Imagine being barely old enough to rent a car and yet sitting at the controls of the world’s largest military aircraft, flying supplies to U.S. troops in Vietnam. Or being in command of a sleek commercial jumbo jet, safely transporting passengers across oceans and continents.
Now transfer those experiences to being a Rules of Golf official at the highest levels of the game, where knowledge, preparation and poise are critical. Seems like a natural fit, right?
That’s life in a nutshell for Lt. Col. Clifford Shahbaz, who was recently nominated to serve a second year on the USGA Executive Committee. Shahbaz, 69, of Portland, Ore., is a decorated Air Force veteran who went on to a 28-year career at United Airlines. Clearly, he brings a rare perspective to his volunteer work with the USGA.
“Part of the anal-retentive mind of a pilot attracts us to rules and structure,” said Shahbaz. “There are rules of flying – physical rules and legal rules – and if you don’t obey them, there are consequences. It’s the same with golf. To me, the Rules book and Decisions book are kind of like a flight manual.”
Since his retirement from United in 2006, Shahbaz has devoted more time and energy to the game he loves – he plays regularly and carries a 12.2 Handicap Index at Columbia Edgewater Country Club in Portland. Serving the USGA is the culmination of a goal he first thought about in high school.
“I was watching the U.S. Open on a black-and-white television,” recalled Shahbaz. “It was taking place somewhere hot and humid. I saw Joe Dey and a few of the other officials wearing long-sleeve white shirts with ties, and an armband that said ‘Rules.’ I just thought, this is something I’d like to get involved in.”
Of course, he had to put those thoughts on hold for what would become more than 35 years of service and adventure at 35,000 feet.
Shahbaz spent most of his childhood in Northern California, a self-proclaimed “Air Force brat” whose dad was an officer. He enrolled at the University of California-Berkeley, joined the ROTC and, after earning his undergraduate degree in 1969, promptly entered pilot training in Arizona. This was no “Top Gun” environment; the war in Vietnam was raging and Shahbaz knew exactly what he was getting into when he emerged from flight school in 1970.