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Doug Sanders

Doug Sanders Golf Tournament

The top photo shows Alan Shepard, Toby, and me in Admiral Shepard's golf cart. Photo Credit: Chris Seaman

The bottom photo shows Neil Armstrong teeing off on the back 9.
Photo Credit: Mine

Sitting With Alan Shepard In His Golf CartTuesday, May 12 1992

Tomorrow I will head down to Houston for the Doug Sanders Celebrity Golf Tournament. This professional/amateur tournament is held to raise money for charity. My personal motivation for attending this event is that there may be three astronauts participating in the celebrity portion of the tournament on Thursday and Friday.

These three astronauts have the extra distinction of being three of the twelve men who have walked on the Moon. One of these moonwalkers, I have met before.  That would be Alan Shepard.  The other two, I have not met.  They are the first and last men on the Moon, Neil Armstrong and Eugene Cernan.  Meeting Neil is probably the “Holy Grail” of astronaut autograph collecting. As of last Friday Neil was still scheduled to participate.

Driving along with me down to Houston will be Andy Sheppard and my fiancée's 10 year old son, Toby.  Andy is friend of mine and over the years we have attended many events related to space exploration.

Neil Armstrong Tees OffWhen we arrive in Houston, we are supposed to meet up with another space enthusiast. I have only recently become acquainted with at work. His name is Chris Seaman.

We are going to stay in the same hotel that the celebrities are staying in.  It is our hope that we will get a chance to introduce ourselves to these three moonwalkers.

Wednesday May 13, 1992

We left Dallas at about 2:40 PM Wednesday afternoon.  We arrived at the hotel in Houston at about 6:30 PM.

As we were driving around the parking lot, Andy asked me what Chris looked like.  Andy and Chris had never met before.  While I was trying to describe Chris, Andy asked, “You mean that guy over there that looks like an ax murderer?”  I looked at the person that Andy referred to and sure enough that was Chris.

While I was checking into the hotel, entertainer Robert Goulet was checking in at the counter next to me.  After we checked in, we grabbed a quick meal at a local restaurant.  We returned to the hotel after dinner and sat down in lounge area of the hotel to relax.

Mike Connors, the television actor from the 1970s television series "Mannix" came over to the lounge.  He seemed in good spirits so we approached him for an autograph.  I shook his hand and thanked him for the autograph and asked him if he was playing in the Tournament tomorrow.  His reply was "You bet your sweet ass I am!"  I was rather surprised that he responded this way, but he probably had a few drinks under his belt by then.

They closed down the lounge at about 10:00 PM so we went into the main hotel bar to see who might still around.  Robert Goulet was in there at a table with his wife.  Chris and Andy went over to get an autograph of Goulet, while I stayed at the bar. I sent Toby over to get an autograph from Goulet for himself also.

When Toby returned from meeting the Goulets, he had a big smile on his face.  Toby exclaimed, “He kissed me on the cheek, Robert Goulet kissed me!”  Toby then told me that Chris and Andy were sitting down at the Goulets table.  At that point I decided to join them rather than stay by myself at the bar.

We had a nice if not sometimes bizarre conversation.   For the most part the bizarre aspects of the conversation were between Chris and Mr. Goulet.  Occasionally during the conversation, Mr. Goulet would break out in to a bar from a song.  He was having a great time.

It was getting late and Goulet turned towards Toby and said, “Young man, you should be in bed.  Furthermore, so should I.”  We thanked Mr. Goulet for his hospitality and Chris asked him to sign an index card.

We retired to our hotel room.  After we had got there Chris looked at the card that Goulet had signed for him.  The inscription was, “Chris, what are you doing? Robert Goulet.”  Perhaps no more profound words had ever been written.

We did not see any astronauts yet, but it was certainly a fun to meet Robert Goulet and Mike Connors.  There was one bit of bad news that we found out that night.  The schedule for the next mornings tee times did not list Gene Cernan.  Apparently Mr. Cernan had a conflicting engagement and would not be participating in the tournament.

At least Armstrong and Shepard were still listed on the schedule.  With those two playing, Thursday should still be a fantastic day.

Thursday, May 14, 1992

Andy woke up with a migraine headache on Thursday.  We felt sorry leaving Andy behind at the hotel room, but  there was nothing that we could do for him.  Toby and I got a ride over to the tournament with Chris.

Alan Shepard was supposed to tee off at 9:10 AM.  Armstrong's tee time was 1:10 PM.  We watched Shepard tee off and then followed his group around for the first 9 holes.

It was possible to talk with Shepard at times in between holes.  Chris asked Mr. Shepard if Armstrong was going to be there. Shepard's reply was, "He is here, but he is really pretty shy.  In the last few years Neil's gotten a lot better with dealing with the public. However, he is still a really shy man.  When we were test pilots at Edwards Air Force Base, Neil and his wife stayed up in the mountains most of the time.  They never had much to do with anybody else." It was interesting to get this perspective of the first man who walked on the Moon from the first American who flew in space.

At the ninth hole, we asked if it would be all right to get a picture sitting next to Shepard in his golf cart.  He said "Sure!"  When I took a photo of Chris and Toby in the cart with Shepard, I said "Okay, on 3; ready 1, 2, 3."  Shepard said "You know you didn't have to count that way, you should have counted 3, 2, 1."

Having Shepard refer to a countdown was fun. At one point one of the other members in Shepard's golf group asked Shepard if he knew “How many astronauts it took to screw in a light bulb?” Shepard answered "Three, but the light bulb weighs 7,000 pounds."

I was rather amazed at the small number of spectators that followed Shepard's group around the golf course, there were probably less than 8 people including the 3 of us.  The big crowds seemed to be drawn to Arnold Palmer and other sports celebrities.

It was time to take a break for lunch.  Lunch was good, but it was a rather awkward situation.  Chris grew up for the most part in Australia.  As such, he was not inclined to tip the wait staff at restaurants.  I was rather embarrassed. It took some doing, but I finally convinced Chris that leaving a tip at a country club restaurant was the appropriate thing to do.

We got over to the number 1 tee at about 12:30. They were running about 20 minutes ahead of schedule.  Toby saw a guy next to a golf cart and asked if that was Armstrong.  The guy had on a white golf visor, white shirt, and teal blue trousers.  He was bent over working on his clubs. I could not see his face.

This person was out in the public area all alone.  There was no one around him. With this apparent anonymity, I assumed it could not have been the first man to have walked on the Moon.  He finished the work on his clubs and stood up.

With the golf visor on, it was still difficult to get a good look at the person's face. This man looked fairly tall.  Based upon that, I still did not think this was Neil Armstrong.  After all, weren't astronauts supposed to be on the shorter side so that they would fit in the capsule?

At that moment, a person went over to ask for an autograph.  It now became obvious that this indeed was Neil Armstrong.  We joined in, and Armstrong signed a photo for each of us.

A newspaper reporter showed up to ask Armstrong some questions about space. The night before, STS-49 space shuttle astronauts Pierre Thuot, Rick Hieb, and Tom Akers completed the first three man spacewalk in history.  In a daring EVA, they recovered the Intelsat satellite by grabbing it with their hands. It was interesting to be able to hear Neil respond to the interviewer's questions in person.

Chris, Toby and I then followed Neil's group around the course.  After the 12th hole, Toby and Chris became very fatigued from the heat and humidity.  In May the humidity in Houston can be pretty oppressive. I chose to continue to be a member of Armstrong's gallery. Toby and Chris headed on back into the clubhouse.

When Armstrong's group started out on the course there were probably about 10 spectators following along.  By the time of the 13th hole, I was the only spectator left.  So for the next 4 holes, it was just Armstrong, golf professional Larry Ziegler, four amateur golfers, and myself.  I was a gallery of one.

With all of Armstrong's notoriety, who would have thought that at any point he would draw only one spectator?  It was kind of mind boggling to be there and be the only person watching Neil play golf with his group.

At the 17th hole some other spectators did join the gallery. Andy did make it out to the course just at the end of Armstrong's game and was able to meet him and receive his autograph.  That was good, as it would have been awful if we had this opportunity and Andy should miss it for a migraine.

I should mention that I noticed one “super collector” out and about the golf course that day.  This person would go around the course ahead of Armstrong's group and beg people to get a photo signed for him by Armstrong.  After Armstrong's entourage passed, this person would go back and collect the booty. Does anyone wonder why some celebrities get turned off from signing autographs?

At the end of the day, with Armstrong very tired from the outing, the super collector stopped Armstrong yet one more time.  He asked Armstrong to sign a baseball.  Neil declined, but the collector persisted, begging, “It's for my kid.”  About a year later, I ran into this super collector again and in casual conversation, I asked him, how his kid was doing?  The super collector's response was, “I don't have any kids.”

With the type of behavior that the super collector exhibited, we are probably fortunate that he does not have any kids.

Friday, May 15, 1992

Today, Shepard's and Armstrong's tee times were within 15 minutes of each other.  We followed Shepard for a couple of holes, and then followed Armstrong for a couple.

Toby wanted to get Armstrong to autograph a Space Shots card for him.   When Toby asked Mr. Armstrong, the response was, “I will autograph anything else for you except a trading card.”  I asked if he would be willing to autograph a book.  Armstrong agreed, so I was able to get him to autograph a copy of "First On The Moon".

To be able to get this book signed by Armstrong was special for me.  After all it was credited as being written by the Apollo 11 crew along with a couple by the name of Farmer.  Also, in this very same book, I was able to previously get Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to sign.  Now, I had the entire set of Apollo 11 crew signatures on a single page.

I thanked Mr. Armstrong, wished him the very best of luck, and shook his hand. It was hard to believe that a meeting such as that was even possible.  Five years before this, I would never have dreamt about meeting any astronaut, yet alone the first man to have walked on the Moon.

With our primary objectives accomplished at this tournament, we chose to return home rather than to stay the whole day for the remainder of the tournament. In the past two days I had walked around 31 holes of the golf course. It was hot. It was humid. We were exhausted.  We were elated.

We left the Houston area at about 1 PM on Friday and got home at about 5:30 PM. Much to my surprise and delight, I was informed that there would be an opportunity to meet another moonwalker that weekend. On Sunday night, in Dallas, Apollo 14 moonwalker Doctor Edgar Mitchell would be making an appearance.  He was giving a lecture that was open to the public at the Unity Church.

Sunday, May 17, 1992

We got to the church fairly early, so that we would get a good seat for Doctor Mitchell's lecture.  His talk covered concepts of cosmic consciousness and the universe.

It was pretty far out stuff.  To give you a flavor of the evening, at the beginning of the lecture, Doctor Mitchell had us sit back and close our eyes. We were supposed to imagine that we had floated out of our body and could look back upon our bodies sitting in the chairs.

Sadly I have not been able to transcend into the realm of enlightenment that Doctor Mitchell professes to have reached.  It was a really strange lecture. The subject matter was needless to say a little difficult to grasp.

After the lecture, Doctor Mitchell was gracious enough to meet people and sign autographs for them.  He was very warm and friendly. We met three moonwalkers in three days.  That was one fourth of all the men who had walked on the moon.

The addition of Armstrong and Mitchell brought the total number of moonwalkers that I have met up to this point to 9.  I still needed to meet, Pete Conrad, Dave Scott, and Gene Cernan.  It became a quest of mine to meet all twelve.

I was confident that I would someday meet Pete Conrad and Gene Cernan.  However Dave Scott seemed to be much more elusive. Scott perhaps would be harder to meet than even Neil Armstrong, himself. It would take a great deal of luck to pull off a meeting with Scott.

Sometimes you do get lucky though.  Evidence of that was the chance meeting of Doctor Mitchell.  For the Armstrong encounter, I had been planning that meeting for about 6 months.  Mitchell's lecture just fell into my lap in a matter of two days.

UPDATED : January 7, 2007
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