The Calabasas Country Club is a good place for a celebrity who doesn't want to be seen: exclusive enough to have a guard and a gate, but not sexy enough to be a paparazzi magnet. The initiation fees here run a modest $25,000, as opposed to, say, a more formidable $150,000-plus down the road at Sherwood, where your bigger stars – your Timberlakes, your Pinkett-Smiths, your various Kardashians – like to play. And so, on this windy-hot Tuesday L.A. morning, instead of Britney Spears sunning at the pool, the biggest drama unfolding at Calabasas is whether the two old ladies in visors and cleats in front of the clubhouse will be able to complete their foursome. "Doris can't come," one is saying, "Beverly can't come."
But then, a burst of excitement. A matte-black Range Rover with Georgia plates, screaming into the parking lot blasting Drake at jet-engine volume. The car was a present for its owner's 16th birthday; his initials, J.B., are in studded crystals on the dash. (If you look closely, you can also see the dent in the front fender where he hit a pothole in his girlfriend's driveway.) And thus, with characteristic understatement, der Bieber makes his entrance. "What's up!" he says, his thousand-megawatt smile fully activated. "I'm Justin."
Bieber glides his way to the practice range, his entourage trailing behind him. There's his head of security, Moshe Benabou, a former Israeli Defense Force soldier with a handshake like a trash compactor, who probably knows eight different ways to kill you without leaving a mark; Ryan Good, Bieber's creative director and "swagger coach," who's wearing black jeans and high-tops even though it's 90 degrees out and he's on a golf course; and Kenny Hamilton, a radio-DJ-turned-road-manager and all-around caretaker, who accompanies Bieber everywhere and has him saved in his phone as "Nephew."
You might have heard the numbers on Bieber – the 375,000 copies his new album, Believe, has sold, making it the biggest debut of the year; the 25 million followers on Twitter, second only to Lady Gaga; his 45 million Facebook fans, more than Mitt Romney and Barack Obama combined. But did you know it all started with a golf game? Back when he was growing up in Stratford, Ontario, Bieber was a regular at the local municipal course. He'd play almost every day in the summer; he says his handicap was a very respectable seven. And then one day, as he wrote in his 2010 memoir, First Step 2 Forever: My Story, "I wanted to go golfing with my friends . . . but I didn't have any money." So he took his guitar and started busking on the steps of a town theater, hoping to make $20, enough scratch for a round. He came home with $200, as well as a new career.
Five years later, the phenomenon shows no signs of abating. Teenage girls are still camping out in shantytowns for days on end to get a good spot for his concerts; in May, a performance on the roof of the Oslo Opera House incited a riot that injured 49 and had Norwegian police threatening to declare a state of emergency. Any day now you half expect the Gates Foundation to announce that it's given up on malaria and will henceforth focus all its resources on curing Bieber Fever. Even the paper of record, The New York Times, ran a 2,000-word travel story about his tiny hometown, spotlighting his former school Stratford Northwestern, and Scooper's, his favorite ice cream shop.
In the face of all this attention, Bieber lives a life that's designed to maximize his visibility while minimizing his actual exposure. He's rarely outside alone for long, and travels mainly in the blacked-out Range or in his Mercedes Sprinter van, an oversize mobile fun center where he can play PS3 or work on beats while sitting in traffic on the 405, then slide open the doors and roll into his next engagement, running from enclosed space to enclosed space and covering his face like an astronaut who's lost his helmet. "I love what I do," he says. "I love performing, I love being famous. I just don't like the pictures and stuff."
But today is a good day: The sun is shining, the golf balls freshly unpacked, the hordes of Beliebers nowhere in sight. Today Bieber can relax and enjoy himself. Right now he's on the practice range, warming up. He's wearing a Chicago Blackhawks cap ("I'm actually part Indian," he says – "I think Inuit or something? I'm enough percent that in Canada I can get free gas"), a blue short-sleeved shirt and khaki shorts that hang all the way off his butt. Bieber is taller than you'd think – which is not to say tall – and on his upper lip are the tiniest seedlings of a mustache.
Out on the course, things start off a little rocky. On the first tee, Bieber hits a bad slice and ends up in the trees. Trying to get himself out, he then hits a supremely unlucky shot that ricochets off a wooden stake and lands back where he started. Moshe starts laughing, until Bieber shoots him an icy look. ("He's very competitive," Kenny says.) By the time he putts it in, he's racked up eight. Ryan asks him what he had, and he thinks for a second. "Seven?"
But on the second hole, he starts to find his groove. He's on the green in two and then two-putts for a par. "Par for JB!" he says, pumping his fist. "Par for JB! Swag!" When he screws up on the next hole and sends the ball screaming past the green, he demands a mulligan, and then hits a beautiful little chip shot that rolls onto the green, kisses the pin and drops into the cup for a birdie. "Swag! Swag! Swag!" he says, hopping up and down, one hand holding up his shorts. "That's what I'm talking about!" Ryan says something under his breath about his first shot, and Bieber scoffs. "Get out of here. I deserve that. That was dope." (Later, when I ask him why he didn't call him on it more, Ryan laughs. "Did you see how happy he was? It would have crushed him.")
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