Charlotte-area group plays through life’s ups and downs with a spirit unique to golfers, and they tackle the recent coronavirus uncertainty with the same zest
FORT MILL, S.C. – Once you reach a certain age, golf is whom you play with. You’ve been robbed of distance, so you move up a set of tees. Your skills seem to be steadily eroding, and it seems that your best golf is behind you. So, why do you keep showing up?
It’s the group. The friendships you cherish, the bonds that never break, the connections that strengthen over time. That’s our group. We’ve survived illness, surgery, death and difficult times. When someone is absent, it’s conspicuous and he’s liable to get an email or a phone call.
We call ourselves Turner’s Wedges, in memory of the late Bob Turner, who started the group in 2014 with Chuck Beard and Bud Welch, who is the retired pro at Springfield Golf Club in Fort Mill, S.C., where we play on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Everyone in the group is 65 or older (except me, and I’m only four months or so away) and therefore retired. Conversations tend to center around blood pressure, doctor’s appointments and surgical procedures along with assorted pains in new places.
But there is golf. We have players with varying abilities, who range in handicap from nearly scratch to the high 20s. Some show up with new drivers, irons and putters, hoping against hope that you really can buy a game. We come from all walks of life and a broad number of occupations.
What we do have in common at the moment is that we are told we are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic that is gripping most of the world. Social distancing is practically the law of the land, and we get daily news of the closing of schools, restaurants and bars, while working from home is only one of the new normals.
Yet, last Monday, 29 of us turned up at Springfield for the regular commencement of the dogfight. And no one had a second thought about playing.
“No, we never believed we should cancel,” said Ken Dunnett, who along with Gary Curry runs Turner’s Wedges. “In these uncertain times, we think what we’re doing is good for our mental health, too.”
Brian Tarr, who retired as an educator, is 69 and walks with bag over his shoulder practically every round we play. He is probably the thinnest and healthiest player in the group.
“The nature of golf is that we’re all dispersed from each other anyway, said Tarr who has lived in the Charlotte, N.C., area since 1968. “Even if you ride in the cart, the breeze will blow away whatever bacteria is in the air.
“Some of us have underlying health issues. But at some point, we have to keep living. We’re lucky that we play golf. It’s not bowling or bridge. Poker games might have to be put on hold.”
Gene Roper is 67 and retired from Springs Inc., the company that owns Springfield and three other courses in the area. “I never thought we shouldn’t do this,” he said.
David Zant, who retired from Belk, a major Southeastern retailer, said, “I didn’t have any hesitation. My wife did, but I didn’t. Being outdoors I thought I could be safe. I’m not going to live my life in fear. I’m going to take every precaution.”
But 80-year-old Dave Curtis had the prevailing sentiment. “I have some really good people that I enjoy being with,” he said.
The previous Saturday at Springfield, which is the leading daily-fee course in the Charlotte, N.C., area, the club had 212 players. On the Monday we played – a gray, dreary day during which the temperature barely crept above 50 – there were more than 90 players on the tee sheet as of 9 a.m.
But one player – not in our group – had a problem on Monday. Despite knowing the other members of his foursome, he asked that he be given a separate cart to ride by himself. The club declined, and the man asked for a refund. He left without playing.
Last Wednesday, we moved the game to nearby Chester (S.C.) Golf Club, and our ranks had thinned to 23. About a half dozen guys canceled after originally signing up. One has respiratory issues and some of the rest probably heard from their wives, asking that they not play.
The club asked two things of us: If we had a ball in a bunker, take it out and place it no nearer the hole. All bunker rakes had been removed so that there wouldn’t be a number of random hands on the handles. Two, leave the flagstick in for every putt for the same reason as the bunker rakes.
Currently, there are no plans to close Springfield or any of the other Springs courses, unless state or local officials mandate it. However, changes have been made. Snack bars have closed. Officials are asking players not to congregate in the pro shop. Water coolers and water fountains have been removed. Sand bottles and coolers have been removed from carts. Cups in the holes have been installed upside down so that players will not reach into the holes. Players are being asked to walk instead of ride and those who do take carts are asked that one of the players walk at all times.
Even with all the new precautions, Turner’s Wedges will play on.
Joe Ciotoli, who moved to the Fort Mill area from Binghamton, N.Y., was Turner’s brother-in-law. “I was going to be here today, no matter what,” Ciotoli said.
Turner died 2½ years ago of leukemia and was endlessly upbeat throughout his entire ordeal. His spirit never took a day off, even if his body was having a bad day. His death was an emotional blow to those closest to him. However, he lives on in the group that has now taken his name.
“You know Bob would have been here,” Ciotoli said. “Bob never missed golf.”
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