“Did anyone famous ever play Eastmoreland?” I ask Rob Cumpston, who along with his older brother Clark, managed the Pro Shop some 40+ years.
“Well, Michael Jordan once played here in 1986.” he replies nonchalantly.
I nearly spit out my drink. “What!!? His Airness?”
This seems absolutely bonkers knowing he’s the most famous amatuer golfers of present day, playing with Tiger, President Obama. He's a top competing amatuer in Pro Am events much like the great boxing champion Joe Louis in the 1950’s and 60's (who also played Eastmoreland).
It’s all true, and here’s the story:
In 1986 on cold March weekday morning in Portland, Oregon in walks the NBA's Rookie of the Year, future captain and MVP of the Chicago Bulls 6-Championships, by all modern accounts the greatest basketball player of all time.
“Wait … March... isn’t this during the NBA season?”
Yes, it was a turn of fate, or at least a turn of the ankle, that lead Jordan to Eastmoreland in March. He's 23 years old, same as his jersey number, and was healing from a broken a bone in his foot in late November 1985. The injury resulted in him missing the next 64 games and almost the entire season. See “Broken Dreams: 85-86 Bulls derailed by Jordan’s injury.”
Jordan was in town for a trip to see a leading Orthopedic surgeon from Eugene. The appointment set up by Phil Knight and Nike team who were equally adamant as Jordan getting approved to play for the remainder of the season. This was necessary because the Chicago Bulls front office publically decided to be cautions with the injury and bench their star for the remainder of the season. The visit had been mentioned in the news, as Jordan publically aid he was ready to play, and sought a second opinion. Jordan would win this battle, like so many on the court, and return to help the Bulls make a historic last minute run for the Playoffs. Then in the first series he leads the Bulls and lights up theBoston Celtics for 63 points in Game 2, an NBA record for most points scored in a single postseason game. Just a taste of the post-season domination ensuing a few years later as 6 title championship run of the Chicago Bulls.
What kind of day was it?
“The weather was just god awful, dumping rain. Nobody, and I mean nobody, was playing golf that day. Well, except for a few of the oldtimers that play everyday, the place was empty”
So in walks one of the most famous athletes of all time Michael Jordan. The first person to recognize Michael was the Byron Kelly, who was working in the restaurant. He looked wide eyed at Michael coming in and moved in the direction to follow him towards the pro shop.
Rob Cumpston recognized Michael right away as well. “I knew him from watching college basketball. Michael was already a huge star, and then since his deal with Nike everyone thought he could be drafted by the Trailblazers. Rip City fans still gnash teeth about picking the tall center Sam Bowie as the number 2 pick just before Jordan was drafted by the Bulls.
Rob continues, "So just like any other guy walking on, he asks if can get out and play 18.... which wasn’t a problem at all. Nobody was on the course in the downpour. He would practically have the course all to himself."
Jordan played by himself in the rain?
Yup, this was 1986. The prior season the Air Jordon 1's had been banned for violating the color requirements. Before the iconic Air Jordon 3 were a twinkle in Tinker Hatfield's creative eye and launch Air Jordan to the stars. Apparently before Michael would have specially assigned guides and handlers to accompany him. Well, he did have one that day, no other than Peter Moore was the driver who dropped him off at the club. Yeah, that Peter Moore, the top executive at Nike who directed the Jumpman photoshoot and designed the Air Jordan 1. A few years later we would leave Nike to start Adidas America, also headquartered in Portland. Tinker Hatfield and Michael Jordan's collaboration on the Air Jordan 3 would begin as a result of this rift and the rest... as they say, is history.
It's really cool to imagine the conversation that morning or the nght before. (Note: I am imagining this ; )
"Welcome back to Portland" says Phil picking up Jordan from the airport. "Tonight let's get you settled downtown at the Heathman. We'd love to have you come by the office you can meet some of the designers and marketers, we will have a series of meeting with Weiden Kennedy our advertising firm. Then we will make a trip down to Eugene, we have a great house you can stay the night before we go by the doctor's office. He really is the best, worked with track stars at Eugene and closely with our show designers.. Bill Bowerman swears by this doctor, says he truly understand the biomechanics of the foot."
Hold on - why would Michael Jordan choose to play Eastmoreland (and not a private club)?
The answer likely very simple - Eastmoreland the best golf course nearby. Nike offices were scattered around SW Portland, I believe, as the construction and opening of the worldwide Beaverton Nike campus would not be open until 1990. Same for Pumpkin Ridge the famous track built by Gay Davis, the Eastmoreland and Cleveland High Alum, and the staging ground for the Phil Knight's love affair and courting of Tiger Woods the "Michael Jordan" of golf.
It may also come from a recommendation by Phil Knight himself, who like Gay Davis, also grew up in the neighborhood named after the golf course. Phil is a golfer himself, purchasing a home at the La Quinta Golf Course close to Palm Springs. It's unlikely he played much golf because he was an avid cross country racer and track star in high school. I've met Phil's cousin Doug Houser, who played golf at Eastmoreland growing up and he doesn't recall playing with Phil as a kid on their neighborhood course. There are a few passages in Shoe Dog where Phil is golfing with his Japanese bankers at very critical points in Nike history. Phil does not specify which golf course they played together, so Eastmoreland is a possibility... maybe one day we will know for sure.
The other truth is getting on a private club is a difficult without a member's invitation, even for pro athletes. Only 30 years ago Joe Lewis was not able to get a round on the private clubs at all, even with his superstar fame. This was the underlying reason the municipal golf course was built - to provide a place for out of town businessmen to play a round of golf.
Eastmoreland served it's true purpose. It's a golf course for the people open to anyone, all you need to be is crazy golf nut to go out there and walk 6 miles in the pouring rain.
“What was he wearing?” Was my next question, and Rob doesn’t recall exactly what Michael was wearing, some type of rain jumpsuit, probably a predecessor to the rain gear we all wear today. It was likely from Nike running or athletic side, since this Nike had barely entered the golf apparel market. Rob does recall that he may have worn pair of shoes called “Air Turnberry” which was like a football upper designed for rain. Though he wasn't positive about that either, but the Turnberry was a hot seller, though I'm not sure the guy with the coolest kicks on the planet would be going for the doily looking lace cover. (Note: the pictured Air Turnberry is the women's version - though I owned a similar pair in the 1980's with lace guards)
Rob’s biggest regret is that he didn’t ask Michael to sign a pair of the Air Turnberry in the shop. He knew that would have been cool to show off to the other patrons. The NBA Rookie of the Year plays Eastmoreland just like you! If he comes back he should sign a pair of the Nike Lunar Vaporstorm - perfect for golf outing in Portland in March.
"How did he play?" Eastmoreland is in about the worst shape of the year. If he comes back he should sign a pair of the Nike Lunar Vaporstorm - perfect for golf outing in Portland in March. Even if the sun peeks out from the clouds for the day, the course itself is more like a scottish bog that the sandy links. Plenty of emerald green grass for sure, however the fairways with squish and puddle with every step.
Every shot will plug meaning it impacts into the mud like an asteroid crater. Even a low punch shot will “plop” into the earth. Toss a wedge onto the green and it will stick like glue, so best to shoot right for the exact distance.
Green reading becomes an art the turf will actually will shift as players walk on the green. Depending on the amount of rain the last day or two, you can see your footprints for a few moments, the green seems to ripple like a waterbed on a bog. It’s for this reason, Justin Ball one of the better putters in the club has said, there isn’t a single straight 10 foot putt anywhere on Emo. All the myriad of footprints and waterlogged days makes the entire green complex ripple with character like an Oregon Pinot Noir. It’s literally never the same week to week and year to year.
Only the courses, like Waverley and Colombia Edgewater that have layer upon layer of sand as a soil base for drainage manage stay playable all year. If only we at Eastmoreland had the budget for the such luxuries like…. sand.
Ultimately - Michael Jordan coming to play 18 holes at Eastmoreland in cold downpour by himself shows he's a true golfer.
Here's a great interview I found that was filmed only a few weeks after the 1986 playoffs... at the end 6 minutes in Michael describes his intention to play golf through the off season and retire from basketball at age 32 to play on the PGA tour!!
Golf is often seen as a sport for old men... though what is often unnoticed is that it really a sport for old athletes who crave the thrill of competition based on mental and physical skills. Michael, like Joe Lewis before him happened upon the game by chance without having much exposure and within a few days became golf obsessed and spent every hour that he was not perfecting his basketball skills, on the golf course and practice range working on his golf game.
True fact - he was introduced to golf just after his final college game by Davis Love III who was on the UNC golf team. Michael only drove the cart for the first 18 holes then asked to play the next time and finished the round with a par on 17th hole and was hooked for life. He would return to North Carolina every summer to work with a golf teacher and managed to get his handicap from a 10 down closer to scratch. As described in the video above, Michael was very serious about his desire to play for the PGA Tour one day. You have to wonder is there is a twinge of jealousy watching Steph Curry nearly make the cut in his first Web.com Tour Event. Though I'm sure Michael would make Step's hands shake over money match, as his intensity on the course matches his intensity on the court.
From PGA Tour Magazine: "How Michael Jordan became a golfer"
My one wish - would be to ask him if he remembered the course and how he played. I'd be really curious to know what was going on for him those weeks and how going out in the rain to play golf was obviously important to him.
I'm sure the Eastmoreland Wolves ot the 1980'a would have wished they had been there that day or recognized him in the pro show, because Michael would have taken the action. If he reads this, he's welcome to come back anytime and we'll set up a Wolves match 8 ) He'd be right at home.