When I came to America from Scotland in February 1948, I was 30 years old, a crack amateur golfer and not a complete stranger to opulence or autocratic power. I had spent seven years in the British army; I had been a guest of the Duke of Buccleuch on the Scottish border; I had visited the Gaekwar of Baroda and the Maharajah of Indore in India; I had dined at the viceregal lodge in New Delhi as the guest of Field Marshal Archibald Wavell, then the Viceroy of India.
But because the power and wealth in those places was subdued rather than flaunted, the ostentation of the Boca Raton Hotel in Florida and the power wielded there by the famed old golf pro Tommy Armour astounded me. Armour, a lean, silver-haired Scotsman who had been one of the best golfers in the world in the late '20s and early '30s when he won the U.S. and British Opens and the PGA Championship, now reigned supreme as the resident golf pro at Boca Raton. I went to Boca at Armour's invitation because of his boyhood friendship with my father.
When I drove up to the front entrance of the hotel, Armour, who was then 52, was there, accompanied by three uniformed doormen. "Pete," he ordered, "take my friend's car. Joe, get that golf bag round to the shop. Bill, go down to the Cabana Club and tell them we're ready for lunch."
I was led through the lobby to the back of the hotel, where we sat down at what was obviously the best table in the golfers' grillroom. In a matter of seconds we were surrounded by waiters, each of whom tried to be first to offer his services to my host.
During lunch, which Armour ordered with a flair that would have put Lucius Beebe to shame, I was informed that after the repast Tommy and I would play two pro-am champions from Chicago. I protested that I could not play in what I assumed would be a money round because I had no money. Armour gave me a withering look and said, "We'll take care of the bets. You just play." I marveled at his confidence in somebody he had never seen swing a club and said so. Once again he gave me a pitying look and said, "You think I came up the Clyde on a banana boat? I talked to a mutual friend last night. You can play. Even if you can't, I'll beat these turkeys by myself."
As it turned out, even though I shot a creditable 72, he did. Our opponents had a better ball of 68, four under par. But Armour shot 66 on his own ball, and we won the first nine, the back nine and the match.
Back in the golf shop, Tommy grunted a word of appreciation for my round but added, "How do you expect to be able to play well with the damned garden rakes you have in your bag? Here are some good clubs!" He threw me a box of Tommy Armour MacGregor woods and irons and dumped my old clubs in a trash barrel. The only club he let me keep was a putter I had been given at Carnoustie in 1931, when I was 14 years old. It had been a gift from Jose Jurado, the tiny Argentinian who bogeyed the last two holes that year, thereby allowing Armour to win the British Open—a turn of events that enraged the Prince of Wales, who was Jurado's friend and was scheduled to present the trophy to the winner.
More indicators of the esteem in which Armour was held at Boca Raton quickly followed. At the back of the golf shop there was a small lounge that separated the shop from the main grillroom. An invitation to sit around the rectangular table there and listen to Armour talk was much prized, and woe betide the man who failed to show proper respect. That first day I was at Boca, every chair but one was taken. Tommy was well into one of his stories, everyone listening in silent reverence, when the door opened and a tall, dignified man walked in. He sensed at once that he had entered at a wrong moment, and he stood, waiting respectfully, until the story was finished. Then, at a signal from Armour, he quietly sat down. I found out later that he was the chairman of the board of Republic Steel.
When the story-telling session was over, Tommy invited me to dinner at his home in Delray. We were greeted at the door by his wife, who welcomed me as if I were a friend of long standing. If it is possible to feel at home in the first two minutes in a strange house, I did.
Armour suggested we shower. As we left the living room he said to his wife, "Ten minutes, honey."