Two CSUEB Alumni Take on One of the Most Beautiful Golf Courses in California

By J.R. Havlan

Jack Acosta is an enormously successful man and he has hard work and CSUEB to thank for that. Jack received an MBA from Cal State East Bay in 1975 and went on to a fulfilling and prosperous business career. After retiring, he focused on giving back, among many other ways, by first serving as Chairman and now trustee of the Cal State East Bay Educational Foundation.

J.R. Havlan (that’s me) graduated from CSUEB in 1987 with a degree in Finance and moved to New York to become a comedy writer. It was a slightly different path. So, how is it exactly that these two unlikely allies became best friends?

Okay, maybe not best friends, but Jack did recently take me golfing at the extraordinary Spyglass Hill Golf Course in Pebble Beach, California, which is an extremely friendly thing to do. Golf Digest ranks Spyglass as the tenth highest rated public course in America - and Golf Digest knows a thing or three about golf. Though it’s admittedly far less reliable when it comes to issues related to the human digestive system. 


Jack Acosta and “guest”



Not a bad follow through for a 70(ish)-year-old man with an uncooperative knee

There’s no question this was the most amazing golf course I’d ever played on. You know that one neighbor whose lawn is nicer than everyone else’s? Well, that person would lose their mind at basically every inch of Spyglass Hill. And it’s not just the grassy parts. The sand traps feel like every grain was hand-picked and carefully set in place by magical sand-elves. I actually tried to hit my ball in them just so I could take off my shoes and hang out for a while hoping maybe Snoop Dogg would stroll by and hand me a Corona. And the natural landscape surrounding the course itself (and often occupying it) provided both jaw-dropping views and ball-devouring hazards.


Me just before losing a ball

So how is it that this extraordinary experience came to pass? Excellent question.

In 2016, I was asked to be Master of Ceremonies for “Rising in the East,” a spectacular gala celebrating the 60th anniversary of Cal State East Bay. It was a beautiful event with cloth napkins and three different kinds of wine glasses. Super classy. Which is why I questioned their judgement for asking me to host it.


Fortunately, the event was a hit. None other than the Fall ‘16 issue of Cal State East Bay Magazine said the crowd was “laughing at my antics,” which I’m pretty sure was a compliment. The first speaker at the event was Jack Acosta. He and I were introduced at the beginning of the evening and quickly struck up an effortless conversation. I was immediately impressed with Jack. He was obviously successful, but beyond that he was pleasant and interesting and we soon found out that we had a mutual love of golf - at least when we’re somehow able to get the ball to go in the vicinity of where we’re aiming.


Jack Acosta speaking at “Rising in The East”... obviously.

Jack’s message that night fit right in with the soon-to-be mantra of the Cal State East Bay College of Business & Economics: Empowering Tomorrow-Makers. “The goal of the campaign is simple,” Jack said. “It’s about people, place, and purpose. Students come to Cal State East Bay as one person and leave as another. Their time here is sacred. Giving provides the scholarships, faculty support, modernized spaces, and programs that fuel their learning during this transformation.”

Inspirational, yes. But even Jack will admit that I got way more laughs than he did. Four years and half a pandemic later, CSUEB presented their “Virtual Tribute to 50 Years of the College of Business and Economics.” At the risk of yet more “antics,” I was once again asked to serve as host. To my delight, one of my duties was to interview Jack Acosta. And once again, he delivered more useful guidance than Google Maps.

“Develop a strong work ethic,” he told attendees. “That’s paramount if you want to be successful. Set your goals, and never give up on them. Make contacts along the way. And you yourself should also become a contact for other people, to hopefully help them become successful.”

Wise words from a wise man offered up with the very best intentions. But just like the last event, I again got way more laughs. I suppose we all have our specific talents. Following Jack’s advice, I decided I would never give up on my goals. Specifically, the goal of getting him to take me golfing. When he agreed, I was thrilled. When he took it a step further and said he would take me to Spyglass Hill, I believe my reaction looked something like this:

 eyes.jpgThere was even an old car horn sound and everything.

A man of his word, Jack got us a tee time at Spyglass, and I set 14 different alarms to make sure I’d be there on time.

As I said, the course was nearly flawless, though our golf game’s slightly less so. But it didn’t matter. This wasn’t just about golf. This was, as Jack had so wisely said 5 years earlier, about “people, place, and purpose.” It was about making contacts, establishing relationships, and maybe buying a cool new hat from the pro shop when we were done. If either of us had gotten a hole-in-one it would have been 100% about that. But neither of us did, so our focus easily turned toward enjoying our time together on this truly exceptional day.

Like golf, life is filled with ups and downs, triumph and tragedy, glory and disappointment. The trick is to stay focused and surround yourself with people who can help you navigate those often unexpected fluctuations. People like Jack Acosta.


Maybe he sank this 12-foot putt...


… maybe he didn’t.

It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we work hard to put ourselves in a position to experience new challenges; that we remain focused and committed to performing our best at all times; and that regardless of the outcome, we always move forward with purpose. I have to admit, however, that what also mattered far more than I would have ever expected, was that at the end of the round we were invited to sit on a bench and have a guy blow cool, compressed air into our shoes.


My lower back was still screaming at me, but my feet felt 20 years younger! At the end of the day, Jack gave me a driving tour of Pebble Beach before he and his incomparably gracious and wonderful wife, Susan, said goodbye.


Jack and Susan Acosta with their new best friend 

I even went ahead and bought that cool new hat from the pro shop! I hope to see Jack and Susan many more times before the world blows up or everybody moves to Mars, whichever comes first. Maybe next time, we’ll try our luck on Jack’s home course at Blackhawk Country Club and he can drive me there in his one-of-a-kind metallic-red Lamborghini. You know, provided our clubs fit in the trunk. Do Lamborghinis have trunks? I’m asking for a friend.


Jack and J.R.

(not in that order)

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