I met Richard Nixon in 1957 at the Burning Tree Golf Course in Bethesda. Burning Tree was a whites-only, all-male, private golf club for the movers and shaker of world politics. Mr. Nixon, at the time, was vice president, and I was a student-athlete attending Spingarn High School in Northeast Washington. I carried golf clubs on the weekend to help my mother make ends meet for my brothers and me. One Saturday evening after caddying one round and finishing early, I decided to double or at least increase my earnings of the day. I joined a group of older guys, which included Petey Green (who went on to become a legendary radio and TV personality in Washington), in a game of cards in the caddy shack. Big mistake. I was broke within an hour. Now I had to figure out how I was going to explain to my mother that I had been at the golf course all day (I would usually leave the house at 7 a.m. and return around 7 p.m.) and had nothing to show for it. I borrowed two dollars from Petey Green for the bus fare and hamburgers at Little Tavern. I headed for the parking lot to hitch a ride to Westmoreland Circle to catch the bus home to my housing project, Parkside, in Northeast. As I emerged from the woods with my head hanging down, I heard the voice of club pro Max Elbin calling me. Mr. Elbin wanted me to take two bags out for another round. Before he could finish the sentence, I had the bag on my shoulder, and I was standing on the first tee waiting for my two saviors. I would never forget how these men saved me from having to explain to my mother how irresponsible I had been that day. I had no idea who these men would be, but at this point I didn't care. Ten minutes later, out of the club house walks Vice President Nixon and Attorney General William Rogers. They both greeted me with a smile and handshakes. Mr. Nixon asked if I was ready for an adventure around the Burning Tree Golf Course, and I smiled and said, "Yes, sir." I did not fully understand what he meant when he said "adventure," but after three holes, I understood the remark. Mr. Nixon's golf balls spent more time in the trees than most squirrels. On the other hand, Mr. Rogers was a pretty decent golfer. I thought that since it was so late in the evening, along with the bad golf of Mr. Nixon, they would only play nine holes, but this would turn out to be an 18-hole adventure. As we approached the 18th hole, I noticed the lights were on in the clubhouse, and my homeboys had probably left for the long ride back to the projects. This was my first time at the golf course this late without a ride. It was now after 7 p.m. and it was the dark of night. There were few cars in the members' parking lot. The few members who remained were more than likely involved in a high-stakes gin rummy game. The likelihood of my getting a ride to town before 10 p.m. did not look good. I would probably end up catching a ride with the help (cooks or locker-room men). The two gentlemen who had rescued me from going home broke three hours earlier came to my rescue again. The vice president and the attorney general came bouncing out of the clubhouse, and before I could say, "Good night," the vice president had offered me a ride into town. It had never crossed my mind to ask for a ride, even though members routinely gave caddies rides into town to catch the bus. The "adventure" became many more adventures and the development of a lasting friendship with then-Vice President Nixon. I have been amazed over the years as I read or heard people say how aloof, withdrawn and noncaring this great man was. During the evening of golf and the ride to the bus, Mr. Nixon wanted to know where I lived, how many brothers and sisters I had, what school I attended, what sports I played and what kind of student I was. I was caught completely off guard: Here was the vice president of the United States taking an interest in a poor little black kid from a housing project in Northeast Washington. The one thing that I wanted to brag about was how great an athlete I was. I bragged about how I played three sports and was a starter in all three. The vice president turned from the front seat and looked at me in the eye and said, "That's great, but how are your grades?" And I saw Attorney General Rogers peering in the rearview mirror waiting for my response. All I could say was that my grades were "okay." Mr. Nixon's response was, "Harold, you have got to do better." Before letting me out at the bus stop, the vice president let me know that they were weekend warriors and late Saturdays were the best time for them. Two weeks later, I had their bags again. It was more than 10 years later that I observed Mr. Nixon touring the riot-scarred corridor in the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest Washington, but on this occasion he was being called Mr. President. I was assigned to the Shaw community as a roving leader for the department of recreation, working with troubled youth. Many black residents in the community were shocked to see him in the " 'hood" and questioned his motives. But I knew that he was concerned about his black neighbors north of the White House. Two weeks later there was a letter from President Nixon. After that Mr. Nixon extended an invitation to me and my wife, Hattie, to join him and then-Secretary of State William Rogers at the White House to break bread and talk about the early years at Burning Tree Golf Course. In 1969 I received a presidential appointment to become the first civilian to head a Domestic Actions Program on a military facility in the United States. I don't even remember Mr. Nixon ever asking me if I was a Republican or a Democrat or making me feel uncomfortable because of my color or the fact I was his caddy. -- Harold Bell is a sports talk show host and president of Kids in Trouble. ILLUSTRATION, TWP