Morning league a tranquil escapeSeptember 3, 2013
By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer
The early-morning sun still hasn’t decided what degree of havoc it will bring to this early August morning, and all that presides over Jasper Municipal Golf Course is a thin sheet of dew on the grass and a temporary fog soon to fade.
It’s Monday, and Marion Murphy is one of the first to arrive. He sits inside the pro shop, one leg crossed over the other, occasionally sipping coffee from a six-ounce Styrofoam cup.
The 74-year-old Huntingburg resident has been devouring golf since he was 5 and spent the 36 years he lived in Las Vegas playing and gambling on golf the majority of days.
For him, Monday mornings at Muni offer a chance to savor golf’s greatest gift.
“Playing a different course every day with a different group every day. That’s the enjoyment of golf to me,” Murphy says.
While the course on Monday mornings hasn’t changed for Murphy the past five years or so, the faces always do. Especially now, as Muni’s Monday morning men’s senior scramble league continues to see participation numbers higher than ever.
When Ralph Heath and Dick Milligan launched the senior league in the 1970s, attendance hovered around 25 golfers. In recent years, it’s averaged about double that. This first Monday in August, 62 golfers were divvied into 13 teams — the fourth straight week the league’s drawn more than 60 competitors.
“Put him on a good team because he can’t see!” one senior shouts to Kurt Uebelhor, who’s been in charge of the league since about when he started working full-time at the course in 1994.
The spirited seniors begin arriving and the clubhouse is now bustling with men exchanging wisecracks. They try to cajole Uebelhor into fixing them up with a talented foursome in hopes that their $20 greens fee might proliferated into something greater — perhaps even the $80 showered upon the winning group.
“It’s a good course, good people, good price,” says Rich Merder of Jasper, 72, who began playing in the league 12 years ago. “It’s the best value in Indiana.”
Ask any of the men why they come and the response is recurrent.
“The people,” Nick Phillips says. “And I shoot the bull with them all.”
The 69-year-old is one of about 15 guys that make the trek from French Lick every Monday. No memory from his four years playing in the league stands out in particular. For him, the four-hour retreat delivers pleasures far simpler.
“I have fun every time I go out, whether I win or lose,” Phillips says.
“Everybody’s welcome,” Merder says. “It doesn’t make a difference what walk of life you come from. We’re all the same when you come out here.”
For every guy like Phillips, who has been around the game since he began caddying at age 7, the league attracts those golfers whose love for the sport didn’t develop until later in life.
As Leroy Schnaus strolls through the clubhouse, a calm smile rests on his face as he’s greeted by seemingly everyone. The soft-spoken farmer who lives in Jasper didn’t pick up the sport until he turned 70, when his daughter bought him a golf club for his birthday.
That was 22 years ago.
“I was going to fish and hunt because a relative had property, but I tried golf instead,” said Schnaus, who will soon turn 92. “I got hooked.”
As he slaps a high-five with another man readying himself for the morning round, Schnaus offers counsel.
“If you want to play golf, try it,” he said, still grinning.
While the league’s encouraging tone certainly correlates to its rise in popularity, its quick-witted, oftentimes sarcastic character is probably what brings people back. It’s one part self-effacement, one part feigned feuding.
“I’m a medium golfer, really,” Rich Sermersheim, 75, of Jasper conceded.
“That team is loaded!” Uebelhor recalls hearing from a razzing few after teams are assigned.
“You have to have a sense of humor up here because if you take them serious, you’re not going to like this job,” Uebelhor said of organizing the scramble. “You have to actually enjoy it.”
Now approaching 9 a.m., teams are announced via an intercom as the dozens listen for their names to be called outside the clubhouse. Once all are read, foursomes congregate, shake hands and start loading up the golf carts. One by one, the carts putter toward each team’s starting hole and the once-bustling clubhouse becomes quiet once again.
Contact Joe Jasinski at email@example.com.
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