Jun
9
2010
Playing the Swallows Tournament: Priceless
By Stephanie Wei under General

I really enjoyed Alan Shipnuck’s story on snagging an invitation to play in the prestigious Swallows tournament, where the movers and shakers of the country, who happen to also be million-billionaires gather and schmooze. (And no, Alan, I’m not just sucking up because I asked you for a(nother) favor.) Oh, the boys also manage to sneak in a few rounds of golf in between the boozing and cigar-smoking.

Per usual, Alan captures the ambience and paints the characters flawlessly, blah blah blah — which is why, in my humble opinion, he’s one of the two best golf writers these days. (Again, I’m not just trying to win you over with flattery, Alan, but is it working?)

Some excerpts:

[Bill] Perocchi continued waxing so eloquently that I could barely take notes fast enough. At some point he stopped his soliloquy and mused, “I think to really understand the Swallows spirit, you need to play in the ­tournament.”

I wasn’t sure if this was a rhetorical statement, but I quickly blurted out, “Well, Mr. Perocchi, I’d love to!”

He picked up a pen and jotted a note to himself. “We’ll make it happen,” he said.

I stumbled out of his office in a euphoric fog. Had I really been invited to play in the Swallows? Still, deep down I knew I was unworthy, and I figured Perocchi would either come to his senses or get talked out of inviting me. Months went by without any contact, and slowly my hopes dimmed. Then one day in March, I opened my mailbox to find a beautifully designed invitation. I couldn’t have been more excited had I found one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets. I read and reread the schedule of events: rounds at Cypress Point, Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill; cookouts by day, ­jacket-and-tie dinners by night. According to the invitation, all events were mandatory to foster “the Swallows spirit.”

There was only one problem: The entry fee was $5,500. I have four young kids and a bloated mortgage. Devoting that much of the family budget to three days of golf was out of the question. I called my editor in New York City, who I knew has always had his own fascination with the Swallows. I gingerly explained that I was in need of a corporate sponsorship.

“We’ll pay,” he said, in the tone of a fairy-tale bad guy offering a magic potion, “but you have to write a story about it. ”

So at long last I would get to experience the Swallows, but only as a double agent: both a starry-eyed former cart boy and a hawk-eyed reporter penetrating an event that no one, to my knowledge, had ever written about.

And he happened to be paired with actor Chris O’Donnell, the star of the hit show NCIS Los Angeles (oh, how the mighty have fallen).

During our stroll around wondrous ­Cypress Point we compared notes on every­thing from our respective minivans to our favorite courses, and I ­quickly came to understand that O’Donnell is part of golf’s ultimate in crowd, known at America’s finest clubs by his nickname, C.O.D. His annual circuit includes playing in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the Swallows and three celebrated club tournaments: the Swat at Oakmont, the Pine Valley member-guest (he’s the member) and the Swinging Bridge tournament at his home club, Bel-Air. Chris’s brother John is also an accomplished player, and the O’Donnell boys have won the Swinging Bridge three times, most recently in 2006.

“My wife understands that if it’s Pine Valley, Cypress or Augusta, I have to go,” he said. How good is that?

I recommend reading the entire article, especially the end, where I got that warm and fuzzy feeling — but not in that I’m-going-to-puke sorta way.

One bone to pick with Alan, though. In the second paragraph of the article, he wrote, “The Swallows was shrouded in mystery and exclusivity, often compared to two other status markers among the ruling class: Skull and Bones, the secret fraternity at Yale that has produced three U.S. presidents…”

Secret society, Shippy — not fraternity! There are women in Skulls now. Sheesh.