July 4, 2013

Chris Whitfield: These guys have a good time on the course and at the clubhouse

CHATSWORTH — C.L. Cruse can remember his introduction to golf. He was a 12-year-old caddy in Cherokee County, and golfers would tip him a whole quarter for each 18-hole round.

“You could get 50 cents if you carried two bags,” Cruse said, “but if either of the golfers lost a ball, you only got the quarter.” 

A quarter may not sound like a lot — but it was 1937. 

Now, 76 years later, Cruse is a member of an exclusive club of octogenarian golfers (and one in his 90s) who meet regularly for a loop around the course at Indian Trace. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, you are likely to see the group playing.

If they need a fourth and ask you to come along, say “Yes.” To hear the stories these five tell sitting around the back porch of the Indian Trace clubhouse would make for a funny and enlightening round of golf.

“There have been a lot of guys who have passed away over the years,” Emmett Carroll said. “But we all keep coming back.”

Wallace Douglas is the elder statesman of the group at 91. Joe Kephart, Carroll and Cruse are all 88. Howard Bradford is the baby of the group, a mere 83.

“They have all been coming out here for years,” course owner Tracy Spurlock said. “You won’t find a better group of guys, and they can all shoot their age.”

Kephart wasn’t quite so confident.

“Well, you might be stretching it a little there,” said Kephart, who advised me to get ready to roll my pants up a little bit, because it was about to get deep. “On a good day, we can shoot our age.”

On a very good day, it is better than that.

“Someone asked me how I can stay in the fairway all the time,” Carroll said. “It is simple: I can’t hit it far enough to get out of the fairway.”

Don’t wager any money with these guys, though, because I am betting they will leave you with empty pockets.

“It is a lot better golf out here than it used to be,” Kephart said. “When I was working out here and was serving as the starter on the weekends, I watched a guy lose an entire sleeve of balls over on No. 10.”

Said Cruse, “We have a fun group of people. It is a lot better than we used to have. We’ve had some jerks.

“I don’t care, I’m old enough to say it and get away with it.”

Wallace has a pair of hole-in-ones. Carroll has three aces even though he only started playing in 1990, when he retired. Cruse said he has been close a couple of times but only hit a couple of greens.

And this is just the talk on the back porch. Imagine the fun on the course among these guys.

Carroll is an original member of the club who took up the game because, like Wallace, he needed something to do after he retired. The rest have been playing Indian Trace for years, moving over from other clubs or just finding a home with a group of like-minded guys who still enjoy making a loop and hitting greens. They have all served in the military. And all of the stories told over the years have to be enough to fill a book and keep fans of the game coming back for more.

“The good thing is that we have probably forgotten most of the stories that we have told,” Wallace said, “so we can keep telling the same stories over and over.” 

All of them give credit to the game for making them healthier. 

“If it hadn’t been for my golfing, I probably wouldn’t be here today,” Carroll said. “My doctor told me to keep playing golf, so I guess I will just have to keep playing.”

Imagine having to play golf because of doctor’s orders. I want to know who Carroll’s doctor is.

“I get a little exercise and get out of the house,” Wallace said. “It doesn’t matter what you shoot. I come out here every week if I can, and I love it.”

They will keep coming out, they say, until their bodies give out or the good Lord takes them home. 

“As long as Tracy lets us play,” Cruse said, “we will be here.”


Chris Whitfield is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at chriswhitfield@daltoncitizen.com