Still swinging after all these years

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 9, 2002


LAPLACE – Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, and Ben Hogan all played golf competitively past the age of 50. However, it is possible to play well if you are past the age of 75?

According to local golfers Earl Booth, Jack Brown, and Mark “Babe” Smith, the answer is a resounding “yes!”

The LaPlace residents have something unique in common – they have all shot better than their age. That is impressive when you consider the youngest of the three, Booth, is 77.

Two of the three “oldies but goodies” recently claimed first place in the Super Seniors Age 65 and Up Tournament held at Riverlands Golf and Country Club in LaPlace.

Booth fired rounds of 73 and 76 to claim first place in the division. Brown, on the other hand, shot an 80 to shoot better than his age, 81. Lastly, the 90-year-old Smith took home first place in the First Flight – Gross Division.

Born in Covington, Booth said he really never thought about shooting age while out on the golf course.

“When I was 75 I think I may have shot a 76. Honestly, it did not cross my mind. It was no big deal,” Booth said.

He started playing golf at a young age, when he learned the game as a caddy.

Smith said, like Booth, he takes it one hole at a time and plays competitively on every hole.

“I never thought I could do what I did in that tournament. But, the weather was good and the course was in good shape. Heck, all we had to do was make shots,” Smith said. The Gramercy native added, “I shot an 85 on the first day and an 89 on the second day. After that, I said to myself ‘I am pushing my age.'”

Brown, who recently turned 81, was probably the most surprised out of the trio by the low scores.

“I really didn’t think it could happen. In my 55 years of playing golf, I have never even made a hole-in-one,” Brown said with a smile.

After talking awhile about golf and memorable rounds of the past, Booth and Smith recalled a tournament in which they played well.

“We played in the Riverlands Amateur Men’s Tournament about two years ago. I hit a shot going right at the green. We did not see where the ball landed on the green. So I told him (Smith) to go see if it was in the hole and it was,” Booth said.

When most people grow older, they usually like to relax and spend a great deal of time around the house and close to their families. However, it seems like life has just begun for Booth, Brown, and Smith. Thanks to golf, these three seniors believe life starts at 75.

“I enjoy playing the sport because of the fellowship that is involved. The camaraderie in golf is unlike any other sport,” Brown said.

Booth said he enjoys it because he doesn’t like playing the sport by himself. “I don’t mind playing by myself. I just like it when other players are with me,” added Smith.

Booth, who was born in 1925, said he enjoys it because it is a challenge to see if you can beat the course. “At our age, not many of us can beat every course,” Booth said with a laugh.

All three agree the game has changed in many ways. But by how much?

“I think you have to first start with the equipment. It is so much better now than it was 30 or 40 years ago,” commented Booth. “All of the drivers are so much bigger and stronger than they previously were.”

Smith thinks older people are at a disadvantage today when it comes to clubs.

“They are trying to build clubs for the young people. What about us old people,” he rhetorically asked.

On a local note, Smith likes to talk about how much the dues were at Riverlands Country Club when it first opened.

“I remember when the dues were only $9 per month. Now, it is $119 a month if you keep a golf cart,” Smith said.

In addition, he said in 1972 Riverlands was only a nine-hole course with sugarcane planted on one side.

Several former Professional Golfers Association players were idolized by the three senior citizens.

“I really enjoyed watching Ben Hogan play,” said Booth. “Doug Sanders was quite a character. He reminded me of a flower the way he dressed while playing.”

Also, Booth said he can remember watching Tommy Bolt throw a club after he missed a shot.

“I hated Ben Hogan. He never gave knowledge to anybody. He was all about the money,” commented Brown.

Players like Jimmy D’Amarit and Lee Trevino are also players the trio respected a great deal.

“My family always enjoyed watching Tom Watson in his prime. The manner in which he conducted himself. He also played a good round of golf,” concluded Brown. Smith added that a lot of golfers overcame a lot of adversities, such as being drafted into military service.

There is, however, one person not on the PGA tour who Booth admires the most – Ennis Miller, a former pro at Audubon Golf Club in the 1940’s.

“He (Miller) reminded me of (Ben) Hogan a lot. He even wore the same kind of hat as Ben,” Booth said.

Booth learned some valuable tips from the former pro.

“He once told me, ‘Son, you would be better off if you didn’t take that club so far back.’ He said that was a no-no.”

Throughout their years as members of Riverlands, the three golfers have seen some, but not a lot, of changes with the golf course. Brown said these days the greens are watered much more often than in the old days.

“I think that has made it easier to putt on,” Brown said. The youngest of the three, Booth, said the course is longer, which makes it difficult.

“I think the old courses were pitch and putt type. These days it is becoming much more difficult to do that,” said Booth. He added it is going to take a lot more effort to have a better score. “I think one day you might even see a hole that is 700 or 800 yards. They’re getting longer all the time.”

Like other sports, the money involved in professional golf has changed the sport dramatically over the last 40 years.

“I think that pro athletes these days are grossly overpaid,” Booth said. “Even in golf, you have guys that make a ton even if they don’t finish first. But you have got people that are willing to pay these huge fees to see them play. I guess the public contributes to their income a lot.”

What keeps three men over the age of 75 motivated?

“I really don’t know. I just like to be with people and socialize. If I sleep and eat regularly I will be motivated. I guess I will keep playing until I am physically or mentally unable to,” Booth said.

The 90-year-old Smith utilizes a unique method of staying motivated to play.

“I drink two scotches before I go to bed. The first scotch does taste a little like cotton, but the second one is fine,” he said.

What these men can do at their age is simply amazing. There are some younger golfers who cannot compete with them. John Kacpura, head golf pro at Riverlands, said sometimes he can not believe his eyes.

” I think I am most impressed with their health. They have done a spectacular job of maintaining their bodies,” he said.

Kacpura said in the older men’s division the “old-timers” seldom, if ever, miss the fairway.

It is safe to say, according to Kacpura, these “young” men have made it possible for future generations of golfers to become even more motivated.

“Without those guys, we might not have had a senior’s division for the future,” he said.