Ever wonder what it would be like to be Arnold Palmer? Just
once, just for a while? One need only wrangle an invitation to
Denver's Castle Pines Golf Club--site of this week's Sprint
International--where locker room man Tom Horal sees to it that
everyone feels like a king. "My first year on Tour, I was too
intimidated to go into most locker rooms," says Scott McCarron.
"Then I got to Castle Pines, and Tommy walked out and shook my
hand: 'Hello, Scott! How are you? It's good to see you,' he
said. I had never met him, yet he greeted me like an old friend.
I was a nobody, but he treated me as if I were Jack Nicklaus."
Meaning, "Tom really goes out of his way for you," says Nicklaus
himself. "He knows how to make you feel at home."
Push the trunk button and Horal and his staff bolt into action.
Blink and your clubs are stored and your car is parked. Step
inside and your shoes will be shined and a beverage poured by
the time you've been introduced around. Need a game? Golf or
cards? Something to eat? Prescription picked up? Dry cleaning
dropped off? Tickets to the Rockies' game? Horal's alphabet
skips straight from m to p--he doesn't know no. "If we haven't
got it, we'll get it," he says in a Midwestern baritone. His
blond hair and moustache are dusted with gray that, at 47, is
the consequence of work, not age. "The toughest part of our
job," he says, "is having to scramble and making certain no one
The red carpet is not rolled up when the pros roll out of town.
"I figured they thought I was a member," says Don Birdwell, a
seven handicapper from Oklahoma who was a recent guest at Castle
Pines. "They treated me better there than they do at my own club."
Horal hears this and smiles. "My mother taught me to treat
people the way I wanted to be treated," he says. "I try to make
everyone feel comfortable. Just like Cheers." There, everyone
knows your name. Here, Horal knows everyone's name, and once
you've met him, he never forgets. "Not only does Tommy remember
your name," says Tour pro Brian Henninger, "he knows your
wife's, your kids' and your caddie's, as well as your favorite
drink--and he'll have it waiting for you after your round."
August 22, 1999
"You have to anticipate," Horal says, "like Radar on M*A*S*H."
As he speaks, he spies a member reaching for a cigar at one of
the wooden tables that give the locker room its cozy hunting
lodge feel. Before the Arturo Fuente reaches the member's lips,
Horal is there with a snip, a light and an ashtray. Service with
Making the extra effort was a lesson Horal learned from his high
school golf coach, Don Ancypa, who drove him home from practice
every day after Horal's family had moved from Detroit to
Brighton, a suburb 45 minutes away. Calling people by name was
impressed upon him by Tom Kinsley, who gave Horal his first job,
in the bagroom at Lakelands Golf and Country Club in Brighton.
Horal met his future bride, Karen, at Lakelands, where she
summered as a waitress. In 1975, seeking a change of scenery and
a new challenge, the young couple piled their two babies and
worldly possessions into an AMC Pacer and chased the sun to
Florida. "I opened up the want ads," he says. "Jupiter Hills
needed a locker room manager, and I needed a job."
For the next eight years Horal shuttled the family (another baby
made three) between winters in Florida and summers in Chicago,
at famed Butler National. A member at Butler, Jack Vickers,
recruited Horal for Eldorado Country Club in Indian Wells,
Calif., and then, in 1984, to his new club, Castle Pines. "Tommy
works his butt off," says Vickers. "I've seen other good ones
[Vickers belongs to 14 golf clubs], but never one as good as
It's the night before the annual member-guest and Horal's joint
is jumping. Hundred-hour workweeks are light duty during the
season, which runs from April to October. Save for the five or
six days he takes off to sleep, Horal is in every day before the
early birds and up late with the night owls. This is looking
like one of those nights when the game moves straight from the
card table to the 1st tee. Horal calls Karen to let her know
he'll catch a nap on the massage table. She understands.
It's late. The interview is over. Actually, it has been over for
hours, but I kept asking questions because I didn't want to go.
I'll miss it here. Horal sets a fresh drink before me. I start
to say, "You read my mind," but he already knows. Cheers.