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Rocks of Ages

Let us remember the reason why we play. Let us remember those we have played for, and with. And let us remember why we keep going.

by Allen Schauffler

Walking to the 14th green we see our first other golfers of the morning. For the last hour and a half we’ve been alone on the course. Just the way this dawn-patrol group wants it.

Harvey Smith, Phyllis Wampler, Alan Williams and Harvey Rutter
Left to right are Harvey Smith, Phyllis Wampler, Alan Williams and Harvey Rutter.

“It’s like it’s our own private golf course” says Phyllis Wampler. “These others, the ‘fair weather’ golfers, they don’t know what they’re missing.”

The weather is hardly fair. It’s cold out here. A brisk morning wind blowing off the eastern flank of the Cascades makes a joke of the thermometer, which reads 35 degrees. The sun is out there somewhere on the eastern horizon but it’s not doing much.

Welcome to winter in the High Desert. The grass is brown and dormant, the landscape frozen hard. The first challenge is just sticking a tee in the ground.

Nasty conditions or not, it’s a perfect day for golf, according to “The Gang” teeing it up at The Greens at Redmond (Ore.). They are not the type to put their clubs away in October and bring them out again in March; a little February chill isn’t going to freeze this group out of their regular game. If the course is open, they’re first on the tee and ready to roll. Any day. Every day.

Harvey Smith

Harvey Smith

Phyllis Wampler

Phyllis Wampler

“We’ve seen 12, 14 degrees, snow and wind blowing, we don’t care,” says Alan Williams.

“Just put on another layer of clothes and play,” adds Phyllis, with a shrug.

Phyllis and Alan play seven days a week when weather and real-life allow; 28 rounds in November, 17 in December, another 28 in January. Harvey Rutter comes up from Bend to join in at least three times a week, often more. Harvey Smith is a reliable Monday-Wednesday-Friday guy.

Phyllis is 86. Smith, a quiet presence on the course, still has a smooth, full, Snead-like swing at 96 years old. Rutter, the lefty, is 81. Their regular partner Raymond Cunningham (missing on this day due to injury) is 82.

Williams, father of six, grandfather of 13, great-grandfather of three, is the baby of the group at just 69.

Regardless of age or weather, they’re here to play the game that brings them together and has been a permanent thread in the fabric of their lives for the last decade or so.

They’re already planning to play and celebrate Smith’s 100th birthday, four years from now. Williams loves the exercise of walking the course; it helps him handle his diabetes.

When Phyllis’ husband died a few years ago, she was back on the course in a matter of weeks and figures the group and the game pulled her through.

“I don’t know what I would have done without them.”

Make no mistake, these folks can play. On the short par-4 11th, Phyllis splits the fairway, some 166 yards out. Smith (remember, he’s 96) is in the left rough, 220 off the tee. Phyllis drops a 12-footer for birdie.

Alan Williams

Alan Williams

Harvey Rutter

Harvey Rutter

Smith is the newcomer to the game. When did he first tee it up? “Started playing about 50 years ago, I guess,” he muses.

The Greens at Redmond is a par-58 executive course, mostly par-3s with some short 4s thrown in.

Nobody cares much about a final score. They do keep track of pars and birdies, though. Bogeys? “At my age they don’t seem to matter much anymore,” says Phyllis with a wisp of a smile.

Hit it, find it, hit it again; leave the practice swings at the driving range. There’s no plum-bobbing, ball-marking or agonizing club-selection debate with this group.

David Holmes, The Greens manager, calls them “The Dew-Sweepers.” They usually play as a fivesome, normally a recipe for slow play and frustration on any course. But not in this case.

“Nobody ever catches them. Ever. They move right along. Rain, snow or shine.”

Phyllis has been golfing since she was 23 and can’t imagine life without the game. She knows every round, every swing, every wind-whipped winter morning on the course is a great lesson for a “youngster” like Alan.

“We’re showing him the future, showing him what it’s going to be like.”

For this group, golf has an importance beyond the scorecard. It’s about camaraderie, exercise, getting up and getting out, redefining “old-age” by swinging down and through the late years of life. When the ground is too frozen to stick a tee in it, you stick it in anyway and swing away. When others think it’s too cold to hit the links, you go play your regular 18.

When the man in the pro shop says it’s okay to play, you play. Period.

“I just hope I can get there,” Alan tells me on a tee-to-green walk, marveling at the group’s longevity and tenacity. “I take inspiration from these people.”

Inspiration you’ll find almost every day on The Greens at Redmond.

“We’re sort of a screwy group,” says Phyllis. “We just love to play.”

Allen Schauffler spent 30 years working in television news as a reporter, anchor and host, including 21 years at KING-TV in Seattle. He carries a well-earned 19.3 which hasn’t budged in years.