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At 99, Roland Bailey is slower but still golfing at Pasadena Country Club

GULFPORT

It is Friday morning, and Roland Bailey has a tee time. There's nothing new about that. Bailey has had a tee time at Pasadena Country Club for the past 75 years. But these days, it takes him a little longer to get to the first tee. He rises at 6:15 a.m. to make it to the course 31/2 hours later. Bailey was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a weakness of the skeletal muscles, a few years ago. It takes him nearly an hour to get out of bed. Then he gets dressed, makes breakfast and slowly starts to get his strength up. By 9:30, Bailey is ready to drive the few miles from his house to the course. He does this all by himself after his wife of 55 years, Virginia, died in 1992. Bailey tries to play nine holes three times per week. Tuesday was his 99th birthday. "Without Pasadena Golf Course, I would've been dead a long time ago,'' Bailey said. "This place has been my home.''

From St. Louis to St. Petersburg

Roland Bailey was born March 8, 1912, in St. Louis. He was an amateur golfer and in his early years worked for Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. When he got a job offer in 1936 to join the Rexall Drug Co. and move to St. Petersburg, Bailey jumped at the chance.

"That sounded good to me,'' he said. "The first thing I did when I got here was ask people where a good golf course was. They all told me Pasadena. That's why I started playing here.

"I've played other courses, but I always came back here.''

Bailey and his wife raised three daughters. One, Marilyn, was in Boca Ciega High School's second graduating class. He has eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Bailey worked for 35 years. He operated 14 Rexall stores around Florida, but his main store was on Fifth Street and Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg. The building's landlord at the time was former St. Petersburg mayor Al Lang. Bailey was good friends with Lang and would go with him to watch his beloved Cardinals in spring training.

"He and I would go to ball games together," Bailey said. "You always got the best of everything when you were with him.''

The Cardinals stayed at the old Breckenridge Hotel on First Avenue S during the spring. The Yankees stayed right down the road. Both played at Waterfront Park (later renamed Al Lang Field). Bailey recalls players such as Red Schoendienst, Pepper Martin and Lou Gehrig hanging out at his drug store.

He also remembers Doc Webb, who started Webb's City, a drug store and St. Petersburg landmark.

"Doc Webb and I were good friends, but we were also competitors,'' Bailey said. "We all thought he was crazy. I'd have employees quit my place, and he'd give them a job right away.''

Rexall Drugs was sold several years after Bailey retired. Downtown St. Petersburg has changed dramatically since he worked there. He said because of the myasthenia gravis, he hasn't been there in more than three years.

Through it all, there has been one constant, Pasadena Country Club.

Thousands of rounds

Pasadena opened in 1924, and its first head professional was legendary golf pro Walter Hagen. Bailey arrived 12 years later. Hagen was no longer the head pro, but he still frequented the course during the winter months.

Bailey was a regular in the time before World War II. He remembers when all the best pros of the day would come down in the spring to play Pasadena. Things changed at the start of the war. The course was shut down and turned into a cattle ranch.

"They had Black Angus cows out there,'' Bailey said. "It was like the Wild West. Nobody played golf. They just took care of the cattle.''

At the war's conclusion, the city of St. Petersburg took over the course and made it public. Bailey said it cost $1 to play a round. A yearlong membership cost $150. Shortly afterward, Pasadena became private again.

At his best, Bailey was a 9 handicap. His best score on the course is 72. However, after more than 80 years of playing, Bailey has never had a hole-in-one.

His best shot came 15 years ago, when he was 84. He eagled the par-5 13th, holing a 3-iron from a fairway bunker about 200 yards away.

"I hit into the group in front of us,'' Bailey said.

"They jokingly tended the flag as the ball rolled in.''

At 99, Bailey still grips it and rips it. He usually shoots between 50 and 55 for nine holes. He can hit his oversized metal driver about 120 yards, usually straight down the middle. After thousands (maybe millions) of swings, he doesn't waste time over the ball.

Throughout the years, Bailey has seen more changes to the course than anybody alive.

"They've moved the holes. What is now the fifth hole used to be the first hole," Bailey said. "The clubhouse has moved.

"Nobody lived around the course.''

Senior member

There is a picture of Bailey displayed in the clubhouse. He is sitting in front of the 18th green, cigarette in hand. He said it is from 1942. He also said he hasn't smoked in 25 years.

There are very few people at Pasadena who don't know Bailey. But he still misses some of his old playing partners.

"I used to play in a foursome of the same guys for many, many years, but then they died off,'' Bailey said. "Then I had another foursome I played with, and they died off. I don't think there's anybody here now that I used to play with who is still alive. A lot of our good, old friends are gone.''

Club member Morris Berch has made a point to play with Bailey over the past few years.

"He's such a nice guy,'' Berch, 71, said. "He still takes a big swing. I just hope I'm here at 99 much less able to swing a golf club.''

Bailey's disease is currently in remission. Even so, it still slows him down.

"I'll probably never get over it,'' Bailey said. "I'll probably pass away from it.''

He says that very matter-of-factly. He hasn't stayed around for 99 years by worrying about such things. Bailey is more concerned about his next round of golf.

"I'll see you at about 10 on Wednesday,'' Berch says to Bailey.

"Okay, good," Bailey said. "I'll be there."

At 99, Roland Bailey is slower but still golfing at Pasadena Country Club 03/09/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 11:54pm]

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