Celebrating Life 'Fore' the Elderly
When Harold Fowler told his family that he had won the putting competition, they thought he was dreaming.
A resident of Pinehurst Healthcare and Rehab Center for more than a year, the 94-year-old had not taken much interest in anything until the invitation came to compete in the inaugural 2012 Nursing Home U.S. Open.
"When he told us he won the qualifying putting contest, we didn't believe him at first," said Jan Fowler, his daughter-in-law. "We thought he was making it up."
The Fowlers became true believers, however, when they showed up at Pine Needles on Sunday, March 4, to cheer on their beloved patriarch in the finals of the wheelchair putting championship between Manor Care and Pinehurst Healthcare.
Each nursing home held an in-house nine-hole putting competition in February. The top eight finishers of the qualifying match advanced to the finals.
"We were thrilled to host the event at Pine Needles, a U.S. Open course," said the event's creator, Veronica Karaman. "We wanted to make this event as authentic as possible, even though it would be held indoors."
An authentic championship it was. Each of the nine holes varied in length, and had at least one hazard to contend with, even if it was just a pine cone in the middle of the fairway. Sponsor hole signs flagged the back of each hole.
Each player had his own caddie, many of whom were sponsors of the event. When a player hit a hole-in-one a roar of applause erupted.
When it was time to hit a shot, -someone held up a "Quiet Y'all" sign.
Joy, fun, life and laughter permeated the atmosphere.
"It was a spectacular day," said Sue Deutsch, who -caddied for Horace Hayes. "He was so excited about -winning second with a score of 16.
"While he had the chance to compete in the wheelchair division, he insisted on getting out of his wheelchair to -compete along with the 'standers.' The event created a great memory and a fresh spark of life for him."
"Mary Bogle was my magical moment," said caddie Kathee Dishner, a sponsor along with her husband, Jess. "Mary told us she has never held a golf club in her life until now. She couldn't believe she had four holes-in-one! She sure dressed the part though, as she was all decked out in golf attire, even wearing sunglasses over her golf hat!"
Manor Care Activities Director Kristin Galloway summed up the day.
"It was so great to see the sponsors, family members, nursing home staff and friends from the community all actively participate," she said. "The event ran across all generational lines, health conditions and socioeconomic status. It was a symphony of participants who came together for the sheer purpose of fun and camaraderie."
Co-organizer Chaplain Ken Rahal agreed.
"The residents struggle with daily despair, no goals and no future," he said. "This gave them something to get excited about, something to live for - a moment of joy. Today was all about a celebration of life."
Peggy Kirk Bell, founding member of the LPGA and owner of Pine Needles, also came and shared her ever-present wit and humor.
When asked to give some competitive advice to the players as the games were about to begin, she proclaimed, "WIN!" Assisted by caddie Bill Smith, Bell finished second in the sponsors' putting contest two shots behind winner Chuck Hutchings, who shot an impressive 12.
After the main event, Bell played in a special mini-competition against the overall winner and first place finisher in the "standers" division, none other than Harold Fowler, who shot a sizzling 14. To win the championship and then beat Bell was a dream come true for Harold.
First place finisher in the wheelchair division was Warren Thomas from Manor Care, with a score of 15, followed by teammate Eugene Martin, with a 20. Manor Care won the team trophy with a total of 79 over Pinehurst Healthcare, with a total team score of 85.
The event, put on by Veronica Karaman Ministries, culminated in Karaman's inspirational message to all.
"Today is an extension of my mother, Mildred Karaman's, legacy, whom I taught how to play golf at 85," she told the audience. "It just goes to show you there is 'more' to life than you think. There is a champion in everyone and you have to have faith all the way to the finish line. You can't give up. The most important putt in a championship is not the first one, but the last one. So put your faith in God and keep going."
Karaman's message hit home.
As soon as the wheelchair competitors got home, the first question Eugene Martin and Fred Mason asked was, "When are we going to start practicing for next year?"
Karaman plans on expanding the event to including more nursing homes, with the dream of going national.
The title sponsor of the event was First Bank. Eagle sponsors included Bill Smith Ford, Karaman Communications and American National Insurance Co. Great Par sponsors were Red River Transport, The Lunch Box That Rocks, Chriscoe's Autos, Roland and Yauger, Southern Flooring, Jim Leach State Farm Insurance, Robert Wagler, and OvaJean Siemens. In-kind sponsors were Roberts Golf, Lowes and Pine Needles. Book sponsors were Betsy Spencer and Martha Butler.
"What a wonderful event to see the genuine excitement the participants showed as they played the Nursing Home U.S. Open putting course at Pine Needles," said Bonnie McGowan, of Pine Needles. "Whether they played from a wheelchair or rose from their wheelchair to putt, they were as serious about winning for their team as a professional would be playing to win the U.S. Open. When each participant made a hole-in-one, the room erupted into absolute joy from the participants, the helpers and the spectators. It brought tears to your eyes. Thank you, Veronica Karaman, for creating a most heart-felt event for our seniors; we were all blessed being part of your vision for the nursing homes of our area. Watch out, Senior Tour, Moore County has discovered new talent!"
For more information, -contact Veronica Karaman at veronica@truechampion coaching.com.
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