Cover Story – Alfonso Ribeiro

Cover Story – Alfonso Ribeiro

Alfonso Ribeiro is probably best known for his role as Carlton Banks on the ‘90s smash-hit TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Alongside Will Smith, Ribeiro carved out a nice career, buoyed by his nerdy, but charming, portrayal of Carlton and his now infamous “Carlton dance.” But, this 52-year-old actor, who has been a Hollywood mainstay since age 12, has reinvented himself over the last decade; first as the season 19 winner of the wildly popular TV show Dancing with the Stars, which he parlayed into hosting America’s Funniest Home Videos and eventually a co-hosting gig on DWTS alongside Julianne Hough. 

Not only has Ribeiro become a household name hosting a pair of primetime shows, but he is also a dedicated husband, father, one-time professional racecar driver, philanthropist and … hyper-competitive celebrity golf enthusiast. Ribeiro has been playing the game of golf since age 18, and as a member of the celebrity golf circuit, has developed a passion for not only the competitive aspect of these tournaments, but the camaraderie with his fellow celebs. 

AVIDGOLFER spoke to Alfonso about his time in Hollywood, the current state of his game, the upcoming Invited Celebrity Classic and his round with Rory McIlroy. 

AVIDGOLFER: Who were some of your entertainment influences?

Alfonso Ribeiro: Growing up, I enjoyed a lot of the old Embassy shows. A Different World, The Facts of Life, The Jeffersons were all shows I enjoyed as a kid. Back then, there wasn’t a Disney Channel, so it was mainly network television.  Good Times or a show like The Incredible Hulk were another couple I enjoyed. I started Silver Spoons at 12, so I enjoyed getting to know some of those actors. 

AG: Do you still keep up with any of your former cast mates? 

AR: The Fresh Prince cast and I are all on a text chain together. So, we keep up with what we’re all doing. We’re a family. There is lots of love, appreciation and caring for what is happening in everyone’s lives. So, that’s the crew that I talk to the most. 

AG You’re hosting America’s Funniest Home Videos now. How has that experience been? 

AR: It has been incredible. I am finishing up my ninth season now, and it has been a joy. I have been hosting America’s Funniest Home Videos now for three years longer than I worked on Fresh Prince. So, this has been the longest gig of my career. 

AG: How did hosting that show come about? 

AR: I had done Dancing with the Stars, and I got to be friends with Tom Bergeron. Tom had mentioned to me that he was going to be walking away from the show and he thought I would be a great fit to step in and host when he left. I had a meeting with ABC, and they asked me what I was interested in, and they wanted to keep me in the ABC family. During that meeting, I pointed to a photo of Tom on the wall and said that is what I want to do. I spent my whole career trying to get people to recognize my name rather than a character I had created, so I really wanted to pursue that avenue. I still went through the process of interviewing for the show and the screen test, but I ended up with the opportunity and it has been the best job of my career. 

AG: You mentioned Dancing with the Stars. It obviously had a pretty large impact on your career, but looking back on it, it has to be surreal you did a dancing show with guys like UFC fighter Randy Couture and a guy like Tommy Chong. 

AR:  Sure, it absolutely was surreal, but also super cool. Those are people you watched in many capacities over the years, but Dancing with the Stars was the resurgence of my career. Winning that show brought me back to being a household name and was the springboard to hosting America’s Funniest Home Videos. It was a great opportunity and was one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me. 

AG: You’re hosting Dancing with the Stars now. That has to be a great gig, too, right?

AR: I never would have guessed I would be hosting. I love it, though. I have two prime-time network TV shows on the air. That’s something that is very rare. I have a phenomenal co-host in Julianne Hough, and the judges and professional dancers are fantastic. The great thing is every year it’s a new group of celebrities and there is a whole new storyline. I never thought I would be hosting a dancing competition, but it’s a great competition show, and I feel very blessed and lucky to be doing it.  

AG: Let’s talk a little golf. How long have you been playing the game?

AR: I have been playing since I was 18. I am 52 now, so it has been a long time. The first time I was introduced to it, a buddy took me to a driving range and, of course, I decided the best club to hit was a driver. The first three swings I hit it dead straight, right down the middle and nobody could believe I had never done it before. I was literally hooked after three swings. 

AG: When did you first have the opportunity to play in one of these celebrity events?

AR:  A gentleman by the name of Tom Dreesen, who was a great comedian who used to open for Frank Sinatra back in the day, was a member at the same club as me. Tom told me I should consider playing in some of these celebrity events. Back then it was called the CPT, the Celebrity Players Tour, and he mentioned there were about a dozen events a year, and at the time my handicap was low enough to play. Tom called up the people running the tour and mentioned that I was interested, so I went out and played an event. I absolutely loved it and have been playing celebrity golf ever since. 

AG: I know you have done some competitive car racing in the past. Are you a competitive person and do you enjoy the competition of these tournaments rather than just playing recreationally?

AR: I am over-the-top competitive. I am one of the most competitive people I know. I love competition and I love competing. I used to race cars professionally, but once I started having children, I realized something safer like golf was a better idea. I switched all that energy over to golf, and although I have never won any of the big events, I really enjoy competing against these guys. They are some of the greatest athletes in the world, and I love competing against them. 

AG: Is it hard to temper your expectations being so competitive?

AR: Sometimes when people see me on the golf course, they probably think I look upset, but that is because I am so hard on myself.  I can’t help but expect perfection, and I expect perfection with everything in my life and career. So it’s hard when I get on the golf course to play a game where you can’t be perfect.  

AG: Even though you are a celebrity yourself, do you ever find yourself star-struck with anyone you have played alongside or against?

AR: Maybe in the beginning. Being on the course with all these Hall of Famers, it was pretty cool. Guys like Wayne Gretsky, John Elway, Emmitt Smith and Marcus Allen. At the beginning, it was really cool to be playing with those guys and sometimes beating them. Now, I consider most of them friends. Just a couple weeks ago I played with Sterling Sharpe and Tim Brown, and they are both great friends, but now I just consider them my buddies. 

AG: Do you watch a lot of professional golf in your downtime? 

AR: I certainly watch a lot of PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR Champions. I am a global ambassador for PGA TOUR Champions. I handle all their commercials and voiceovers. I have an incredible charity they contribute to for taking care of their commercials. 

AG: What do you think of the current fracture in the game of golf?

AR: I am not a huge fan of the split in professional golf right now. I don’t think it’s great for the game or for the fans. I would rather everyone come together so the best in the world can compete with each other. I am more of a traditionalist, so I like the four-day tournaments where you start on hole one and finish on hole 18. I want to see the best playing against the best. I don’t really have an issue with the LIV guys, because if they feel that’s best for them and their families, then that’s great. But I wish they could work out a way to come together.  

AG:  Are you a member anywhere and what are some of your favorite courses in Los Angeles?

AR: I am a member at Lakeside Golf Club, which is kind of an old-school Hollywood club, and I love the course. I also love Riviera, which we all know is fantastic, so I love playing there as often as I can. Those would have to be my two favorites in Los Angeles. 

AG: What is your favorite club in your bag?

AR: It has always been the driver. I love going bombs-away and hitting it as far as I can hit it. I am a Ping guy now, and I love their new 10K; it’s such a fun club to hit and it’s pretty straight, too. There’s no doubt it is my favorite club in my bag. 

AG: If you could have one skill from a current professional, what would it be?

AR:  Given today’s technology, I would have to say I would want Rory McIlroy’s tee shots with a driver. To be able to smash it like he does is such an advantage. I’m 52 now, and I used to hit it a long way, but it’s harder now. So to be able to hit it that far would be awesome. 

AG: Have you ever been able to play with any of the notable TOUR guys?

AR: I actually got to play with Rory a while back. That was probably one of best days of my golf life. To be able to sit back and watch him play was incredible. He has the most efficient golf swing I have ever seen. On top of that, he was such a warm, hospitable guy and offered tips and told us stories. I am a huge fan. 

AG: You have four kids, any of them involved in sports or golf? 

AR: My boys are huge sports nuts. I have kind of gotten them out of golf because they love baseball, and the reality is the baseball swing and the golf swing are so different. Since they have committed to travel baseball, I want them to focus on that, and I will reintroduce them to golf later on down the line. 

AG: You mentioned earlier your charity that the PGA TOUR Champions supports. Tell us more about it. 

AR: My charity is called Fresh Start Surgical Gifts. We mainly do surgeries for children with facial deformities. We have done cleft palates, skin grafts, dental work and other things of that nature. Our goal is to give these kids a fresh start in life. Other children can be hard on kids that don’t look the same, and these kids are incredible, but they just need some help, so they aren’t looked at differently. We bring them to the San Diego area along with their families, and we provide that medical care to them. We do between six and seven hundred of these procedures a year, and it’s amazing to see the transformation of these kids when they come alive after their treatment. It’s an amazing charity. 

AG:  We look forward to seeing you at the Invited Celebrity Classic later this month. 

AR: I can’t wait. My game is pretty good right now, so I am looking forward to seeing what I can do out there.