Despite his 95 years, Art Gilmore refused a golf cart and insisted on lugging his golf clubs over his shoulder, wandering alongside his six golf buddies each week. More like brothers, the golfers for the past 29 years have gotten together weekly to rehash their war years or just to get out of the house and move their limbs.
Once involved with broadcasting television shows such as “Dragnet” and “The Red Skelton Show,” Gilmore died last year, leaving the ritual to the remaining members.
On any given Monday morning at Aliso Creek golf course, a halcyon band of old-timers that exude the resilience of their WWII past venture through a friendly amateur game on the nine-hole course.
The duffers consist of Tom de Paolo, 87; Clyde “Hook” Davis, 93; Jack Scott, 92; Ted Quilligan, 86; Kermit Fosland, 86; Ollie Gardner, 90; and Jim Hunt, 80.
And their game is nearly as atypical as their make up. They ricochet balls off trees, shoot seated from a folding chair and occasionally sink hole-in one shots.
“It’s a matter of fellowship to get on the course,” said Scott, of Irvine, a retired Navy rear admiral with a sturdy swing.
For over 30 years, the weekly round of golf followed by a communal breakfast at the course-side café has given the men a chance to exercise, soak in the mountainside splendor and build a common bond.
The originators of the group, Ed Olsen, Alex MacGillivray, father of IMAX filmmaker Greg MacGillivray, and de Paolo met in their 50s while they were part of a monthly ballroom dancing group that kicked up their heels in Irvine. On a whim, the three of them decided on both a change of venue and activity. Little did realize they were initiating a social tradition that would last for decades.
Over the years, members of their golf crew came and went, once amassing 16 players.
“Little by little people started falling off, actuarially speaking. They either retired or got too ill to play or died,” said de Paolo, a Laguna Beach resident and former marketer for Disneyland and the J. Walter Thompson ad agency.
Now, the long-retired servicemen feel a different sense of obligation; a duty to step out into the fresh salty air and tee up.
“It’s good to keep doing activities like this rather than sitting at home and looking at television, which a lot of people do at this age,” said de Paolo.
“Sometimes we just need a little longer weekend,” interjected Gardner, of Irvine, who plays although he continues to put in nearly a full work week at FoamPRO. He founded the Irvine foam brush manufacturing company in 1952. “I work every day. I enjoy it. I think it’s very important to keep busy.”
In-between holes they discuss their shots, world problems, the past weekend’s pro tournament and reminisce. “We have to reminisce because that’s what’s left,” said de Paolo, without a trace of sentimentality.
A fond story often recalled involves former crew member, Bill McKinley, who passed away 10 years ago. One morning on the second hole, his drive veered off towards a tree 20 yards to the right of the green. The ball smacked into the tree, bounced off at a left angle, and trickled down into the cup for a hole in one.
At a round last month, the crew agreed that the best round was played by Quilligan, an obstetrician-gynecologist living in Monarch Bay who in addition to delivering many babies has had seven of his own.
“This is Mr. Pro here” Scott said.
“Golf is a cruel game,” said Quilligan, pointing out that he has as many off days as good ones.
“We are all struggling along,” added de Paolo. “A lot of us have aches and pains, sure, but we play through them.”
Olsen, one of the three original members who recently passed away, had trouble standing, but the group wanted to keep him on the course anyway. So they devised an unusual handicap, allowing him to participate while sitting in a folding chair. Despite his physical ailment, Olsen could continue to enjoy the camaraderie of playing with friends.
“It’s mostly agony, not an excursion,” Gardner deadpanned. “We don’t have as much between the ears as we used to.”
At one point, they had a member who developed Alzheimer’s. Flouting the rules of the game, he would tee up his ball whether it landed in the middle of the fairway or a sand trap. The remaining foursome laughed harmoniously at this memory.
“We have such a diverse group of golfers and we do have a good time; it is just a marvelous thing to do if nothing else,” said de Paolo.
Despite the physical and mental tribulations of age, the band of friends, bound by their love for each other as much as the game, continue their Monday morning routine, willing each other to tee up yet again. No one wants to be the last man standing.
Hayley Toler attends Cal State Fullerton.