Valley Voices

Exeter duffers want to ‘die with our golf shoes on’

Valley senior golfers meet weekly in Exeter to compete with each other on the golf course.
Valley senior golfers meet weekly in Exeter to compete with each other on the golf course. Special to The Bee

Aaahh, the golden years, according to the ad wizards of Madison Avenue. One series features an older, gray-haired man, accompanied by a beautiful somewhat younger woman, cruising in a convertible on a deserted, tree-lined road. After checking into a country inn, we discover the sly maiden has secretly packed an erectile-dysfunction drug in the luggage. Sounds great, right?

But then the next series of ads feature treatments for cholesterol, pneumonia, shingles, memory loss, hearing loss, arthritis and is capped off with advice for the kids on how to pick a retirement home for mom and dad. Suddenly the golden years don’t sound so great after all.

Neither scenario seems to fit the senior citizens from Visalia to Porterville who gather for our weekly golf tournament in Exeter, about 50 miles southeast of Fresno. We seem to be a pretty hardy bunch – regardless of summer heat or dense winter fog – who are determined to avoid the dreaded nursing home and to depart this life with our golf shoes on.

Maybe we acquired that desire by watching the Saturday Western movie matinees in the 1940s and 1950s where the cowboys would gather around a deceased companion and solemnly say, “At least he died with his boots on.”

Nearly all of us get a good cardio workout by walking the course. We refuse to conform to the advertising images of all the limitations of advancing age. We usually have about 15 players in their 80s, about 25-30 in their 70s and a similar number in their 60s.

Most of the players are men but about a dozen women join us on our randomly assigned teams. The ladies provide a moderating influence, but beware of Marilyn, Olive or Barbara – they hit the ball farther than many men.

Our only requirement is that a person have a reasonable golf swing, a good sense of humor and a $2 donation for the prize pool. Members of the last-place group get a few catcalls along with a small bag of golf tees. We also toss 25 cents in a hole-in-one fund but only $11 had accumulated when I won it. After buying everyone the customary celebration drink, plus my own trophy, it was an expensive day – but worth it.

Our age group definitely benefits from enormous advances in medical care. As kids, many of us had friends who were disabled or killed by polio – a disease that is virtually unknown today. Cholesterol and cancer treatments plus heart stents and bypass surgeries have kept many of us alive well beyond the life expectancy for earlier generations.

The metal in our assorted pacemakers and knee and hip replacements always set off the airport TSA alarm bells.

It seems like many younger golfers these days avoid healthy exercise by riding a power cart. Some even play while keeping their eyes glued to their cellphones. Perhaps they are chasing Pokémon – the senior citizens would like to help, but we don’t know what they look like.

About 30 percent of the men in our generation served when we reached military age between the beginning of the Korean War in 1950 and the simultaneous end of the Vietnam War and the draft in 1973. But over half the men in our small golf group wear veterans hats.

World War II veteran Bill, 91, still plays a good competitive game. Rocky earned his Combat Infantry Badge in Korea, but now he alternately sucks on a cigarette and then his oxygen tank when he plays. He gave up his Harley but is determined to go out with his golf shoes on. The once hard young infantrymen of Vietnam are now gray-haired men in their 60s and 70s. So here is a special “welcome home” to Lonnie, Fred, both Roys, Sam, Dave, Glen, Jim and many others.

Good health in retirement will offer days of golf. The alternative is endless nights of playing bingo. Our seniors golf group at Exeter feels fortunate to have the stamina and desire to remain both competitive and physically active while we enjoy a good laugh with good friends.

Jerrold Jensen of Visalia is 75. Write to him at