It was a classic late June morning in East Texas. The warm and humid air, without a hint of a breeze, felt like a blanket and the dew covered Pine Springs Golf Club, glimmering a deep verdant green.
Invited a month or so ago by old friend Jimmy Daughtry to play in the Thursday morning seniors game, I had made the relatively easy drive from the urban world of Dallas to a little slice of heaven just north of Tyler. Just down the road from the Pine Springs community, this daily fee course is across the street from a Texas historical marker hailing the area’s first commercial rose farm in the late 1800s. Thanks to owner Larry Wood, Pine Springs has been a popular course for more than a decade and always in good condition under the supervision of greens superintendent Craig Murphy.
Pine Springs is also relatively short and wide open, the kind of layout most golfers grow to love and appreciate as our skills, shall we say, continue to wane.
Daughtry greeted me before I could park my car and helped me load my clubs onto his cart as we proceeded to the first tee for some rather drawn out negotiations for selecting the teams for competition. Being the interloper, I threw off the numbers so that there were 13 players instead of 12 thus necessitating two teams of four and one of five. As a newly minted Medicare recipient, I was on the low end of the age scale with this robust group.
“We play the senior tees up front and move the ball a club length anywhere on the course,” Daughtry informed me as we stepped on the first hole, a downhill par-3 measuring only 135 yards but playing 147 with a back hole location.
As the day wore on, I began to realize that this version of golf is one I am becoming more familiar with these days as golf is on a quest to become more “user friendly.” Obviously the seniors at Pine Springs are embracing this initiative big time.
Needing to impress the gathering as the wise guy from Big D, I asked the group, “what great championship course begins with a par 3?”
No one said Pinecrest in nearby Longview, which would have been acceptable, but I was referring to Royal Lytham and Saint Anne’s in jolly old England, part of the British Open rota.
My initial swing of the day was a fat 8-iron shot that was a harbinger of things to come as it managed to roll onto the green. A vintage “chunk and run” as Johnny Miller would say. I was able to two-putt for a par and off we went.
Daughtry was an entertaining host as we revisited his athletic accomplishments at Tyler Lee more than a half century ago. While peppering him with questions about his basketball team that was stellar in 1962, I noticed the total yardage for Pine Springs from the senior tees was 5,100 yards.
This is my Brooks Koepka moment, I thought to myself, and even pondered the possibility of shooting my age. Golf is for dreamers, don’t you know.
I told Daughtry that the earliest memory I had of a big-time game was when Lee played Garland in a sold-out bi-district playoff game on its South Tyler campus that winter of 1962. Those were the days when you had to get to the game an hour early to get a decent seat and I remembered Daughtry as the point guard and floor general who led Lee to a convincing win.
“We were 29 and 2 that year and lost to eventual state champs Thomas Jefferson of Dallas in the regional finals,” Daughtry said. “We reeled off 19 wins in a row and then lost at John Tyler. We had just beaten them the week before at the TJC tournament and then we won 10 straight until we lost to TJ.”
Sadly, Daughtry revealed that he is the lone surviving member of REL’s starting five that year. Playing for the late Sam Bell, a wonderful high school coach, Daughtry’s starting teammates were Pat Lee, Gary Shipman, Robert McMurrey and Byron Johnston.
“It was a great group and Coach Bell was like a second dad to me,” Daughtry said.
Thinking of how quickly time has passed, I rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt on the second hole and got a little excited. After an ugly par on the fifth hole, we reached the first par 5 that was measuring 412 yards. I hit a good drive and reached the edge of the green with a 5-iron shot and got down in two for another birdie. Two under through six holes and now I am walking like Koepka as I strolled to the cart.
My next swing reminded me why I write about golf and not play it consistently well. A 105-yard par 3 and instead of hitting a gap wedge full, I try to finesse a pitching wedge and hit it so fat that the ball only advances 40 yards or so. Such data is readily available because I used my range finder to see I was still 65 yards from the hole for my second shot. I was given a four-foot putt for a bogey but the ruse was up and time to enjoy the company of my senior competitors.
The format was double low ball each hole and Daughtry and I were joined by Ricky Baggett, a lifelong Tyler resident, and Dwain West who moved to East Texas from Louisiana and can speak with a mean Cajun dialect when prompted. Everyone played well so we finished in second place just one stroke shy of the winning fivesome.
Afterwards there was more fun in the clubhouse as Pine Springs GM and head pro Cotton Davis presided over some engaging conversation and storytelling. There was the usual banter about golf in Tyler back in the day with longtime Tyler golfers Ken Powell and Craig Pool but more amazing was to learn that Larry Snyder once beat Jack Nicklaus in a match in 1952 when both were junior golfers in Ohio. Snyder also played in the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional Golf Club near Washington, D.C.
Then Jim O’Toole shared that he won the Oregon State Junior in 1958 and once caddied for East Texas legend Jacky Cupit in the Portland Open. That was the Portland Open where Nicklaus was penalized two strokes for slow play but still won.
The small wagers were settled and soon the conversation ended as we headed back to our cars. Slow play is not a problem with the senior game at Pine Springs.
As I am about the leave, Daughtry waves at me across the parking lot. He has my putter cover that I left on the cart. You have to love senior golf.