A couple of recent news items in the golf industry had me reflecting back to time spent with the main characters of the current stories, one being that Justin Timberlake had sold the Mirimichi Golf Course in Memphis.
Speculation is rampant about what caused the singer to sell for the ridiculously low price of $500,000, especially after sinking a reported $16-million into it after purchasing it in 2009.
I first chatted with Timberlake on a teleconference to discuss the Las Vegas stop on the PGA Tour, an event that once carried his name.
It was a cool discussion as he talked about the city’s connection to the Rat Pack of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford, not to mention a few other names. The boys made city fairways their regular haunts, even if it was their carousing at night that was well-documented.
Timberlake obviously revelled in this delightful bit of Vegas nostalgia and it made for a pretty cool story, not to mention making me the envy of my daughter Vanessa for even getting to talk to him.
It wasn’t a one-shot deal either, for I met Timberlake in New York at a product launch for Callaway at Grand Central Station and once again, he got caught up in a passion of his in golf. This time, it was Mirimichi, the golf course he just sold.
The rat pack of Canadian reporters who were on hand were given just a few minutes to talk to Timberlake, but when his golf course came up, he was off and running about a golf course he envisioned as being eco-friendly and some of the plans he had for it.
As the discussion went on, one of the gathering’s organizers was motioning to us to wrap the discussion, but as it was with the Rat Pack, Timberlake was enjoying the discussion and we were hardly going to cut him off, even though we had gone past our time limit.
Like the time I played with Alice Cooper, Timberlake was so down to earth that you never would have thought about his marquee value, obviously an asset for golf in the same way Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and others were before him.
It’s that passion that he’s exhibited for the game and, in particular, the golf course in Memphis that has people wondering why he would sell for such a low price.
In the bigger picture, he’s somebody who is a plus for golf, particularly with young people, which is why the more engaged he is, the better it is for the game.
Golf is also a better game for having Charlie Sifford around. Sifford, 92, will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour an American can receive, later this month.
Sifford became the first African American to earn a PGA Tour card in 1961 and was the first black player to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004, the same year Canadian Marlene Streit was put in.
I was in St. Augustine, Fla., for that ceremony with a focus on the Canadian connection, but you couldn’t help getting caught up in Sifford’s stories about playing in a “Caucasian-only” era. His latest honour is something Tiger Woods acknowledged on Twitter.
You're the grandpa I never had. Your past sacrifices allow me to play golf today. I'm so happy for you Charlie.
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) November 11, 2014
Those stories weren’t easy to hear, yet Sifford would take you on a roller-coaster with his story-telling skills, which would suddenly force smiles among his listeners.
When he found out I was Canadian, Sifford reflected back to his first professional tournament, the 1955 Canadian Open at Toronto’s Weston Golf and Country Club, eventually won by an upstart named Arnold Palmer.
Sifford opened the tournament in style, which caught Palmer by surprise.
“Arnold came off the green, run to the scoreboard. He sees that 63 up there. He said, “Charlie Sifford. How in the hell did he shoot 63?’ recalled Sifford.
“I’m standing right behind him. I said, `the same damn way you shot 64.’ That’s how we met,” he added.
“He’s a nice fellow. He’s a nice man. We understood each other tremendously,” said Sifford.
Imagine, if you will, the game never having Charlie Sifford, which could very well have been the case back then. Sifford’s potential as a player was stifled, yet his contribution to the game is immeasurable.
Recently, we have heard comments that make us wonder if we’ve learned from the past, but Sifford’s experiences haven’t been for nothing. We still need to remember his message.
Sifford has taught a valuable lesson to golf, which can take it forward into the future with the positive impact of Timberlake’s generation.