“I accidentally found this place. I had seen it off the side of the freeway,” said Roberts. “I thought this was a beautiful place.”Dwight Roberts (Pictured Top Right) with young golfers.
Dwight Roberts drove to the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex 11 years ago. It was his first time there. “I accidentally found this place. I had seen it off the side of the freeway,” said Roberts. “I thought this was a beautiful place.” He wasn’t there to make a starting time or to schedule a golf lesson. He wasn’t there to hit balls on the driving range or work on his putting. Roberts was not a golfer. “I’ve never been on a golf course. I’ve never been playing golf before,” he added.
The first time Roberts set foot on the facility at Haggin Oaks was for a much different reason. “My first day up here, I had a 38 (handgun) and I was going to kill myself, because I was having nightmares about a kid that I wasn’t there for,” said Roberts. “I said if I was going to die, I wouldn’t want to be found in my car. I wouldn’t want to be in an alley or in a bath tub. This was a beautiful place to, you know, end it.” Roberts was having a very hard time dealing with the death of a young teenager that he got to know – a person he called “Baby Boy.”
There were days when “Baby Boy” would stop by Roberts’ home in Sacramento on the weekends, and the two would sit down and talk. “Baby Boy” would also help out Roberts, cleaning up around the yard. “When I first met him, he wanted to get a couple of bucks from me. I called him ‘Baby Boy.’ He was probably about 15 or 16. He would come by the house and rake the yard. I’d tell him, he’d have to earn it. ‘I’m not just giving you five bucks.’ We would talk. He was so intelligent and smart,” said Roberts. “Sometimes I didn’t even have work. I would take him in the backyard and barbecue and feed him. We just had good conversations. We would play chess. He wanted to be an astronaut.” Roberts said “Baby Boy’s” death haunted him for a long time, as he continually questioned himself. “I felt like he died because I wasn’t there for him. I tried to make a difference,” he said.
Roberts said he was “dealing with a lot of demons” when he got to Haggin Oaks on that day back in 2011. “I couldn’t shake the kid out of my conscious. I felt like maybe I should just end it,” he recalled. Roberts, a Sacramento resident who runs a summer golf camp for African American youths at Haggin Oaks, didn’t take his own life that day. “I got one of those feelings that ‘Baby Boy’ was watching me and that he didn’t want me to do it. It’s almost like he was in my head talking to me, to help,” he said. Roberts said Haggin Oaks – a 36-hole complex that features the Alister MacKenzie Golf Course, Arcade Creek Course, Driving Range, Super Shop, Player Performance Studio, Haggin Oaks Shoe Store, Club Performance & Repair Center, Haggin Oaks Academy Holes and MacKenzie Putting Course – is more than golf.
“This is my sanctuary, It’s where he learned to play golf – thanks to all the lessons he received from A.J. Jones. It’s where he works on his game. It’s where he plays twice a week. It’s where he is welcomed by staff each day. It’s where he works with at-risk youth – teaching the game, doing all he can to provide support and help.
“I come up here almost every day. I have ties to Haggin Oaks,” Roberts said over lunch recently at MacKenzie’s Sports Bar and Grille at Haggin Oaks. “The people that I’ve met here, a lot of them work here and have been great to me. They all make me feel welcome. That’s what I love the most about this place. That’s what I love about golf, because I feel like it’s a village that does look out for one another.
“Golf is tough, and it changes daily. It’s tough to be consistent because there’s so many elements that can change from one day to the next. Golf will humble you.” Roberts said he enjoys all of the challenges that the game presents and the people he meets around the game.
“I come out here to get away from the world and relax. I am a competitor, but it’s not just about finally breaking 80. When I come out here, I meet terrific people. It makes you see the world differently,” he said. Learning the game of golf Even though he was not playing golf, Roberts continued to spend time at Haggin Oaks, often bringing a book or a newspaper with him to read. “Because by coming back here over and over again, I found peace here. I would just lay against a tree and relax,” he said.
One day, things changed for Roberts.
“One day while walking around this beautiful place, I met a retired guy named A.J. Jones,” said Roberts. They met while Roberts was on the driving range, hitting balls with a club he was checking out from the Super Store. Roberts said he was between jobs, so he had a lot of time for golf. He calls Jones his mentor and best friend, along with a father figure for him. He worked on his golf game with Jones for a year.
“I met A.J. and he was talking about what I was doing wrong and stuff. But he could tell I was an athlete. He told me if I wanted to learn the game to come back tomorrow,” said Roberts.
Roberts did just that, meeting with Jones to get help on everything – including grip, set-up, stance, swing. “Every day, I would come up here and sure enough, A.J. would be here. He would give me a golf lesson, and then we would have lunch. He became my coach. A.J. was a great golfer. I learned a lot from him. He passed a lot on to me. I loved being around him. He had me reading books, watching shows, doing homework, doing drills in the back yard, doing drills on the carpet – all kinds of stuff.” He said, ‘You are a natural athlete. And if you really want to, I’m going to teach you how to play this game.” A.J. made golf a cool athletic competition sport for me. “I’ve still got drills that I do, that A.J. taught me. When I have my best game, I’m thinking about A.J.”
Summer golf camp
Roberts is in his third year of running a summer golf camp at Haggin Oaks. It’s for at-risk individuals, ages 14 to 26, who are African American. The latest camp began on July 8, and is held every Friday and Sunday, from 5-7 p.m., during the month of July, at the driving range area at Haggin Oaks. Victor Hudson and Michael Davis help out as instructors and mentors.
“I wish I would have been exposed to golf, like I was exposed to tennis, when I was 17 or 18 years old. I fell in love with it, because it really is a beautiful game,” said Roberts. “Golf is life. It’s not a joke. It’s the truth. Golf is a life’s journey.” It’s not just golf instruction and lessons and getting out to the course and playing that is taking place with the group, said Roberts.
“We get to know them on a more personal level, because we want to know what they’re into, so that we can help guide them,” said Roberts. “We try to encourage them, to use us as the sounding board with whatever is going on. We try to affect their thinking in a positive way. “I feel like if I can serve them, I can help benefit them. You want to change their lives. When you see how they’re living, you want them to do better. A lot of these kids who fall into these pits are so smart, so intelligent and are so talented. They just don’t see it – that their talent alone can take them further than most people will ever go.”
In early August, Roberts and Davis plan to take four group members to Pebble Beach Golf Links for a tour. For more information about supporting the summer camp, contact Roberts at (916) 468-2284 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More About Dwight Roberts
- Roberts is originally from the St. Bernard Projects, in the 7th Ward, of New Orleans.
- He moved to California in 1979 and graduated from Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles in 1980.
- He played tennis at Crenshaw.
- He worked for the Los Angeles County Department of Collections.
- Roberts moved to Sacramento in 1990.
- He has worked for Bank of America, The Sacramento Bee and Roberts Family Development Center over the years.
- Roberts and his wife, Robin, have seven children (D’Ondra, Dominique, Da’Reen, Danielle, Roxy, Michael, Edmond) and nine grandchildren.
Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, 2019, after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016.