This golfer doesn’t act his age, he just shoots it — again and again

08/19/2010 12:00 AM |

Every golfer has goals. Every golfer has dreams. Some hope to make a hole-in-one, that elusive 33,000-to-1 shot. Others aspire to stay healthy long enough to be able to shoot their age, meaning, say, if you’re 75 years old you would shoot a score of 75 or below. And then, some would like to win their club championship. None of these are easy, but I found someone who has accomplished all three — many times over.

The day was hot and humid — normal conditions for the summer of 2010. I had a 2 o’clock interview scheduled with 92-year-old Sid Beckwith of Shelter Island to chat about some of his amazing golfing accomplishments. Looking to gain some points with my wife, Jean, I invited her to tag along. On the way, we stopped and had lunch at the Shelter Island Pharmacy, visiting three of our favorite behind-the-counter guys, Greg, Scott and P. J. Ofrias. After a great lunch among the eclectic Shelter Island clientele, Jean and I made our way to Mr. Beckwith’s home on Menantic Creek.

Upon arriving, we found a half-dozen folks milling about on the lawn. Sizing up the group, I assumed my subject, Mr. Beckwith, must have been inside resting up for the interview since none of the crew appeared to be 92 years of age. I was wrong. Walking over briskly, wearing a Titleist golf cap, a fit gentleman asked, “Are you Jay from the newspaper?”

I had found my man.

After exchanging pleasantries with the clan, Sid and I parked ourselves on a swing overlooking the creek and for the next two hours I was treated to one of the most enjoyable and fascinating interviews I’ve had since I started writing about golf.

Sid Beckwith was born and raised on Shelter Island where his interest in golf began when he was 12 years old, caddying at Dering Harbor Country Club, which later became Gardiner’s Bay Country Club. “The course closed for a few years during World War II and the fairways became a bean farm,” Beckwith recalled. “It reopened in 1953 as Gardiner’s Bay Country Club.”

Teaching himself the game, Beckwith played on the Shelter Island golf team while in high school. After working in New York City for a few years, Beckwith joined the Army in January 1942. Following his stint in the service, his “Islander” blood called him home and he returned to Shelter Island. Beckwith joined Gardiner’s Bay Country Club in 1956 and became president in 1960. “The best thing I did as president was to hire Bob DeStefano as our head pro,” he said.

Retiring from the Suffolk County Health Department in 1978, Beckwith worked a few years in the real estate business. “I was spending too much time in the real estate office and was homesick for playing golf,” was how he put it.

Dividing his time between Shelter Island and a home in Florida, Beckwith now plays golf five days a week, year round, and has reached goals most of us can only dream about. He has won his club championship six times. In 2003, at age 85, he won his club championship, beating players 35 years his junior. “I’m very proud of the fact that I had low gross that year,” he said.

Beckwith has made 15 holes-in-one with one coming on a 280-yard, par-4 for a rare double eagle. The most amazing feat of all, however, is the incredible number of times he has shot his age. “I was 71 years old the first time I shot my age,” Beckwith said.

Since then he has shot his age 522 more times. On the morning of our interview he had a round of 88. “I once played, and beat, Gary Player in a ‘Shot Your Age’ contest,” he said with a huge smile.

I asked Beckwith when he went to the gold (senior) tees. Looking at me as if I had used a hand mashie to get out of a sand trap, he answered: “I’ve been playing the white tees [regular men’s] all throughout my career. I don’t want to play anything else.”

Just so you know, our super-hero plays his golf on regulation-length courses. No pitch-n-putt for El Sid.

Throughout our interview, Beckwith’s outstanding memory was evident. He would remember who he played a certain round with 30 years ago, what club he hit on a particular shot and his scores in important matches. Don’t call him a packrat, but he has saved every one of his scorecards in which he shot his age. I’d save them, too.

His regular competition are “young kids,” as he calls them. “The guys I play are in their 70s and 80s and I keep asking them how old I have to be before I stop giving them strokes,” Beckwith said, half-joking.

Curious to learn the secrets of his enduringness, Beckwith said he doesn’t eat junk food. “I eat a lot of fruit.” Asked if he enjoys a cocktail he said: “Once in a while I’ll have a glass of wine or split a beer with my lady friend. I’ve exercised my entire life and have run in many Shelter Island 10K races.”

When Beckwith is not on the golf course, he enjoys playing bridge and reading.

Getting ready to pull up stakes, Jean, who had been reading in the car, came to say goodbye to my host. “Would you like to hit a few golf balls?” Beckwith asked, handing Jean his Ping driver. Jean perked up and said, “I’ve got my clubs in the car — can I use my driver?” There the three of us stood, hitting balls into the water. A very special moment with a very special man.

The Gardiner’s Bay head pro, Bob DeStefano, had told me about Sid Beckwith, so on the way back to the ferry I stopped at the course to thank Bob for the tip. As we were leaving I ran into my friend, the author, golf analyst and nice guy, John Feinstein, who was taping a segment for the Golf Channel. After a quick, “How are you? What’s new?”, I mentioned to John that I had just met this great golf character, Sid Beckwith. “Oh, Sid. I played my first club championship against him back in 1975 and lost on the 17th hole,” said John.

“Is it OK if I use that?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” John said. “I’m proud to have lost to such a great guy.”