On a golf course, nearly 50 years ago, I met one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Remembering his kindness still brings a smile to my face and a warmth to my heart.
The game of golf brought a richness to my life that is hard for me to explain, though playing the way I now play the game shouldn’t really be called playing. For the most part, it should be christened surviving. That I survive a round of golf now feels like a minor accomplishment. Furthermore, each time I find myself on a golf course, not killing anyone else in my foursome with an errant sand shot is something to which I aspire.
There was a time, in my long-lost youth, when I would attempt to hole-out each green-side bunker shot. As I nestled my spikes into the near-white grains, I’d be feeling with my feet for depth, density and moisture content. I would be imagining my swing, the trajectory of the ball and visualize it going into the hole. And back in those days I made many bunker shots! The bunkers, in those days, were merely another lie from which to play a green-side shot.
Of course, back then I played seven days a week. Now, on the two or three times each year that I get to play/survive a round of golf, I find myself in many green-side bunkers and before each swing I am saying a silent prayer that, if I skull this shot, please don’t let it kill anyone in my group. Or anyone on an adjacent fairway, for that matter.
My brother-in-law, Duane, has recently retired from work-a-day life, and has taken up the sport and, once in a while, calls to treat me to a round with him and some of his new friends. My once compact and fluid golf swing has devolved into a twisting, slashing, bone-creaking gesticulation reminiscent of a charging canine reaching the end of a long chain—and, now that I think about it, with each swing I probably grunt the same uncontrolled utterances of said dog in that instance. However, I do find it refreshing to get away from my keyboard and enjoy the fresh air and companionship.
Somewhere, within the recesses of my mostly dormant brain, are memories of shots and techniques, once nearly perfected and now long forgotten. Since golf is a game that can never be won, a game which is ever elusive, perfected may be too precise a word. Still, it is fun for me to share this knowledge with Duane and impart a modicum of information to him in hopes of adding to his enjoyment of the game.
My first round of golf was on a pitch and putt golf course at the age of seven. It did not ignite a spark within me. Then, at age 14, I became part of my ninth grade golf team and my association with the game began. To say it’s a love-hate relationship at once trivializes our romance, and is as close to a precise encapsulation as I can explain.
While on a golf course, I have experienced the most sublime elation and the most genuine heartbreak. It is through the game—by being allowed to play along with the adult males on weekends—that I learned to be a man. I learned manners and etiquette. I learned camaraderie, respect and humility. I learned when to speak and when to keep my place. I learned to win and I learned to lose. And one time I experienced, first hand, the impact on a life that can be engendered through simple human kindness.
When I was in my early teens, there was a local group trying to raise funds for the construction or expansion of a local hospital. Back in the 1960’s, there was a group that billed itself as The Hollywood Hackers. Movie and TV actors, even Los Angeles newscasters were part of the organization. A non-profit entity wishing to raise money would contract with The Hollywood Hackers and would then hold a golf tournament and charge players a fee to play with the celebrities and also sell tickets, I believe, to spectators. The celebrities would arrive on the specified day, play golf and put on a show at the dinner that evening.
Some friends and I were given the job of waiting at the entrance for participants to arrive. Once the player was checked in and directed where to park, we would, in turn, run behind their car and take their bags and shoes into the clubhouse for them. We were told this would be a good job because we’d earn tips! Yes!
The largest tip I got that day was a dollar and it was from a very nice member of the club, not one of the rich celebrities. I did get 35-cents from Larry Fine, of The Three Stooges, but I didn’t even recognize him at the time he tipped me. I also recall one TV host/newscaster from an LA TV station who was possibly the most conceited person I’ve ever met. I can still see him reacting with disgust because the man checking him in at the front of the driveway didn’t recognize him and had the audacity to ask his name.
In the Company of a Wonderful Man
My father won the tournament that day by one stroke over John Agar, who had starred with John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Fort Apache before being relegated to B-Movies like Tarantula and The Mole People.
My dad was paired that day with actor, Alvy Moore, who is perhaps best known for his role as county agent, Hank Kimball on the TV sitcom Green Acres opposite Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor. His character was notorious for making a statement, instantly reversing it (“Nice day, isn’t it?! Well… not really a nice day…”), immediately reversing it again, and finally getting lost on some tangent and then quickly exiting the scene much to Oliver’s (Albert’s) frustration.
Once my job as a bag boy was completed for the morning, I followed along with my father’s foursome. The players rode in golf carts and I walked along, catching up when they got to their next shots. And each time I caught up with the carts, Mr. Moore chatted with me. I was a bit star struck. I’d seen Mr. Moore on Green Acres many times and, to this point, he was the most recognizable celebrity I’d ever met.
He was so nice! And funny! On one hole he was lining up a shot and explaining to me how he was going to hit it. “Ok, I’m just going to take it easy… breathe deeply… stay relaxed… and then…” He took a swing and hit a poor shot. “Hit it just like your father is about to do!” I smiled and he patted me on the back as he passed me to return his club to his golf bag.
When we were waiting on the tenth tee for the group in front of us to tee off, he handed me two quarters and said, “I need your help. Do you know where there’s a candy machine?”
“Uh huh,” I mumbled.
“Do me a favor and run in and get me two candy bars. I want one chocolate bar and then get me one that’s your favorite. Got it?” I nodded my head. “One chocolate and another that’s the kind you like best.”
I took the quarters and ran into the clubhouse and straight to the candy machine. I dropped in one quarter and selected a Hershey bar. Then I stood for minutes, my finger to my lips, trying to determine which other candy bar he’d like. I was too dumb to realize that the second candy bar was for me. He’d been so kind to me that day, talking with me as if we were friends, as if I was something more than a gawky, acne-faced teen. I wanted to get him the best candy bar there was in the machine.
It’s so weird, but I think that, in wanting him to have something I thought he’d like, I chose something other than my favorite. I ran back out to him and extended the candy bars to him. Of course you know, he took the Hershey bar and said, “That one’s for you.”
I think I stammered for a second and then thanked him. This was most definitely the most incredible moment in my young life and was sure to remain unsurpassed for my remaining years. TV’s Hank Kimble bought me a candy bar! He continued to talk with me throughout his round. He was casual and friendly and, again, talked with me as if we’d been friends for years.
As I recall that day, all these decades later, the feeling in my body is of warmth and happiness. How incredible of this man to take time to make a kid feel good, to feel cared for, to feel important, to feel worthwhile. This man, who was a stranger to me, took time in those four short hours to show an interest in me. How do you ever repay that?
In my media career and life, I have tried my best to pay forward Mr. Moore’s kindnesses. Back in my radio days, when I met a young fan, I did my best to treat him the way Mr. Moore had treated me. I have no doubt that I failed more than I succeeded.
An Opportunity to Say Thank You
One day in the mid-1990’s I was invited to play golf in a fund-raising tournament for one of my clients. The event was held in Palm Desert, California. Soon after arriving that morning, I was looking for my assigned golf cart amidst the 70-plus carts lined up for the event. Walking the opposite direction was a man who looked like Mr. Moore. He nodded a friendly hello as we passed each other and I immediately spun on my heels.
“Excuse me, sir. Are you Alvy Moore?”
“Yes,” he said, turning and extending his hand.
I took his hand in both of mine and began to explain to him what I recalled of that day, some 35-plus years before. All I can remember now of that conversation was that I began to choke up and tears formed in my eyes. Somewhere within my recollections, I realized I was still holding onto his hand and awkwardly released it. He placed that hand on my shoulder and didn’t take his eyes from mine. I told him of how I still recalled his kindness to me that day and how I had tried to remember it and extend it to others. Looking at him, I saw tears welling in his eyes, too. He patted my shoulder, then again took my hand. He shook it firmly and said, “Thank you.” I swallowed, trying to suppress the lump in my throat and nodded to him once more; then we went our separate ways.
I didn’t see Mr. Moore that day or any time after. He passed away a few years later. I hoped that, in that minute or two I spoke with him, that I was able to impart to him at least some part of what he’d given to me; to let him know his kindness was not forgotten.
The game of golf has given me so much more than a little exercise and some fresh air. It is a dominant and vivid pattern woven through the tapestry of my life. Golf, to me, is the ultimate metaphor of life. You never know from one moment to the next, what will happen and who you’ll meet.
Thanks for the life-lesson, Mr. Moore.
Thanks for the round of golf today, Duane.
It is a nice day.