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These seniors proving golf is a lifetime sport

July 22,2016 11:13

The appeal for these seniors is multi-pronged: They can move at their own pace; the atmosphere is generally relaxed; the sport offers social and community engagement after retirement; there's little stress regarding competition; and, unlike some sports ...

On a resplendent June afternoon at North Park Golf Course, Jim Broadbent strolled to the first tee sporting a bright orange shirt, checkered black-and-white shorts, black shoes with purple laces and a cap that spelled out, “Happy Hour.”

“When they see me coming, they say, ‘You’re here again?,’ ” Broadbent said, laughing.

This Ross Township resident is the rebel of his golfing foursome, which includes brothers Jack, 88, and Frank, 83, and friend Jack Stack, 86. Broadbent is the youngster, checking in at a robust 75 years old.

“If you combine our ages, it’s 332 years,” said Broadbent, a retired PennDOT employee who serves as a consultant in the transportation industry. “Holy cow, that’s a lot of years. I like to give those guys a hard time because I’m the baby. I just have to shout a little louder so they can hear me.”

The Broadbent brothers, originally from the North Side, and Stack represent a hearty contingent of men and women ranging from 60 to 90-plus who regularly navigate the courses at North and South Park.

You’re not likely to see this group of Baby Boomers/Traditionalists checking Instagram or taking selfies, yet they are pictures of contentment out on the links.

“The thing about golf is you can play it till you die,” said Ralph Meyer, 86, a Ross Township resident. “You can’t play softball, baseball or tennis forever, but with golf, you can play it right up to the end.”

A total of 893 senior golfers own memberships at North or South Park. That total includes 406 players between the ages of 60-69; 339 from 70-79; 129 from 80-89; and four from 90-99. Women account for 110, or 12 percent, of the memberships at the two courses.

The appeal for these seniors is multi-pronged: They can move at their own pace; the atmosphere is generally relaxed; the sport offers social and community engagement after retirement; there’s little stress regarding competition; and, unlike some sports, the risk of injury is low.

The cost isn’t bad, either. An annual senior membership at North and South Park is $80. It can be used Monday through Thursday. Residents pay $5 for nine holes and $8 for 18 holes. This is a boon for seniors on a fixed income.

“We’re always looking for good deals,” said Brian Devine, 68, a retired captain with the City of Pittsburgh fire department. “I play with eight guys, and some are good on the computer. They find a great price and we go and play.”

A recent outing brought Devine and his crew — all childhood friends from the city’s Oakland neighborhood or nearby — to Hubbard, Ohio. Things were going smoothly until Devine experienced what might be termed a “senior moment.” His foot got trapped and stuck to the gas pedal of his golf cart. Seconds later, his friends, in the cart in front of him, felt the impact. They were nearly tossed to the ground.

“That thing was going 20 to 25 mph,” said Devine, an Overbrook resident and member at South Park Golf Course. “I’m lucky I knew them. Otherwise, we probably would have been fighting.”

Even at 86, Meyer does not worry about such things. He eschews golf carts, walking a minimum of 18 holes, four days a week, at North Park. He’s been doing this since retiring from Western Electric 36 years ago.

He is viewed as one of the better players on the local circuit, having shot his age the past eight years. In 2005, he finished one stroke out of first place at the Senior Games, held at three area courses.

Meyer said that while posting great scores is satisfying, he is more focused on keeping his mind and body active. The game is therapeutic, in a sense.

“It’s something I look forward to — a lot,” said Meyer, whose son, Glenn, was a special teams standout and reserve nose tackle on Pitt’s 1976 national championship team. “In golf, you’re always striving to do better, and, consequently, it’s in your blood. You want to get back out there and keep playing. The sport has meant a lot to me, a lot to many my age.”

For Dottie Kirwan, a retired CAT scan technician from Ross Township, golf has been a passion the past 20 years. This 60-something (she lightheartedly refused to provide her age) plays three days a week and is the defending 55-and-older women’s champion at South Park. She also has two career holes in one.

A mother of two and grandmother of four, Kirwan said she would like to see more senior women playing, but offered a theory as to why males outnumber her gender.

“The wives throw the husbands out so they can have some time to themselves,” she said, laughing. “That being said, it’s such a great sport for us. It’s a way to get exercise and there’s a great social aspect to it.”

Broadbent, a former 10-handicap, said the sport changed his life.

“I had anxiety before they even called it anxiety,” he said. “Playing golf really put me at ease. I was able to take my mind off what I thought was going on in my head and body. The other thing is, there’s no better exercise in the world for us older guys.”

Added Devine, who has two artificial hips, an artificial knee and a rebuilt shoulder, “I stink at golf, but it makes me get up off the couch or the recliner.”

The majority of golfers, of course, are much younger than those on the senior circuit. According to a report by the National Golf Foundation a couple years back, of the estimated 24 million people who annually play, fewer than two million were 70 or older.

What’s more, many of the big names in the sport are 20-somethings, guys such as Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day.

Devine said the sheer power of the modern-day player is awe-inspiring. Many of his friends saw this up-close at the U.S. Open in Oakmont last month.

“They hit the ball so far and so hard,” he said.

But, said Broadbent, it is impossible to compare today’s players to the players of his generation, such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead.

“They shouldn’t be allowed to break any of the old records,” he said. “The equipment is too much better nowadays. Not to take away anything from the young players, but it’s different.”

On the topic of young players, several senior golfers were asked if the pace of their play — which is slower than it used to be — elicited negative reactions from that generation. All reported that they’ve been treated with respect.

This was music to the ears of the man who oversees the local courses, chief marketing officer, County of Allegheny, Kevin Evanto.

“Our seniors are out here enjoying the sport they love,” he said. “Those who patronize the courses are understanding, and everyone just wants to have a good time. The seniors bring a lot of energy to our courses. They inspire us. It’s great to see that so many of them remain active and get to enjoy themselves.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,Golf

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