experiences with celebrities went more smoothly. A current ran through me when I shook Michael Jordan's hand and welcomed him to Pebble (though it turned to a jolt of pain when I strapped on his back-breaking leather Chicago Bull golf bag). I had the chance to talk sports journalism with Bill Walsh, football with Chris Berman and European cuisine with Eddie Van Halen. Twice I squired Michael Douglas around when he played hooky from the set of Basic Instinct, and had I known then what I know now that I've seen the movie, rest assured we would have talked about more than just the charm of San Francisco.
Jack Lemmon gave me a $10 tip for cleaning his clubs, and James Woods stiffed me for doing the same. George Strait gave me a walk-through of his touring penthouse-on-wheels and slid me a chunk of volcanic beef jerky on the way out the door. I spent 45 minutes chatting with David Robinson at the driving range while he loosened up his epic swing. I once wrapped my hands around Leslie O'Neal's massive biceps, and wanted to do the same to Jay Leno's neck—I had to beg him to remove his car from our precious loading zone. Dennis Quaid flashed me one of his killer grins when I slipped him a dozen souvenir scorecards.