Thoughts on Pebble Beach by Jay Skolnick

Golf – a game that exposes all your weaknesses, strengths, character, and abilities. I learned from my golf gurus that you should play golf with people to learn what kind of people they are if you want to do business, or associate at a firm, or whatnot. One round tells you everything you would ever want to know: liar, cheat, honorable, strong, weak, jovial, cerebral, a person you can count on, a person who only cares about himself, a person who works hard, a person who you want to make into a life-long friend. That’s what golf gives you – it takes years to find that out about people but only one round of golf.

I’m feeling a little nostalgic as I watch the U.S. Open being played at Pebble Beach, one of my favorite golf courses in the “hole” world!

It’s been two years since my battle with cancer began, and I was forced to take stock as they say. It made me realize how lucky I have been in my life – a wonderful wife, two amazing daughters, a great family, and lots of friends. I am thankful for the musical community/family that has embraced me so warmly as I dragged my family full force into a passion I had many years ago that now consumes a great part of our lives these days.

But as I watch hole by hole at Pebble I am feeling thankful and nostalgic for my “golf family”, the great guys who played the game with me and learned so much and shared so much of our lives

together through a game many think is a rich man’s (nonsense). They put up with me when I sucked at the game, this game that as a youth I thought was an old man’s sport and not very exciting.

I got into it late at around 30, but was always an athlete, playing baseball and then softball when I was older. I was an avid runner and played other sports as well. Softball was a tough sport to be the organizer of; I would plead, “hey Steve we are short two players – it’s Sunday morning but can you get up and fill out our team??” click!! Needless to say, I was ready for a change. After many years of that, my brother, Gary, finally convinced me to take a stab at golf. I no longer had to worry about twelve guys, only 4, and I could even go out alone… yes, it was for me.

After all, Dad used to take me to the driving range as a little kid, so I had some understanding of it but I never actually played the game. Divorce took that part of my golf education away and I had no idea why my Dad was so hooked on the game, belonging to a prestigious club, traveling all over playing with his golf buddies.

I didn’t know what I missed until I was hooked, but I travelled my own path to my Dad’s obsession learning how to actually play the game, not just banging balls at a driving range. There is so much more to the game. A game that can hook you harder than anything, that can never be mastered, that no matter how good you get you are never satisfied, a game that when it all comes together and you are at your best and lucky

enough to be playing with your buddies or great competitors… it becomes nirvana if only for a few minutes. That is very similar to musicians and the playing of music in live settings. The two things, have similar effects on a person. No wonder so many musicians have discovered golf.

My brother-in-law, Don, helped me learn the ways of country club golf as well as muni golf (public). Don taught me how to handle the gambling, and winning and losing money – not just the match – that comes with golf played by real golfers every weekend.

Amateur golfers get to play a sport that the pros play, on the same “fields” with the same equipment as them, and that makes the game even more alluring.

I became heavily involved in the Security Traders Association, a trade association for Security Traders, and found that golf made for great networking. I started running the STA golf tournaments and found that the more involved I got, and better I got, the more known I became. As usual I dove in head first. Now it was golf in my professional life and my weekend hobby.

When I became president of the Florida Chapter, STAF, I chose the San Francisco chapter conference as my first visit to an away conference representing my chapter. Why? After Starting in San Fran, we all travelled down to Monterey to play golf at Pebble Beach as part of the conference. I believe there was some business conducted but you know why I was there. This kind of plan would repeat itself for years as I found conferences to go to where the golf was the best and made family vacations out of these work events. Whale watching with the kids in Vancouver and Whistler Mountain by train, Aspen in the summer and the Continental divide, New York and the top of the World Trade Center – we had a blast as a family and I got to play golf thanks to the Pebble Beach plan!

It was, “Doc”, Gerry Decaro who got me and my colleague/friend Steve Taormina on Pebble my first time at that Conference way back when. I wasn’t connected yet and needed help getting on (the conference was played on another great course there, Spanish Bay) and that was the biggest name course I had had the chance to play. I shot 37 on the front side my first time there with Gerry and I was a 17 handicap then, so, of course, after I realized how great I was playing I shot 47 on the back, yikes.

While playing with Gerry at that memorable first round and after watching Pebble on TV for so long, you would think I would know my way around the course. We had golf carts that time and

I was driving. The 8th hole has a huge cliff that you hit your drive towards and then head left around it to finish the hole way down the hill to a beautiful green across from that cliff. As I drove towards it, all exuberant at how far I hit off the tee, with the golf cart floored, Gerry turned to me and calmly said, “Jay, turn left and stop”. I did, thankfully, and am here to tell the story instead of going over the side of that cliff to become

part of Pebble beach disaster lore – thanks Gerry. Doc bought me some souvenirs in golf’s greatest pro shop that day to remember the first time!

As I was becoming a golfer, I got a new job as Head Trader at JW Charles, an up and coming Broker dealer in Boca Raton that was acquired by another firm. It was my job to work with the JW Brokers with their trading so that there would be no clash of cultures. The director of trading was a strong woman

in a male dominated world at the time, Colette Dorado. To get the job I had to win over their top broker with the most influence and Collette believed she needed a male that could handle the trading job and win Bruce over. It was an uncomfortable meeting but somehow I got the job.

When I was called in to learn I was hired, Collette who had learned I played golf, said my first order of business was to play golf with Bruce. Imagine that, a directive by work to go play golf? I was allowed to get us a membership at a great golf club called Polo Trace and Bruce and I became great golf buddies for many many years. Bruce taught me a lot and we became close. My kids babysat his kids as they did with my other golf buddy, Dr. Steve Alman, one of Bruce’s friends. I have been all over the world with these guys.

Other friends gave me the competition I needed to learn how to get better or lose. Bruce Sallah kicked my ass enough that I had to put the time in, to get better and match him. Fellow trader Tim Moore and I used to get up at the crack of dawn and play the munis as the sun rose. We were close for years, played golf every weekend with Steve Alman and Mike Morrisett alternating as a group with Bruce. I got Tim a job working alongside me at JW and my golf life was going full tilt. Mike was so crazy that when he moved away he would call in on a Saturday morning and bet each of us by phone as we played our rounds for the side actions – $100 says you can’t

make par on number 7! Check is in the mail! We vowed to meet at Pebble one day.

Tim would move away also and I would visit him in Atlanta often just to play golf for a weekend with him. He was crazy and it would be very common for matches to go into big money at any given time but overall we broke even on each other. When computer games first came out they offered a golf game where you could play Pine Valley, St. Andrews, or Pebble Beach. We played Pebble Beach and Tim always took it too far, $10 a hole to start but eventually $100 a hole.

Tim died a couple of years back, and even though he was quite ill and weak, he made a trip down to see me. He brought his son, Christopher, who I watched grow up since he was a baby. He insisted that we go out and play a match even in his very frail condition. It was hard to not be emotional as he tried to bet me as he had always done in the past. I told him it was great just being with him and he finally just watched as I played golf with his son. I believe he wanted me to see what a great young man Chris had become and he wanted Chris to see how his father and I behaved on the course in the old days and the fun we had. Tim died shortly thereafter and I often think about how that was so important to him. I am grateful.

Early on I discovered that many Florida golf courses are mostly flat and uninteresting. I wanted to play the places all the greats have played and the places I saw on TV. That started my desire to take golf trips. Most golfers go on golf trips at some time or another but I am an obsessive person so I started organizing and leading my 3 or 7 friends and fellow traders, my Sunday guys Paul Frazzini and Barry Botfeld, and up to16 others to as many destinations as I could learn about and

get us to. We started small around Florida and then to Georgia until I finally started organizing real trips.

I met Dr. Marc Klein, who became my partner in this obsession, and we merged our group of friends and became Away We Golf. For the next 20 years we traveled the globe taking our friends to Scotland and St. Andrews- the home of Golf, Ireland, England, all the way across the U.S. to

Pebble, and everything in between. We prided ourselves in knocking off every top 100 list there was and much more. We would take two to three trips a year at times. Sometimes as many as 36 guys signed up. It was crazy work; we organized the travel, the golf, the matches and competitions, the dinners and everything else, but it was so much fun. The rotation always at some point came back to Pebble Beach! I am sure all my buddies are watching this week as I am.

I joined golf clubs and played every weekend as my kids were growing up, playing very early in the mornings, and having the whole days with the family. I got good enough to hold my own and made great friendships along the way. Golf was my passion and I became an expert on equipment, golf news, destinations, you name it, just as my Dad did with his group of friends at his club in New York.

Pebble Beach was a constant – I’ve been there many times at this point. We all watch it on TV every year as the pros play Pebble Beach. We know every hole and we watch the celebrities play with the pros and get goosebumps knowing we have walked the same ground and made the same mistakes and enjoyed the same wonderful scenery. Bing Crosby started an annual clambake many years ago, now the Pebble Beach Pro Am, that allows amateurs (celebrities, sports stars, leaders of industry, etc.) to play along with the pros during the televised tournament. We get to see the likes of Bill Murray, Clint Eastwood, Neil Young, Alice Cooper, Tom Brady, Kevin Costner, and many others play out

their childhood wishes right in front of us with Tiger and Phil et al.

I did numerous crazy side trips to make my way to Pebble other times.

Once while on an organized trip with all the guys to a place in Seattle and then to Oregon, I left a day early from Florida because a friend, trader Charlie

McBride, had played Pebble and told me how great a shape it was in at the time, so I asked one of the guys to meet me in San Fran, rented a car and drove down in time (2 hours) to be last out and played the last two holes in the dark. We then drove back to San Francisco, got three hours sleep, and hopped a plane to meet the guys in Seattle. It was worth every minute. I don’t remember what we shot but I do remember the first tee where everyone watches you tee off and claps if you hit good ones. And I remember the 18th at Pebble, a memorable closer, usually lined with visitors or guests watching a golfer make their way in also clapping for good shots as the seals and whales splash in the surf, the waves cracking against the shore as you tap in the last putt. There is nothing like it.

We have been to many great golf courses over the years and I like best the ones on the coasts with the sea as the backdrop, the links courses, like overseas and the home of golf in Scotland. Pebble is America’s answer to that for me. It’s a resort course that anyone can play, although it’s the most expensive muni in the world. It has it all, the great design on a great piece of land where the designer, Jack Nevile, and the developer, Sam Morse, agreed to keep the course on the ocean and the mansions on the inward side leaving it one of the most spectacular walks that golf has to offer along the Pacific. The great Alastair MacKenzie tweaked it, as did Jack Nicklaus

later. Many people just walk around the grounds and stay at the resort.

My kindred spirit of my golf buddies, Bill Dagistino, has pushed me into visiting Pebble numerous other times. We have found several ways of creating excursions to Pebble while on the West coast and it never disappoints. We have played it on warm, sunny days and cold, rainy days and with winds howling. The final bill is usually shocking. However, as we drive away each time, we get a gleam in our eyes and agree “worth every penny dammit!!…Back in 2021 Jay? We will see Bill!”

I fondly remember all of it and all of my golf years as I watch this year’s U.S. Open at Pebble. I remember the TV highlights as Tiger dominated the world and Pebble that year, as Jack hit the

famous 1-iron on 17 that year, as Tom Watson chipped in on 17 that year (I wanted to be Tom Watson later and practiced chipping religiously to pull off that same shot).

I spent over 25 years traveling the world to play golf, organizing trips, and playing weekend golf. Since my cancer, I have lost 30 pounds and my golf game. I am not one to attack something vigorously if I don’t feel I can do it at least adequately.

It’s not just the cancer. I can’t blame it all on that. I also have put so much of myself into the music world with my photography, our collaboration with Blues Radio Intl, The Funky Biscuit, and my new venture, the South Florida Music Magazine all while working a full time job too. So my golf game has suffered for it.

However, these obsessions all include my family while golf did not. I share this photography obsession with them. I practice playing guitar and harmonica in the back room and they graciously tell me I am getting better (probably not- but it is therapeutic). I go out all hours of the night to cover events for the magazine sometimes, but they are supportive and help tremendously with the magazine. Darla, Jenifer, and Jessica all have a great talent for photography as well and help whenever they can. So if I have lost my golf skills and am not competitive anymore, I can feel satisfied that all that energy to my golf family all those years is now being channeled into my first love growing up: the live music scene. It has and is very rewarding to have something to share with them.

But my golf buddies keep calling: PEBBLE this year Jay! Pebble next year Jay?

I am hearing them and watching TV this year as the U.S. Open is contested at one of the truly great masterpieces in golf. Pebble Beach! I may have to get off the couch and find some time for my golf buddies again.

With all that said, as I sit here watching the most recognizable golf course in the world on TV, knowing how many times I have schemed to get myself out there, I am thinking maybe I should get out of the house and smell the

grass at the golf course – a smell that rejuvenates me, hit a few shots, see if I can find it again. The manicured greens to putt on and the sound of a golf ball struck in the sweet spot of the club. Man. Tom Watson almost won the British Open at 60. Maybe I can find my golf game mentally while watching the pros this weekend with my Dad watching and calling when something exciting happens. Maybe it has to start mentally.

Memories – this Father’s Day I will be on the phone with my Dad discussing the shots they are hitting and we will both reminisce about our great golf days and we will marvel at how far they hit the ball these days…. Dad said he is going out to hit some balls and try to find his game again at 85 – hmm – we seem to be thinking alike. Dale called “how about playing this Sunday”?

I am going to have to find a way to bring it all together and get my golfers together with my music world – stay tuned. A Golf tournament is in the works. Alice Cooper, are you listening? Don’t call me until 7 pm on Sunday when the winner is announced!!

Happy Father’s Day in advance, Dad!