We continue the interview with Peter Kessler. Read Part I if you happened to miss it, which talked about his time with the Golf Channel, witnessing the emergence of Tiger Woods, his first meeting with Arnold Palmer, and other fascinating background stories of one of the most knowledgeable men in Golf.
In this segment, Peter talks about his earliest memories of the game as a child, and how he started in broadcasting.
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INTRODUCTION TO GOLF
SYA: MANY READERS WILL WANT TO KNOW HOW YOU GOT STARTED IN GOLF- SO, HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN GOLF? DID YOU EVER PLAY COMPETITIVE GOLF, AND IF SO, IN WHAT CAPACITY?
PK: My parents belonged to a local club and my father would play with his brother-my uncle- every Saturday and Sunday. My mother would take me and my brothers and sister to the pool. One day, when I was 8 or 9, I wandered up to the 10th tee, not even knowing at the time it was the 10th tee, and coming up the 9th hole were my father and uncle.
The 10th is a par-3, 160 yards or so downhill, and I stayed there to watch my father and uncle hit their tee shots. My father hit first and hit a terrible shot; and my uncle hit next and made a hole-in-one. So literally, the second shot I ever saw on a golf course was a hole-in-one. And I thought, “That’s fun.”
How I started to play was, on the 4th of July or Memorial Day, we would go to the club for the barbeque and cookout, and I would leave the dinner table, go to the bag room, borrow a couple of clubs and balls from someone’s bag, and play up and down the first hole- from tee to green, then back again. I would do that until dark or until my parents came to get me, and I loved the game right away. There was no junior golf in those days, so that was how I began to play.
I played infrequently until my parents moved from New Jersey to California when I was 14, in 1966. My father joined a club in southern California, and there were a lot of guys my age playing golf. I really wasn’t very good as a teenager, and played on weekends but that was really about it.
I got better in my twenties, and got (my handicap) down to about a 2, which was the lowest it’s ever been. In the 1990’s, during the start-up and early days of The Golf Channel, I was pretty consistently a mid-70s to low 80s golfer. I played every Saturday and Sunday with the same 3 guys from the time I moved to Orlando in 1980-81 until 1994. One was scratch, one was a 2 handicap, one was a 3, and I was a little worse. Playing with better golfers made me a better golfer.
So the answer to the last part of the question is, I was never really a competitive player, except with my friends.
SYA: HOW DID YOU GET INTO BROADCASTING? IT OBVIOUSLY WASN’T A TRANSITION FROM A COMPETITIVE GOLFER INTO THE BOOTH OR TELEVISION…
PK: I had worked in the investment banking profession for a while out of college, but knew it wasn’t something I wanted to do long term. On my 35th birthday, I decided to do something with my voice. I had done some acting in high school and college, and I was comfortable in front of people. I went to a voiceover class one evening and figured out where they were going and went home to work on reading things aloud. Then a friend who worked with HBO Sports got me an audition to read for an outside company which wanted to do a baseball film from the first motion picture camera footage ever made by the public. I read for it, then six months went by and they called me back to read an entire script, then six more months went by and I was hired to to the narration and went to HBO Sports in the spring of 1991 and read the whole script. In July of that year the documentary When It Was A Game was released.
SYA: I REMEMBER WATCHING THAT EITHER WHEN IT CAME OUT OR SHORTLY THEREAFTER. I HAD NO IDEA THAT WAS YOU DOING THE NARRATION.
PK: Yes, it was me. A few days after it came out, HBO called and said it’s a huge hit and we want you to be our voice and do our narration. It went on to win the Peabody and ACE and Emmy awards. I did When It Was A Game II, and narrated the Peabody, ACE and Emmy-Award winning boxing trilogy, In This Corner, plus some other work.
However, it wasn’t really a full-time job. It was a cool thing to do, but I still worked on Wall Street while doing promos and voiceovers at HBO.
GOLF HISTORIAN AND BOOK COLLECTOR
SYA: IT WOULD BE HARD TO FIND A HUMAN BEING MORE KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT GOLF HISTORY THAN PETER. I HAVE SUGGESTED A SHOW WHERE PETER AND OTHERS WHO ARE RECOGNIZED GOLF HISTORIANS COULD SIT AROUND A “POWER ROUNDTABLE” OF SORTS AND DISCUSS THE HISTORICAL TOPIC OF THE EVENING. IT WOULD BE INTERESTING TELEVISION.
PK: I loved golf history from the time I was 13, when I was given Bobby Jones’ autobiography Down The Fairway. I read every golf book there was, maybe 10 times each, over the course of those 30 years. I started to collect golf books and read golf history several hours each week, simply because I liked it. I built a great collection of books simply because I loved the game.
By the time The Golf Channel started, I don’t know that there were more than a few people who knew as much about golf and golf history as I did.
SYA: SPEAKING OF GOLF BOOKS, WHAT IS THE GOLF BOOK THAT YOU OWN THAT MEANS THE MOST TO YOU?
PK: A special printing of Down The Fairway. When Jones wrote it in 1926 he was 24, and had won the British and U.S. Opens that year, four years before he won the Grand Slam. He had a private printing of 300 books done, each one signed and numbered. It is the most valuable book of 20th century books. I found one in a bookstore in 1978 where the owner really had no idea what it was worth. I saw it sitting on a table along with 500 other golf books he had purchased from an estate and when I saw it I almost stopped breathing. I bought 100 of those books including that private printing edition. I had the other 99 books shipped to me but I took that one with me. So that would be the most important book, the most valuable of the last century, and very special to me.
SYA: DID YOU HAVE A SENSE, AS YOU WERE GROWING UP AND WATCHING PALMER AND NICKLAUS AND WATSON AND ALL THE GREATS OF THAT ERA, THAT YOU WERE WITNESSING A GOLDEN AGE OF GOLF, OR DID THAT NOT REALLY CROSS YOUR MIND AT THAT TIME?
PK: Oh, I was acutely aware of it. I was one of a short list of guys who knew golf history particularly well, and I knew the early origins of the game. I understood the importance of major championships, and the great players from Allan Robertson and Old Tom Morris forward. There were Braid and Vardon and Taylor from Great Britain in the 1890s until 1914; and Sarazen, Hagen, and Jones in the twenties; and then Snead, Nelson and Hogan; so I was quite aware of what I was watching and where it fit when Arnie and Jack and Gary were the Big 3.
In the next installment, Peter will share his memories of the first tournament he saw, the first tournaments he covered, and those old Tournament of Champions Tournaments at La Costa. How many of you remember his time as an on-course reporter???
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