Clint Eastwood is an American film icon, and still, at age 88, one of the hardest-working people in entertainment. From 1954, when he begin his career on the television series Rawhide, through 2018 and his latest film, The Mule, he has appeared on screen more than 70 times and directed nearly 40 films. He is also a four-time Academy Award winner.
For half a century, Eastwood has also been a lover of golf. He built Tehama Golf Club in Carmel, Calif., appeared in an USGA advertisement for pace of play with Arnold Palmer, and is a mainstay of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which will conclude Sunday at Pebble Beach Golf Links, of which he is a co-owner.
He took time last week to answer a few questions from GGP+.
How did you get started in the game?
We were living in Oakland (Calif.) when I was 12 or 13 and I got a job as a caddie. That’s when I really took to the game, as well as tennis and swimming.
Where did you play most of your golf when you were doing more acting than directing?
The Monterey Peninsula has always been sort of my home base for golf, as well as my home. A lot of years, I’d play once a year, or not at all, because I was busy trying to get a career going. It never gave me much of a chance to be a player. At home I would play with friends at a couple of the local clubs in the area and then some years ago I thought it would be a good idea to build my own place – Tehama (Golf Club, in Carmel, Calif.), which has turned out pretty well.
Was there ever at time or place when you played the “I’m Clint Eastwood and would like to play your course” card?
Not really. I suppose I have been invited to play a lot of great golf courses because of that, but it wasn’t something I pushed. I never felt that would be the right way to go about it. When friends ask you to play their course, that means something more anyhow.
When was the first time you played golf at Pebble Beach?
When a friend returned from Korea, we celebrated by playing Pebble. It is such a beautiful layout. You knew you were playing on a first-class course. I was 21 years old and I wasn’t very good. My friend and I just went out and tried to hit the ball as hard as we could. The ball would go in a lot of different directions. But we had a good time.
What was your first experience playing with a tour pro? Were you nervous? Was he nervous? What do you remember about that day?
Well, I do remember the first time I got invited to play in the Crosby in 1963. I used to joke that Bing never invited me because he didn’t like cowboys. Then when I got the invitation, Bing wrote a note that said, “P.S. By the way, I do like cowboys.” (Tournament records show Eastwood was paired with pro Stan Thirsk in the 1963 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am.)
How did you get to know Arnold Palmer? How much golf did you play with him?
We first met when we were both playing in the Crosby during the 1960s. We played now and then through the years, but never as a team in the pro-am. It was a great experience, though, when we teamed up to form the partnership to buy Pebble Beach Company. Arnold was very important to making that happen. We sure miss him.
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Have you ever gone into character on the course? Harry Callahan, maybe? What were the circumstances?
A few times during the pro-am, usually when we play a little exhibition on Wednesday, people would ask me to say a line from the films, so I would do that occasionally. Just in good fun, which is what the pro-am is all about, even today.
What experience in golf has made your day?
I’ve been lucky. Golf has been very good to me and I hope I have been good for golf. I have been associated with the Monterey Peninsula Foundation for many years and am proud of the impactful work it does to improve the quality of life in our communities, through our golf tournaments. We continue to raise a lot of money for charity, thanks to our friends in entertainment and the great golf pros continuing to come back year after year.
Who is your favorite professional golfer to play with?
I have played with so many great guys, but I probably should say that Ray Floyd is my favorite, just because he put up with me for so many years as my partner in the pro-am. We had some great times together. We never won, but that’s golf.
What is your favorite story of playing with a pro?
The year (1987) we almost lost Jack Lemmon down the cliff on the 16th hole at Cypress Point. His tee shot was short of the green, down in the ice plant a foot from the drop off the cliff. Jack says he’s going to play it. I went over and grabbed him by the belt so he wouldn’t kill himself and then his partner Peter Jacobsen grabbed my arm because he thought we were both going to fall. Turns out that my partner Greg Norman had grabbed onto Jake’s belt and Greg’s caddie grabbed his. The whole thing was caught on television. They called it “The Human Chain.” I don’t think it was the smartest thing I ever did, but we lived, so it’s a great story.
You’re almost 90. Do you still love the game?
Once you fall in love with golf, you’re hooked. Sometimes you love it, sometimes you hate it. But that passion never leaves you. Crazy, isn’t it?
How much do you play now?
Not a lot, even though I live at the golf course (at Tehama), so I am right there. I get out and play a few holes here and there.
If you couldn’t play golf in Northern California, where would you play regularly?
I am not sure it would be a specific place, necessarily, but rather where you can play with family and friends. The best part of golf is how it brings people together.
Great jazz, or a well-struck driver?
I kind of like the sound of both.
Top photo: Clint Eastwood practices his golf swing during a break in shooting on location for Rawhide in 1963. Photo CBS Photo Archive
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