Golf Gazette: At 91, this golfer is still going strong

08/16/2014 7:00 AM |
Chet Zelenski, 91, of Greenport has been a member of Southampton Golf Club for 71 years. (Credit: Jay Dempsey)

Chet Zelenski, 91, of Greenport has been a member of Southampton Golf Club for 71 years. (Credit: Jay Dempsey)

I have a bad case of senioritis. No, not that senioritis. Your golf guy is more than a few decades past cutting classes, pulling pranks, and tossing his tassel. I’m talking about enjoying life as a senior citizen. Ah yes, the golden years. 

There are so many benefits and perks once you hit the autumn years of your life. For instance, AARP has all kinds of programs and deals awaiting you. Many local businesses offer senior discounts. And, you are expected to ask your waitstaff to wrap up what you don’t finish eating so you can take it home.

My wife, Jean, and I recently moved into a 55-and-over community and absolutely love it. What’s not to love as we have our morning jolt of caffeine, read the paper, and sit back as our lawn is being mowed and our shrubs are tended to? What a great feeling it was turning over the lawn mower, yard tools and snow shovel to our good friend, Larry.

You may think that getting old is a bad thing. Think again, young whippersnappers. And, while you are at it, consider the alternative.

Getting old has certainly provided a 91-year-old Greenport resident, Chet Zelenski, the perk of all perks. Zelenski has been a member of Southampton Golf Club for 71 years and the club has bestowed on him an honorary membership. Not too shabby, huh? Zelenski still meets up with his buddies every Friday at the Southampton course for a round of golf.

A few weeks ago my wife and I were enjoying breakfast on the patio of Island’s End Golf Course in Greenport when I noticed an older gentleman (Zelenski) on the driving range hitting one great shot after the next. Smelling a story, I wandered over and introduced myself. I noticed that Zelenski was hitting steel-shafted clubs. Most golfers switch to graphite senior flex shafts when they reach their 50s or 60s. Not only were the shafts steel, but they were stiff flex, the most difficult shaft for most golfers to hit.

“I always played with regular shafts, but I was having problems with my game so I went to a club-fitter and he changed me to stiff-shafted Mizunos,” said Zelenski.

Folks, these clubs are not for the timid. And, to top it off, Zelenski made the club change when he was in his 80s!


Zelenski was introduced to the game of golf when he caddied as a youngster at National Golf Links of America in Southampton. He caddied for the legendary Charles Blair Macdonald, a major figure in early American golf. “I caddied right through the Depression because there was nothing else to do,” Zelenski said.

After working for a manufacturing company in Sag Harbor for 23 years, Zelenski moved onto Grumman Aerospace in Calverton, where he worked on the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) that first landed on the moon.

The nonagenarian has a storybook full of his exploits from his many years on the links, beginning with his days as a caddy at one of the world’s most renowned courses and then joining Southampton Golf Club in 1944 and paying $25 to join. “I didn’t have $25, so the secretary said I could give her $15 this week and $10 next week,” said Zelenski.

Zelenski has won numerous club championships and tournaments. He has played golf with Gary Cooper, Jack Nicholson, Vitas Gerulaitis, Hollywood Henderson and Joe Biden.

Asked what he does to stay in shape, Zelenski replied, “I have a naturally high metabolism. I watch what I eat and I walk a lot.”

During the winter, Zelenski has a professional trainer work with him on his golf swing. Here he is, in his 90s, still working to improve his swing.

Zelenski has invited me to visit his home in Greenport and to tour his golf and trophy room, which I look forward to. There won’t be anything else on my calendar that day because I expect it will take some time to see all the golf mementos and treasures Zelenski has accumulated over his 10 decades around the game of golf.

Note: If you are ever lucky enough to play National Golf Links, ask anyone there about “Chet’s Tree.” That’s another great story.

TEE TIMES The owner of Sandy Pond Golf Course, Ken Weinstein, checked in with a hole-in-one at the Riverhead course. Alex Cameron scored his ace on the fourth hole.

19TH HOLE “Slow play in golf is like bad breath. People tend to notice it readily in others, but don’t notice it in themselves.”

—Karen Crouse, The New York Times