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'I play as often as I can'

A love of the game keeps a dedicated group of golfers in the swing of things

By Jason Kaneshiro

LAST UPDATED: 11:15 a.m. HST, Feb 12, 2014

Not long after Betty Roth first gripped a golf club, the game took hold of her.

That was some 66 years ago when she traded secretarial duties for golf lessons, and the game's allure has brought her back to the course time and again well into her 80s.

Roth, an active participant in the local golf community over the years, meets her regular group for a weekly tee time at the Kaneohe Klipper Course, "and if somebody calls and says, ‘Hey, Aunty Betty we need a fourth one,' my golf clubs are in my car and I'll just hop in and I'm on my way," said Roth, who turns 88 in November. "I play as often as I can."

Her playing schedule includes the annual Hawaii State Womens Golf Association Senior Women's Championship, played this month at the Hawaii Prince Golf Club in Ewa Beach.

She was among a group of octogenarians entered in the tournament playing more for the fun of the sport rather than shooting for a score.

Annette Kono, 85, won the event in 1985 and invoked one of golf's axioms in explaining her approach to the game.

"I don't care what I shoot," she said. "Even if you hit a bad shot, one good shot will bring you back."

The golf association's Senior Championship is open to women ages 50 and over and drew 17 golfers ages 80-plus last year. Roth and Kono were entered in that flight, a gathering of golfers who may have been introduced to golf in various ways but now share a common affinity for the sport.

"You get that feeling when you want to go out and play all the time," said Elaine Lee, 89, who first teed it up in 1969.

Roth heeded a similar sensation while working at Fort Shafter. When she finished up at her regular job she helped Walter Nagorski, now the course's namesake, with some of his office work.

"I used to answer his phone, I used to do all of his orders for equipment in exchange for my golf lessons," Roth said.

She moved to the Windward side in 1959 and has kept a weekly date with the Kaneohe Klipper Women's Golf Association since. As chairwoman of the club's Aloha Committee, she also encourages the wives of active-duty personnel stationed at the base to join them on the course.

Her involvement in golf included a term as vice president of the Hawaii State Womens Golf Association and she's helped with the operation of the University of Hawaii's Dr. Donnis Thompson Invitational, held annually at the Klipper Course, for the last 27 years.

Golf has also been interwoven in Kono's life since she began playing in the 1960s at the urging of a friend who wanted to try it out.

Kono — no relation to current LPGA Tour member Stephanie Kono — worked as a starter at the Mililani, Kalakaua and Leilehua golf courses and her sons, Curtis and Wesley, also took up the game. Curtis won the Manoa Cup, the state amateur match play championship, in 1987 and now challenges current contenders as course superintendent at Oahu Country Club.

Lee is also entered in the golf association tournament in addition to her regular twice-weekly rounds that provide social and physical benefits.

"I guess that was my only hobby. I didn't care for sewing much, so golf was the one thing that kept me going," said Lee, a member of the Fort Shafter Ladies Club.

"It keeps me in shape, for one thing. Otherwise yard work and housework are not enough."

Flo Miyasaki, 89, began playing when she was 40 and still heads out three times a week. She had just returned home after a round of golf with her husband at Barbers Point when she considered the factors — along with that one good shot — that keep her coming back.

"The camaraderie, that's what makes it fun, especially at our age now," Miyasaki said. "We're really blessed, I think."

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