Turk Pipkin: My Career Got in the Way of Golf

By Kyle Dalton, Contributor

AUSTIN, TX -- When it comes to the entertainment industry, Turk Pipkin isn't one of your common household names like Willie Nelson, actor James Gandolfini, or even actor/magician Harry Anderson. However, if you've seen any of the aforementioned entertainers or their work, you've more than likely seen Pipkin and/or his work as well.

Turk Pipkin, as his business card describes, is known for his "Words and Deeds." The order and priority of the two has transformed through the years. From the early 1970s through the mid 1980s, Pipkin was known more for his deeds than his words when he toured as a one-man show and standup comic in European and American theaters and nightclubs.

While touring the world is part of being a one-man act, Pipkin got a reprieve from the tireless traveling when he landed a steady gig in the 1980s as the original warm-up act for the smash-hit television show Cheers. (Writer's Note: For anyone who has never attended a live television taping of a sitcom, a stand-up comic or entertainer performs in between scenes. Their job is crucial as they try to prevent the audience from growing restless, and more importantly, keep them in the mood to laugh.) While Pipkin worked with the likes of Ted Danson, George Wendt and various others on the hit television show, he also worked with many other relative unknowns during the "deeds" portion of his career.

"I worked with Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, and Harry Anderson," Pipkin said. Anderson and Pipkin have been friends since those early days and have collaborated on many projects together including the original Comic Relief, Showtime's "Hello, Sucker!" and the sitcom Night Court. Although Pipkin was a writer for the sitcom, which starred Anderson, he did make some guest appearances. "I was the 7-foot-tall drag queen in one episode. I was the person willing to stand up for the rights of oppressed women everywhere," Pipkin laughed.

In the late 1980s Pipkin decided, after approximately 15 years of performing 200 shows a year, it was time not necessarily for a career change, but a revision of sorts. Instead of writing jokes or scripts, he wanted to write books. As a regular writer for sitcoms and variety shows, the Writer's Guild Strike of 1988, which lasted six months, provided Pipkin with the perfect opportunity to explore his new desire.

Pipkin wrote his first novel "Fast Greens" during that hiatus and it was the first glimpse publicly of his knowledge and love for the game of golf. The book is about a young caddie in the "kingdom" of Texas who gets caught in a deadly grudge match among a world of liars, cheats and hustlers and who is seeking the meaning of golf, life, and for the father he never had. Most of the book, according to Pipkin, is based on people he played with or caddied for as a youngster.

"I started playing and tagging along with my dad when I was six. I started caddying when I was around 10," he said. "They had tournaments when they needed caddies in West Texas at the San Angelo Country Club, which is where I played. I caddied 36 a day and carried double some times. I caddied for guys who wore boots with tees, who chewed tobacco and spit on the greens and who played for lots of money. Big bets on just about anything," he laughed, obviously thinking back to some of the bets. "And a lot of them were really good golfers," he added.

Pipkin said initially the plan was for Fast Greens to be a movie. "It was written originally as a screenplay for a movie to shoot with Willie Nelson as the lead. By the time it was finished I realized I wanted it to be a book." Fast Greens has been optioned by Warner Bros. with Pipkin as a producer and writer and the screenplay is nearing production.

Although Pipkin's passion for playing and writing about the game is strong today, that hasn't always been the case. Pipkin said from 1973 until 1980 or what he described as the "hippie years," he rarely, if ever picked up a club. The lack of hitting the links was mainly a result of his employment. "My career got in the way of golf. But eventually I realized that was a bad choice."

His rebirth as a golfer occurred in 1980 when he met singer Steve Fromholz and joined Fromholz and his playing partners including Bud Shrake (co-author of The Little Red Book) and Willie Nelson for a round of golf one day at Pedernales Country Club (pictured).

"I wanted to start playing again when they approached me. So we went out to Pedernales one morning and I was standing on the tee and I asked, ‘Where is the driving range?' They pointed at number one and said, ‘Right there.' I said, ‘But you don't understand. I haven't hit a ball in seven years.' They said, ‘Yeah, right.' So I teed one up and blasted it right down the middle. Willie said, ‘Seven years my ass.' We've been playing together ever since."

Through the years Pipkin and Nelson have maintained their golf relationship and simultaneously developed a business relationship working on a variety of projects together. Pipkin's roles have ranged from acting with Nelson to training the singer/songwriter/actor on various slight-of-hand tricks for Nelson's role as a safecracker in a CBS television series. "I created the tricks that he would do such as bar bets and then I played the guy who Willie performed the tricks on. It takes some acting to be fooled when you're the one who taught the guy the trick."

Pipkin said today writing remains his top priority but he doesn't shy away from opportunities such as working with Nelson including recent work on a PBS documentary on the legend, or appearing last season on the HBO hit series, The Sopranos. He said the chance to appear in the show occurred when the show's creator, David Chase, met him at a film festival and asked him to audition for a one-time part on the show. Pipkin was eventually cast as Aaron Arkaway, the born-again, narcoleptic, songwriting boyfriend of Tony Soprano's sister, Janice, and he appeared on multiple episodes. He doesn't know if he'll be back on the show next season.

Regardless of what happens in the future, this former one-man show turned actor/writer, knows there will be one constant in his life and it's something he's been passionate about since he was six years old, with one little hiccup in the 1970s. "Golf gets in your blood and you're not complete without it."

The Scorecard: Turk Pipkin
Woods: Callaway Driver
Irons: King Cobra Irons, Harvey Penick Gap Wedge, Reid Lockhart Sand Wedge
Putter: Odyssey
Favorite courses: The Old Course at St. Andrews, Cabo Del Sol (Jack Nicklaus-designed in Cabo San Lucas) and The Princeville Resort (Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed in Hawaii)
Current handicap: 11
Best round: 69 at Lions Municipal in Austin with Bud Shrake
Best shot ever made: Two holes-in-one. Riverplace Country Club and Lost Creek Country Club, both in Austin.
If you had a choice of playing partner for your last round: His father who recently passed away.
Most well-known playing partner(s): Willie Nelson, Bud Shrake, Jerry Jeff Walker and Steve Fromholz.

Kyle Dalton, Contributor

Since graduating from the University of Texas in 1992 with a degree in journalism, Kyle Dalton has been a writer and editor for a variety of national publications in various fields.

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