Making the Rounds: A special group keeps young swinging the clubs

Red Wohlford loves golf. Has since his family bought a house across the street from a course in Faribault, Minn. He was 4 then. He’s 92 now.

Along the way, the game provided him:

• Money to buy his first bike. It cost $24; he paid for it in 25-cent installments, his daily take as a caddie.

• Then a leg up in business. “I got to play country clubs, and lunch was on the boss,” he said.

• And now, a group of buddies to play alongside three days a week.

“Golf has been good to me,” Wohlford said Tuesday morning at Haggin Oaks, where dropping temperatures and wind chill made conditions seem downright Minnesota-like.

The group, which had 11 golfers Tuesday, fluctuates between 10 and 16 and plays every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. at Haggin’s red nine.

“We only play the red, except in emergencies,” said Don Homer, the group’s de facto leader. The long par-5 finishing hole on Haggin’s blue nine has become too much for the group to handle, which makes sense when you consider that Homer, 89, could be the youngest member of his foursome on a given day.

Homer calculates the average scores – he keeps everyone’s last 10 scores on a slip of paper in his breast pocket – but doesn’t have to do much else since Haggin started blocking the group’s tee times years ago.

The group started about 30 years ago and is loosely built around former teachers and the Mormon faith. Anyone is welcome, but no smoking, drinking or swearing. Gambling is allowed, if a $1 buy-in can be called gambling. The gang retreats to Taco Bell on Marconi post round, where the winners aren’t required to buy but probably could.

John Barton, Elmer Wahlstrom and Jack Allen have been with the group since the beginning. Wahlstrom and Al Franks are 89. Harold Hansen, a founding member, passed away two weeks ago. Death, sadly, is a reality the group faces too often.

Sue Johnson is the only woman. Her husband, Royle Johnson, also plays. She said the group fits her because, unlike some ladies’ groups, “They’re not uptight like they’re playing for a million dollars, but they’re not hit and giggle, either.”

Neil Smyth, 75, is among the group’s youngsters. He especially marvels at the smooth-swinging Wohlford, who has a hard time seeing where his ball goes and getting his tee into and out of the ground but still manages to break 40 on his good days.

“He ought to write a book or something,” Smyth said. “How to live to be 92 and still beat everyone at golf.”

Wohlford partially credits his longevity to eating homegrown vegetables. He has three children and 21 grandchildren and great-grandchildren – “a whole henhouse full of them,” he said.

He still drives to the course. Some days he walks the course; some days he takes a cart. He recently landed on his shoulder after stepping in a gopher hole but shows no ill effects. He’s on his second pacemaker after wearing out his first.

His mind is sharp and he loves to tell stories, like the one about trying out for football in high school and being run over by Bruce Smith, a high school classmate and the eventual winner of the 1941 Heisman Trophy while at Minnesota.

“The next day, I returned my uniform and said, ‘Coach, I’m sticking to golf.’”

Wohlford said his mother could see the entire course from the family’s Faribault front porch, and his father fashioned a club out of a tree limb soon after they moved in.

“I was in hog heaven swinging that thing until players started giving me clubs at the end of the year,” he said. “I thought those were gold.”

In a way, they were.

Frosty mornings

Anticipate frost delays the rest of the week.

“I’m expecting the next three days to hit us pretty hard,” said Stacy Baker, the superintendent at Haggin Oaks. “I can see it being 9:30 until we can get guys out.”

Baker said Haggin’s greens were mowed and rolled Tuesday in anticipation of not being able to do so again until Saturday. Cups were cut into spots on the greens known to get early sun.

Haggin uses a modified shotgun start after frost delays if there are more than three groups waiting.

FootGolf foothold

Haggin Oaks did 100 FootGolf rounds Saturday, its highest total since opening its course in July. FootGolf courses have since been built at Cherry Island, Foothill, Bradshaw Ranch and the Bing Maloney Express 9, giving the Sacramento area five of the nation’s 30 courses.