There is a story that Texas merchant millionaire Marvin Leonard looked out a window one day while having lunch at Shady Oaks, the elaborate and quite exclusive country club he built in a rolling, wooded pasture on the west side of Fort Worth. Four golfers were driving electric carts down the first fairway, a couple more were standing on the 9th green and four tiny figures could be seen at a tee far off on a piece of high ground in the distance. Leonard frowned and called for the club pro. "What the hell is going on here—a tournament?" he demanded.
About 40 miles east of Shady Oaks an old friend of Leonard's, Troy Post, has just parked his Continental Mark III in front of his office building. Bruce Leadbetter, the young red-haired president of The Post Company, is upstairs in his own office talking about his place in Baja California. "I can take off in my plane from Phoenix and when I get altitude I radio my boat captain in Baja. By the time I'm coming down I can see the wake of the boat heading toward the airstrip to pick me up, and a few minutes later I'm fishing," says Leadbetter, who made his reputation in Dallas by transforming a moribund apartment project into a fancy hotel.
A buzzer sounds. Mr. Post is waiting. Leadbetter rises, cinches up his tie, buttons his cuffs and puts on his coat to walk a few feet down the hall to the office where Post sits behind a desk. Post is wearing a green suit, white-on-white shirt, gold tie and gold cuff links. He regards Leadbetter approvingly and then frowns as he peers through gold-wire spectacles at his visitor, whose outfit is a bit careless. This office is no place to look slouchy. "Down in Acapulco a man might go around dressed, ah, informally." Post says in a voice that is eerily like that of Lyndon B. Johnson, who is an old friend, "but when you enter a man's business office, where serious affairs are conducted, there is a, ah, proper manner of dress. In Dallas you don't go around without socks."
Troy V. Post grew up in the small West Texas town of McConnel, which is a weed patch now. He did a lot of plowing and chopping as a boy. With a stake of $186 he worked his way into insurance and finance, and during World War II he offered to sell protection to GIs, who were considered unwise risks by other actuarial thinkers. In 1965 Post's Greatamerica Corporation, which controlled, among other things, Braniff Airways, had grown so large that Post sold it to Jim Ling, still another friend and something of a protégé, for $500 million. That left Post with a $3 million house in north Dallas, an island in Hawaii, a staggering collection of clocks that is continually supplemented by agents around the globe and a few commercial ventures of sufficient size to satisfy most ambitions.
"But I got thinking about what Marvin Leonard had done," said Post. "I was one of the original members of Colonial Country Club, the first club Marvin built, and I watched him build that next club at Shady Oaks—not to make money but for pleasure—and I figured that had prolonged Marvin's life 20 years. It gave me the idea to build a club of my own. I had been over to Mauna Kea, Rockefeller's club in Hawaii. Now, that's a swell club, all right, but it's hard to get a starting time on the golf course there. If you belong to a club and spend your money at it, you like to be able to tee off whenever you please. A real golfer is willing to pay the price for that privilege. What it meant was that my club had to be really big and really nice, and above all it had to be really exclusive. You don't want to sit around all day because the golf course is too crowded."
Post began searching for a site. He wanted warm weather, sunshine and convenience. The location had to be handy for international club-hoppers. Both U.S. coasts were rejected for several reasons, including the sort of advanced provincialism that causes a New Yorker to sneer at California, a Californian to grow ill at the thought of New York and both to be aghast at the idea of visiting Texas. Finally, Post poked his finger down on the map at a spot called Acapulco, on the Pacific coast of the Mexican state of Guerrero, and it was here that he decided to build his conception of a superoligarchic country club called Tres Vidas en la Playa.
Tres Vidas en la Playa means "three lives on the beach" in Spanish. "The way I conceive of it, the three lives are recreation, relaxation and communication," Post says. "At Tres Vidas you can get away from the outside world, rest and play sports, but you'll run into some of your own kind to talk to." A Tres Vidas member said recently he considers the three lives to be "achievement, sociability and recreation. You can't get in this club if you haven't got a lot of money and a good record or good contacts, and you can't stay in it unless the other big shots like you. As for the recreation, anybody would have to admit there's plenty of that."
Acapulco is a fantasy—whatever you want it to be. Once a village dominated by a stone fortress on a hill above a magnificent bay, Acapulco is now a city of about 100,000 permanent residents. During the official "season," from December until Easter, the population expands to 500,000 or more. The villas in La Pinzona, La Quebrada, Las Brisas or the newer section in the heights above the old golf course are crowded with elegant people who wear no socks or neckties; the views from these villas are spectacular vistas of mountains, jungle and blue water. Much closer, often immediately beneath the pools and terraces, are the smells of cooking fires of the very poor, and their pigs and chickens and naked children wander around palm-thatch huts.
For most American and European tourists Acapulco is a strip of tall glassy hotels that rise along a crescent of beach fronting on the bay. If the tourists leave this strip, it is to buy turista remedies at an air-conditioned, Americanized department store called Sanborns, shop for sandals and straw hats in the market, go out in chartered boats in quest of sailfish and marlin, dance in expensive discothèques or eat hamburgers in plastic and vinyl restaurants where norteamericanos believe they can get food just like back in Tulsa. (Many gringos insist upon eating at high-priced restaurants that advertise "U.S. beef." not knowing that all beef served in Mexico is Mexican, the label meaning only that the beef is supposedly judged by U.S. standards.)
Walking along this resort hotel strip, looking at the fat ladies in shorts and sunglasses, it is almost possible to imagine Miami Beach. But a few blocks from this strip—sometimes a few yards—the rest of Acapulco begins. Were it not for tourists Acapulco would depend mainly on copra, sesame seeds, fruit and fishing for its commerce. It can be a tough town and very wild, tropically lazy and suddenly violent. Three years ago, on Avenida Ejido in the north part of town, the army broke up a union meeting of copra workers by opening fire, killing 33 and wounding more than a hundred. A year earlier several cops had been drinking beer all afternoon at a sidewalk café on the zócalo; an auto backfire caused them to jerk for their pistols and begin shooting each other. Bandits are not uncommon on the highways between Mexico City and Acapulco or on the road north along the coast to Zihautanejo, where most of the region's most famous product—a weed called Acapulco Gold—is grown. Thousands of poor people camp on hillsides of the town and work as servants in hotels and villas, and farther out, in stands of coconut palms, every man carries his own machete, but these people are more willing to be friendly than a gringo has any right to expect. The life there is hot, hard, lurid and indolent, filled with such amusements as the arrival of a cruise ship from Liverpool with bare-legged Germans and baffled British, or the sight of secretaries from Manhattan, reddening in the sand. Death may come early to a campesino or a housemaid, but who is to say for sure that a poor man with his family in a dirt-floored hut that looks down at the Pacific is worse off than one who lives in a heavily mortgaged brick box in a claustrophobic suburb, working 50 weeks a year in a factory so that once in his life he can go to Acapulco and gaze at the Pacific with his own eyes and say to his wife, "Madge, this is what I call living."