Seniors Got Game

When I gaze out my father’s living room window in South Florida, I am looking at a golf course fairway and a tree, now about fifteen feet tall, that was planted by friends of my mother after she died. Usually that fairway is a neon green. Not any more. Now the fairway is brown and the short grass is dead. A drought? Nope. It was poisoned as the first stage in a massive construction project. A highway a mile away is being expanded and the entire golf course is being used to accommodate water runoff from the project. I shudder when I contemplate the toxicity of the chemicals that killed a golf course.

In any case, soon those brown fairways with the dead grass will be churned up and pipes will be placed in the ground. In theory, the golf course will be usable again in November, but neither my father nor his neighbors believe that a project this large will be done before the middle of next year. Exhibit A: Boston’s ill-fated “Big Dig.” That golf course will be gone a long time.

And a year is a long time indeed when you’re my father’s age. He’s 81. It’s even longer, perhaps, if you’re Saul Redlo. Saul is 84. He’s one of my father’s golf buddies and there are many reasons why I like Saul. He’s a decorated World War Two veteran, he’s funny, and he doesn’t let the indignities that accompany old age slow him down. He is also unfailingly good-natured, which is no small accomplishment when you’re his age and you’ve just lost your golf course for the foreseeable future.

Now, the golf club managers have made other arrangements. Members can now play at another course 20 minutes away. But it’s a regulation course. The course outside my father’s living room seems to have been designed for 80-year-old golfers who no longer drive the ball 200 yards. It’s not a par three, but it’s short: Even at 81 my dad plays it in about three and half hours. This new alternate course? Seriously PGA. It took my dad over five hours and he shot close to 700 when he was done. And when he was finished, he was finished for the day.

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–>Some of my dad’s friends expect to play only nine holes at a time at this other course, but a few are simply throwing in the towel. Saul isn’t sure how often he’ll play golf in the coming year. He certainly isn’t going to bat the ball three times a week, the way he could when the course was manageable and right outside his front door. This construction just might be the final straw. And if you stop playing golf at 84, what are the odds you’ll resume at 85 or 86? Can’t be good. Still, I am mightily impressed by Saul and my father and most of their friends. My father’s girlfriend is 78 and still volunteers in the public school system and the public library and plays tennis three days a week. Is her health perfect? Far from it. But she and my dad put one foot in front of the other and move on, despite losing someone in their circle of acquaintances almost monthly either to death or the fog of Alzheimer’s.
I think that’s why the transformation of their golf course into a construction zone feels like such a profound loss to me. Time is more precious to them than anything but their children and grandchildren.

And yet they seem to be approaching the loss of the golf course with the same resolve that they show when informed their health is going or their 401(k)s are gone. They shrug, shoulder their sorrows, and soldier on. My dad will be at that long course again on Wednesday. It’s a bigger, more taxing commitment, but he’s game. And I find that as impressive as anything else he has done with his life in his 81 years.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on April 19, 2009.) 

Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of eighteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Guest Room. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and The Double Bind.

One thought on “Seniors Got Game

  1. Kay says:

    Hi Chris,
    As irritating as it is for your dad and his friends to have lost their golf course for who knows how long, I am upset over the issue of the chemicals right outside their doors! Was that necessary? Why couldn’t they just dig instead of killing it with chemicals first? Good for your dad for moving with the change and trying the new place. I’m 20+ yrs younger and don’t think I’m that resilient. Maybe it will come with the later years. I hope so. Love your blog. Just finished The Skeletons At the Feast. Gave me much to think about. I really enjoyed it.

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