When the Joliet Park District Senior Tour sets up shop on a golf course near your home, it can mean only one thing.
Three things: Birdies. Bogeys. Bedlam.
The bedlam arises in the clubhouse after all the scores are posted and players share in stories of great personal triumph and monumental heartache. Oh, yes, there is the occasional hole-in-one. And, then, there is the shot that plays out like a cartoon reproduction of George in the Jungle: Watch out for that tree.
“Just about all the guys, they stay in afterward, have a drink or have their lunch and they get to talk about the shot that may have upset somebody at the time because it hit the tree and went behind him,” Woodruff Golf Course general manager Kirk Blakney said.
“But they talk about it afterward and they have a real good time joking about that and also vice versa. They talk about the great shots they hit—the eagle somebody made or when somebody chipped in a ball from the fairway.”
The park district Senior Tour is as much about camaraderie as it is about competition. Numbers in the rank and file have soared since the Tour was launched about 15 years ago. Today, there are about 60 regular members of the Tour, all 50 years of age or older.
A, B and C handicap players are split into computer-generated pairings for events every two weeks, including the four-man scramble Tuesday at Woodruff. Then, the fun begins.
Doug Ceci, 53, is a union carpenter with Local 174 out of Joliet. He has played on the Tour for the last two years. During that time, he has made a number of new friends and discovered golf is more than an individual sport. Teamwork is required to win a scramble.
Ceci was the cleanup hitter for his team in Tuesday’s event at Woodruff. He dropped a 20-foot birdie putt on the eighth hole and helped his group finish with a winning total of 7-under-par 61. He benefitted from watching Gene Stokes, Dale Hadala and Paul Susner identify the line on the putt.
“We all look at it—we say it’s a couple inches outside the cup,” Ceci said of a slight left-to-right breaker. “The other guys almost hit it. I had the line. I just got lucky and made it.”
Ceci, Susner, Stokes and Hadala each earned $50 gift certificates for their winning efforts, redeemable in the pro shop at any one of the park district’s three golf courses. John Ardaugh, Fred Turk and Jim Smith won a tie-breaker for second place. Dave Davisson, Gerald Carr, Bob Kerwin and Dave Amorose took third. Both teams shot 5-under 63.
“This is my first year playing,” said Stokes, a 69-year-old Minooka resident. “I enjoy it because it’s a different kind of game every week.”
“It’s good exercise—nice guys to play with,” said Hadala, a 73-year-old Jolietan. He spent 41 years working at Nicor. He no sooner put away one set of tools than picked up another. He hits his irons straight as an arrow. “You just can’t sit at home.”
At each event, scoring and prize winnings are important only in the sense they help determine the Tour’s overall “money” winner, the award presented to one lucky individual at the Tour’s annual steak dinner. Players must participate in a minimum of seven events to qualify for the Senior Tour championship in September.
Susner wouldn’t miss it. He is 57 years old and lives now in Shorewood. He retired recently after working 12 years as a quality control manager at Metal Stamp, Inc., in Channahon. He spends his summers playing golf.
He works part-time at Woodruff. And when he calls the course his home away from home, he is not kidding. He practically grew up under the trees that line the fairways off Gougar Road.
“I played my first round of golf here when I was 14 years old,” he said. “Then, through high school—I went to Providence—we played all of our home matches here. Working here—two or three days a week—it’s fun because I see a lot of people that I know from years past, either through Little League, high school or from the old neighborhood growing up.
“They all gravitate back toward Woodruff, I think, just because a lot of people have the same kind of memories as I do about it. So, it’s fun to work here because you get to see some people you haven’t seen in a long time. It’s nice to see them and know, ‘Hey, we’re all still doing pretty good. We’re all still kicking around the area.’ ”
Many of Susner’s buddies on the Senior Tour play in leagues during the week.
“That’s kind of how I got involved,” he said. “I know a lot of the guys. They said, ‘Why don’t you come out? You’d have a good time.’ And it is a good time. It’s nice when you can see people you know at the golf course and you run into them at the mall or anywhere else. You build a lot of nice relationships through something like this.”
The proof is in the listening: Stop in the clubhouse. Hear the fellas roar. The sound is one of grown men holding onto their boyish charms.