By Bob Spiwak
One of the perks of being a golf writer is travel, especially when it is on someone else’s dime. In that case, there is usually a quid pro quo (something for something) involved, so it is expected that nice things will be written about whoever is picking up the tab. In this instance the trip was to Hawaii.
I think it was the late Archie Satterfield who steered me to this gig. Archie was a writer/editor for one of the two major Seattle papers, then editor of Northwest Edition, a subsidiary of Alaska Magazine, and we were good friends.
The Hawaii deal was this: pay your own way to Honolulu and from there everything was free. Hawaiian-American Cruise Lines, the only U.S.-flagged luxury liner company, was instituting a trial of golf tours, going from island to island playing renowned courses like Kapalua, Mauna Kea, and others on the Big Island, Maui, Kauai and others.
The ships were the Independence and Constitution. George Washington never slept there, but these two vessels had been major transporters of celebrities to Europe. Here and there, commemorative plaques were hung: Bette Davis, Grace Kelly, William Holden. Part of the deal was bringing a guest. I went with Bob Cram, a Seattle celebrity and TV weather cartoonist.
A dozen or so writers gathered on the deck of the Independence and were introduced to each other. Turned out there were three guys named Bob and to differentiate, I became Bob-Bob, Cram was Tall Bob, and the other I don’t remember. Later, after trying to thrash his way out of a sand trap, Cram’s nickname was changed to “Bunker Bob.”
There were about 50 paying passengers who would play with us writers on the scheduled courses, and the pro from San Francisco Golf Club gave lessons on the fantail of the ship. We would dock in the open water and be transported to a bus via tenders from the ship.
One of the ocean crossings we made was through the Molokai Channel, which we were told had the roughest water around the islands. For me — and others who did not care about 24-hour free food, comedians and dancing — being shipboard got boring in a hurry, and Cram and I would go to the companionway and putt down the corridor, wagering 10 cents a shot.
He took a lot of money from me because he could judge the break of the ball through Molokai. I was thinking about the lifeboats.
Because the writers were celebrities, we were invited to the captain’s table to join him at dinner. Ship captains are gods of the seas and having him merely nod at you was an honor. I had obligatory photos taken with him. He always had the same smile glued on his face as the line moved to have their photos taken.
Waiting our turn, Cram and I communicated with silent hand signals and decided to do something different: the signal was pointing to my leg and his chest and he got it right away — Harpo Marx leaping into Groucho’s waiting arms. Our turn came and I did not leap, but Cram did grab my lifted leg. The photo was wonderful, and the captain finally changed his frown to the rehearsed smile for another picture.
The following year I was invited back for another cruise with a different captain on the Constitution, and for my guest I took Tom Kimbrell, an excellent golfer. At the captain’s table, we behaved, although in conversation it turned out that Tom knew more about sailing an area of the Caribbean Sea than the skipper did.
Tom and I may have putted once for dimes on the weeklong excursion, and we played different courses than the year before. The trial golf voyages failed, and the lady who invited me went to a different job. I am sure we all wrote nice things except for the two writers from New England who complained about having to pay their airfare to Honolulu. Ya just can’t please some people.