Ever wonder what it would be like to be Arnold Palmer? Just once, just for a while? One need only wrangle an invitation to Denver's Castle Pines Golf Club—site of this week's Sprint International—where locker room man Tom Horal sees to it that everyone feels like a king. "My first year on Tour, I was too intimidated to go into most locker rooms," says Scott McCarron. "Then I got to Castle Pines, and Tommy walked out and shook my hand: 'Hello, Scott! How are you? It's good to see you,' he said. I had never met him, yet he greeted me like an old friend. I was a nobody, but he treated me as if I were Jack Nicklaus." Meaning, "Tom really goes out of his way for you," says Nicklaus himself. "He knows how to make you feel at home."
Push the trunk button and Horal and his staff bolt into action. Blink and your clubs are stored and your car is parked. Step inside and your shoes will be shined and a beverage poured by the time you've been introduced around. Need a game? Golf or cards? Something to eat? Prescription picked up? Dry cleaning dropped off? Tickets to the Rockies' game? Horal's alphabet skips straight from m to p—he doesn't know no. "If we haven't got it, we'll get it," he says in a Midwestern baritone. His blond hair and moustache are dusted with gray that, at 47, is the consequence of work, not age. "The toughest part of our job," he says, "is having to scramble and making certain no one notices."
The red carpet is not rolled up when the pros roll out of town. "I figured they thought I was a member," says Don Birdwell, a seven handicapper from Oklahoma who was a recent guest at Castle Pines. "They treated me better there than they do at my own club."
Horal hears this and smiles. "My mother taught me to treat people the way I wanted to be treated," he says. "I try to make everyone feel comfortable. Just like Cheers? There, everyone knows your name. Here, Horal knows everyone's name, and once you've met him, he never forgets. "Not only does Tommy remember your name," says Tour pro Brian Henninger, "he knows your wife's, your kids' and your caddie's, as well as your favorite drink—and he'll have it waiting for you after your round."
"You have to anticipate," Horal says, "like Radar on M*A*S*H? As he speaks, he spies a member reaching for a cigar at one of the wooden tables that give the locker room its cozy hunting lodge feel. Before the Arturo Fuente reaches the member's lips, Horal is there with a snip, a light and an ashtray. Service with a startle.
Making the extra effort was a lesson Horal learned from his high school golf coach, Don Ancypa, who drove him home from practice every day after Horal's family had moved from Detroit to Brighton, a suburb 45 minutes away. Calling people by name was impressed upon him by Tom Kinsley, who gave Horal his first job, in the bagroom at Lakelands Golf and Country Club in Brighton.
Horal met his future bride, Karen, at Lakelands, where she summered as a waitress. In 1975, seeking a change of scenery and a new challenge, the young couple piled their two babies and worldly possessions into an AMC Pacer and chased the sun to Florida. "I opened up the want ads," he says. "Jupiter Hills needed a locker room manager, and I needed a job."
For the next eight years Horal shuttled the family (another baby made three) between winters in Florida and summers in Chicago, at famed Butler National. A member at Butler, Jack Vickers, recruited Horal for Eldorado Country Club in Indian Wells, Calif., and then, in 1984, to his new club, Castle Pines. "Tommy works his butt off," says Vickers. "I've seen other good ones [ Vickers belongs to 14 golf clubs], but never one as good as Tommy."
It's the night before the annual member-guest and Horal's joint is jumping. Hundred-hour workweeks are light duty during the season, which runs from April to October. Save for the five or six days he takes off to sleep, Horal is in every day before the early birds and up late with the night owls. This is looking like one of those nights when the game moves straight from the card table to the 1st tee. Horal calls Karen to let her know he'll catch a nap on the massage table. She understands.
It's late. The interview is over. Actually, it has been over for hours, but I kept asking questions because I didn't want to go. I'll miss it here. Horal sets a fresh drink before me. I start to say, "You read my mind," but he already knows. Cheers.