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Seniors keep on swinging golf clubs at Tampa Bay area courses

Perry Wood, 89, of Clearwater plays three times a week at Clearwater Country Club as part of the “American League.’’

Rodney Page | Times

Perry Wood, 89, of Clearwater plays three times a week at Clearwater Country Club as part of the “American League.’’

It is a scene played out at most area golf clubs. While the working world hustles through its weekday, retirees who have run that race relax at their favorite course's clubhouse. They pore over scorecards or take not-so-subtle jabs at a playing partner's skills.

It's what Perry Wood was doing Wednesday morning at Clearwater Country Club. He is part of the "American League,'' which plays three times per week. He has been a part of it for 19 years. Wood, who turns 90 in two weeks, is its oldest member, but he hits it straight down the fairway and competes with the younger guys.

It has been a long year for Wood. In September, his wife of 34 years, Muriel, who had Alzheimer's disease, died. His children live in the Northeast and visit occasionally. His "family'' is at Clearwater Country Club, where everybody knows him. Golf keeps him going.

"I'm a very lonesome person, basically,'' he said. "I've got this big condo, and now I'm all by myself. I don't know what I would do if I didn't have the golf to look forward to.''

A game for life

As a youngster, Wood was a good athlete and excelled in baseball and basketball. When a tryout with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1940 ended with a "thanks but no thanks,'' Wood took up golf to remain competitive. He has played ever since, reaching his peak in 1972 with a 3 handicap.

He and his wife moved to Clearwater in 1990 and began playing regularly. He has shot his age numerous times, although not recently.

"My putting has gone to the devil,'' Wood said.

But a shaky putter won't keep Wood off the course. A Marine during World War II, he's going to play until he can no longer lift a club.

"I've been around golf most of my life,'' he said. "I like being out here around the guys. I don't play as well as I used to, but I can still hit it pretty good sometimes.''

Fountain of youth

In Pinellas Park, a group of seniors gather every Friday for league play at Mainlands Golf Course.

Joe Galasso, 86, has been playing for 72 years. At his peak, he was an 8 handicap and an admitted "weekend'' golfer. He left Elkhart, Ind., and retired in Florida 10 years ago, playing or practicing daily since. Galasso plays with friends, including neighbor Mait­land Knapp, 93.

He said he shoots his age during most rounds. He's not sure if he'll be able to when he reaches Knapp's age, but he does know he would still like to be golfing.

"I wouldn't know what to do if I didn't have golf to look forward to,'' Galasso said. "I thank God every day that I'm able to still play this game. I think it's the greatest sport anybody can take up. It really is a lifetime sport.''

Knapp lived in Redington Beach and Feather Sound before moving to Mainlands six years ago. He didn't take up golf until he was 62 but hasn't stopped since.

"I started playing because I finally had time,'' Knapp said. "I'd call myself a hacker, but I certainly look forward to playing. I especially look forward to the day when I'll finally keep my head still on a swing.''

Courting senior golfers

Most area courses offer senior discounts on green fees. In this down economy, catering to seniors who have more time to play makes sense.

Then there is the Triple S Golf Ranch in Dade City, where turning 90 means never having to pay for golf again.

"It's a respect issue,'' co-owner Nancy Smith said. "We think it's great that they are still able to do it. And if they love it that much, then we can provide free golf."

Smith said there are currently four regulars who play for free. That number doubles in the winter, when snowbirds head south.

Rodney Page can be reached at page@sptimes.com, golf@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8810

Seniors keep on swinging golf clubs at Tampa Bay area courses 08/26/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 26, 2009 9:26pm]
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