POSTED ON JUNE 4, 2008:
For these guys, the grass is always greener on Battle Creek Drive
Golf is the game for life. You'd be hard pressed to find another sport you can enjoy from youth to retirement. Tennis? Not if you want to maintain a high level of play. Bowling? Rental shoes, no thanks.
Golf surged in popularity around 1997 when Eldrick Woods captured our imaginations. However, many realized the lasting power of this 'part frustrating-part rewarding' pastime.
I've written several golf issues but none like this. Last year the PGA dominated our lives. One year prior we covered the First Tee Program. This year I was asked about the happenings on the T-Town golf scene. Good question.
To start my research, I strolled into Battle Creek Golf Club, 3200 North Battle Creek Dr., set to talk with a group of retirees who play daily.
First I sat down with Bill Wagner. He's been the golf pro at Battle Creek for four years. He knows the intricacies of the course better than anyone.
"They really enjoy their golf. In the winter months they start at 10 o'clock and in the summer months they start at 9 o'clock. We normally give them about four or five tee times because we know they are going to show up," Wagner said.
He appreciates the steady business. "A lot of them were playing all over town and they ended up here. I think we've nurtured that relationship with them. We really enjoy them being here. They're beneficial to the club," he said.
So now I'm waiting for the golfers to finish their round. Normally, Wagner could track them on the course with Battle Creek's slick GPS system but it was inoperable due to new carts being used. No fears, the GPS should be back mid-May.
I headed to the grill area and noticed a few bucks on a table. A dozen or so distinguished looking gentlemen surrounded the table laughing, eating and talking about the previous 4-hour round.
I decided this would be my story.
"Fifty years. I got started as a caddie," Fred told me when I asked about his golfing life span. The group of guys worked at Battle Creek. Mostly course marshals and cart barn.
They hit the greens every Tuesday or Thursday. One member of their group missed the round because he'd been assigned to work the day. Not a bad deal they have set up. Work one day a week from 10-4 and golf whenever they want.
Most of them are retired. Fred was a professor at Villanova for 30 years with a 27 year stint in the army to boot. "I have about a 30 year gap that I didn't play. Golf takes too much time when you have a real job," he said.
Walt retired from AAA Automobile Club. Tom owned a truck stop. Now they play a ton of golf...but there are limits. "If you've got to wear ear muffs and boots and gloves it's not worth it," said Fred. Although he admits many others tackle the elements.
As far as the money on the table, it's all in good fun. "We just do this to make it interesting, to have something to talk about," Fred explained.
"If you lose three dollars," Walt began.
"I lost 6.50 today," interrupted Tom.
Without missing a beat, Walt continued with, "If you lost $6.50..."
"You were on the wrong team," laughed Fred.
They don't tire of each other's company. They work together to ensure Battle Creek always has a marshal on the grounds. Bill Wagner loves having them around. He knows the course is in good hands with these guys.
The course presents a different challenge to them on a daily basis. It doesn't hurt that many of them live on the course.
"You can't say anything about the greens right now because they're sanded but the greens are great out here. Very fast," said Walt. He's right. It's quite a contrast to Mohawk.
They laud holes 9 and 18. "I think 18 is a great finishing hole. It's a hard hole," Fred said of the dogleg right. "The thing about this course is you have holes that play predominately into the wind and others that play down wind. Nine is a tough hole. It almost always plays into the wind too."
They collectively miss the shortish par-4 that ran parallel to the Broken Arrow Expressway. No. 12 was the signature hole of the course. High risk, High reward. The city of Broken Arrow needed the land for commercial development. More strip malls please!
I made the mistake of asking them about the Masters Tournament. The way most will remember this tournament was how the layout produced fewer birdies on Sunday's back nine. This resulted in fewer Augusta National roars.
"I thought it was excellent. What was missing?" asked Fred as though I had insulted a friend of his.
"It was more fun watching them par than (a ton of) birdies," agreed Walt. Call me young fashioned. I missed the birdie fest and roars.
Golf plays an instrumental role in their lives. They pride themselves on developing a rapport with the members and the weekend hackers alike. They see no reason to be grumpy about the speed of play. If they have to get the pace moving they'll do so in a respectful manner and not an indignant tone.
"Bill thinks we're the greatest," said Walt about his favorite golf pro.
The feeling is mutual I'm sure. What about the AA retirees I was planning to chat with? Maybe next year, guys. Judging by the way Battle Creek treats the members, they'll still be around.
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