Of all the items up for sale at the Jackie Kennedy Onassis auction, the one that impressed me the most was Lot 755: a set of golf clubs in a red and black bag with the initials "JFK" monogrammed on the outside. The item sold for $772,500, and the buyer was Arnold Schwarzenegger, an avid restaurant owner.
Since I don't play golf, I couldn't tell if Arnold got a bargain or not. So I called around to friends who are crazy about the sport.
The first person I called was David Wolper, a leading film producer. David didn't think that $772,500 was too much for a set of golf clubs. "For his money, Arnold got the clubs, the bag and at least a dozen 1954 golf balls. If you tried to purchase that in Kmart, they would charge you double."
"Why didn't you buy them?" I asked him.
"It was just bad luck. At the time they were being auctioned, I was out playing golf."
I called George Stevens, a top amateur player on the circuit who turned down an opportunity to become the U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James because he heard that British golfers did not replace their divots.
George said, "I would have bought them myself, but Arnold is a good friend of mine, and I would do anything to save his game."
My next call was to Jack Valenti, who has devoted his life to golf, even if it has cost him many friendships and goodwill in Hollywood. Jack said, "Only someone who has shot a 98 can appreciate a person paying $772,500 to improve his swing. People just don't understand the importance of equipment in golf. There were two sets of golf clubs for sale. The other one went for $350,000. I don't believe that any self-respecting golfer would play with the $350,000 set. As a matter of fact, with the cheaper clubs they wouldn't even let him on the course at Burning Tree."
Dean Smith, a money manager, was upset. "Arnold knew all along that I wanted those clubs, and he heard that I was willing to bid up to $690,000 for them. That's why he went to $772,500. I'm waiting for Ivana Trump's garage sale, and when she offers to sell Donald Trump's putter, Arnold is going to be in serious trouble."
Sheldon Hackney was the only one who thought that Arnold had paid too much. "Personally, I have never paid more than $500,000 for a set of clubs, and if you keep your eye on the ball, you can save $222,000."
Except for Hackney, everyone I talked to envied Schwarzenegger and maintained that he had done the right thing. Don Brown, a real estate executive, said, "It's good for golf. The more money you pay for equipment, the more cachet the game acquires. At our house we had a 'Gift of the Magi' situation. My wife wanted to sell our BMW to purchase the JFK clubs for me, and I wanted to sell my humidor to buy her Jackie's simulated pearl necklace."