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Deke Slayton
Spaceweek 93
Outpost Tavern
Don Williams
Apollo 8 25th

Shoot For The Moon Golf Tournament

 
Mark Shelton, Charles Buckley, Don Williams, and me at the "Shoot For The Moon" Golf Tournament.
 Mark Shelton, Charles Buckley, Don Williams and me at the "Shoot For the Moon" Golf Tournament

On July 16th of 1993 there was supposed to be a benefit golf tournament to support the Spaceweek organization. The name of the tournament was "Shoot For The Moon Golf Tournament".  The cost to play in it was $125. The added attraction of this golf tournament was that it offered an opportunity to play with astronauts.

My friend Mark Shelton planned on playing in the tournament.  He tried to convince me to play as well. I deferred because I really didn’t know how to play golf and I didn’t want to embarrass myself.

As things turned out, the tournament was postponed from July until October.  Mark was disappointed at the postponement, but it was good fortune for me.

The delay gave me time to take some golf lessons.  I would have time to work on my swing before the tournament.  I knew I would still be a horrible golfer, but I thought I could become passable for a charity tournament.

There was only one problem with the October date that was selected. The date chosen was October 25th and October 24th was my first wedding anniversary.  I didn’t want to be away from my wife.  My wife is a very understanding person and encouraged me to participate.

That fall I took some lessons and practiced at the local driving range. The driving range was convenient for me because it was just across the street from where I worked.

Mark and I drove down to Houston on October 24th.  The tournament started in the afternoon, so we had some time to pass.  Mark arranged for us to visit Building 4S at JSC.  This was the building where the astronaut offices were located.  We were going to pick up a couple of books from the mail room on the fifth floor.  Mark had left these books there for autographs on a previous trip.

The few times that I have been in the building with the astronaut offices I have always been awed.  To walk the same hallways with people whose job it is to fly in space is just amazing. 

We were standing by the elevator when out came John Young.  Here was a man who walked on the moon.  I had read in a book that when John walked down the hallway, he didn’t greet or look at people. 

Instead he just walked along and looked down at the floor.  His behavior was so pronounced that some his colleague astronauts thought that Young was mad at them. Later they learned was just Young’s way.  That story was confirmed for me as I watched Young walk past us.

Mark and I rode the elevator up to the floor where the astronaut offices are.  We picked up our books and headed back to the elevator.  We were waiting to go back down stairs when a female voice behind me said, “Jerry, how are you?”

I was stunned that anyone would recognize me on this hallowed ground.  I turned around and realized that it was Linda Godwin.  My family had become friends of Linda’s through a school visit to our children’s school.  I really did not expect to see her and certainly did not expect to be recognized from behind.  It made me feel like I was somebody important.

I explained to Linda that Mark and I were down in Houston to play in the Spaceweek Golf Tournament.  She asked me how my game was.  I kind of chuckled and told her that I wasn’t very good, but I thought it would be fun anyway.

Mark had one more task that he wanted to accomplish at the Johnson Space Center.  He wanted to deliver some flowers to Mission Control. Mark and his family have sent a bouquet of flowers to mission control during every mission since the Challenger tragedy.  By coincidence shuttle mission STS-58 was in orbit at the time we were in Houston.  This time Mark wanted to personally deliver the flowers rather than have them delivered by a florist.

Flight Director Leroy Cain met us at the building that houses Mission Control.  I thought we would simply hand the flowers to him and that would be it.  Instead Mr. Cain had us sign in with security.  He was going to take us inside of Mission Control during an actual space mission!

As an artifact from the military space missions, the act of getting cleared to enter Mission Control was a rather elaborate process.  We filled out a form and then were given special badges.  In private Mark and I were each given our own separate passwords.  They were not written down; we just had to remember them.

Mr. Cain then took us to a big stainless steel door that resembled a vault door at a bank.  He pressed a call button and informed the security agent who we were.  Each of us then had to enter in our secret password.  I was sweating and hoping that I didn’t forget the word or mistype it on the key pad.

The door was buzzed and Cain opened it to lead us inside.  We wound around a few narrow hallways and came to another door.  Cain opened this and there we were inside of Mission Control.  Behind the consoles were the flight controllers monitoring STS-58.

Linda Hamm was the Flight Director on duty that morning.  She was very pregnant at the time.  We were standing next to her, when she made a call on her headset.  She brought all of the flight controllers on the communication loop.  Ms. Hamm then announced, “Mark Shelton is here this morning to personally deliver the roses.”  A round of applause went up.  You could tell how much the flight controllers appreciated Mark’s act of generosity and thoughtfulness with the flowers.

What a morning this was.  Recognized by an astronaut in the astronaut office and then standing on the Mission Control floor during an actual space mission.  It was a magical time.

After all of this you might think the golf tournament would be anticlimactic.  Well, it did not disappoint, it was an outstanding experience.

Mark and I drove over to the country club where the tournament was being played.  We took our golf clubs out of the car and headed towards the clubhouse.

Just before we got to the point where we could check in, we were greeted by the Houston “super collector”.  I had seen this person several times before at space events around Houston.  He made a comment to me boasting about his golf handicap.  His boast really hit me the wrong way.  I retorted, “Well some of us actually have to work for a living.”

Mark and I were pared with Space Shuttle Commander Don Williams and Charles Buckley.  Mark and I knew who Don Williams was, but we had no idea who Charles Buckley was.  Williams introduced us to Buckley and said that Charlie was known at the Kennedy Space Center as “007”. During the historic Apollo 11 mission, Buckley was giving the badge number 007 and the nickname stuck.

Charles Buckley was the head of security at the space center for 21 years between January 1960 and July 1981.  In his capacity as head of security, he personally escorted every astronaut to the launch pad during those 21 years.  Charles Buckley was a legend in his own right.

After the introductions we were told to call them Charlie and Don.  These guys were very cordial.  Mark decided that he would ride in a golf cart with Charlie and I would ride in a golf cart with Don.

I was shocked when Don asked me to drive the golf cart.  Here was a man who was experienced at driving vehicles at Mach 25 and he wanted me to drive.  I protested, but Don insisted.

The tournament Marshall told us about the rules for the day.  He told us that the 90 degree rule was in effect.  I had no clue what that meant.  I was after all not an experienced golfer.  I would later find out what that rule meant.

We got up to the first tee and took turns teeing off.  My shot wasn’t great, but I did hit the ball in the air and didn’t whiff it.  We got in our carts to proceed to the areas where the golf balls lay.

Not knowing any better, I drove the cart in a line straight toward either Don’s or my ball.  Suddenly I realize that the course Marshall is waving at me and screaming his head off.  He was really mad.

I was dumb founded.  I didn’t know what the problem was.  Don explained that the 90 degree rule means that you drive on the cart path and only drive on the course in a 90 degree angle to your ball.  That rule was in place because it had rained significantly in Houston and the course was very wet.  The 90 degree rule minimized damage to the wet sod.

I was totally embarrassed.  I wanted to crawl into a hole and hide. I profusely apologized to Don, telling him how sorry I was for driving improperly and getting in trouble with the Marshall. I thought we were going to get kicked off of the course. Without pause, Don turns to me and says, “F*** him if he can take a joke.”

That simple phrase set the world right again.  Don didn’t think I was a total idiot for messing up.  His simple off color remark put my mind at ease.

Another thing that put my mind further at ease was the course beer lady.  When she came around with refreshments I was quick to grab a cold beer.  Don and Charlie refrained from having beer, but I was going to enjoy myself.

At one of the holes, Mark got up to tee off.  He did what I had feared.  He whiffed and missed the ball entirely.  It was a good thing that was Mark and not me.  He handled it with dignity and grace while I probably would have turned three shades of red.

Another rule that we were told was that if you shot lands in someone’s yard, you should not go into the yard to retrieve your ball.  I didn’t have that issue either but Don did.  I was amazed to see Don leap over the wrought iron fence to retrieve his errant ball.  The lesson that I learned was that if you’ve got the right stuff it is okay to bend the rules.

Around that time, I had another driving incident.  I was rolling us along at a pretty good clip when we came up to a small ditch.  It was a little deeper than I thought and I didn’t slow down enough.  We got quite a jar when we crossed that depression.  I don’t think Don was too happy with that and I was more careful after that.

We got to about the 10th hole and there was a brand new car near the tee box.  A local car dealer was going to give the car to anyone who hit a hole in one on that hole.  Standing near the car and looking hot was a gorgeous woman in short shorts.  Don turned to me and made a comment about that woman that only fraternity brothers would make. 

I had to smile.  I was beginning to come to the realization that Astronauts were just people.  There were talented people but still people. Over all of my years I had placed astronauts up on a pedestal of hero worship.  When all is said and done they really were no different that you or I.

We got near the last two or three holes.  The beer lady came around again, but only had two beers left.  Since I had previously had a couple during the earlier part of the course, I told Don and Charlie that they should get the last beers.  I could wait until we got back to the clubhouse.

Don opened the beer and took a drink.  He then turned to me with the beer extended and offered me a drink from his beer.  Wow, I had an opportunity to share a beer with a man who commanded the space shuttle. I declined his offer, but in retrospect, I should have taken him up on it.

We got back to the clubhouse and found that our team had finished near the bottom in the tournament.  I was not a big surprise; I was just glad that I could hit the ball and not hurt anybody.

As we walked past the golf carts, I noticed that the “super collector” was in the golf cart with an astronaut.  He had that poor astronaut signing 30 or 40 photos.

Other astronauts that played in the tournament were Buzz Aldrin, Gene Cernan, Charlie Duke, Stu Roosa, Joe Kerwin, Mike McCulley, and Mike Coats.

In the clubhouse we were provided with after game sandwich. Mark and I were joined at our table by moonwalker Charlie Duke.  Duke has always been friendly and that day was no exception.

Mark and I got a few autographs from the astronauts on hand.  I remember getting Stu Roosa to sign some Apollo 14 covers as he had a drink by the bar.  I had Gene Cernan sign a book and he asked me what I was going to do with the autograph.  It seemed like a fair question when you had the likes of the “super collector” running around.  I told Cernan that I had a library at home where I collected signed books on space exploration.

Aldrin disappeared before we were able to talk with him.  We were hoping to get Aldrin to sign a photo. It was disappointing to miss that opportunity.

A little while later the tournament people handed out nice 8X10 color photos to each of the team members.  We noticed that our team members Don Williams and Charlie Buckley had already left.  We took their photos and told the tournament organizer that we would get the photos delivered to them.

Mark knew which hotel Charlie Buckley was staying at.  We called his room and told him about his team photo and asked if he would mind signing ours.  That was fine with him so we headed to the hotel and went up to his room.

Mark knocked on the door and Charlie opened it.  I was somewhat shocked as Charlie had just gotten out of the shower and opened the door wearing only a towel.  Never the less he signed our team photos and we left him with his photo.  He also gave us his address to write him a letter for more information about his career.

We also learned that afternoon that Buzz Aldrin was going to be at some sort of space conference that evening.  Mark was able to talk our way into the exhibit hall for the conference and sure enough Aldrin was there.

It was somewhat unusual but there were bartenders selling drinks in the exhibit hall.  We saw Aldrin holding a drink that was nearly empty.  A man approached Aldrin and asked if he would sign a photo for him.  Aldrin said, “Sure if you buy me a drink.”

A little while later we approached Aldrin and he signed for us without asking for a drink.  It capped off a nearly perfect day.


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UPDATED : February 18, 2007
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