Old-Timers at Home on the Driving Range
JAMES HATTORI, host:
A driving range is where people go to practice golf. But for some folks, it's like a second home. Stephanie Marudas sent us this audio postcard from a driving range in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park.
STEPHANIE MARUDAS: Bernard Mamoso(ph) orders the double bubble. That's a five-gallon bucket, half-full of golf balls for 10 bucks.
(Soundbite of noise)
MARUDAS: Quite a bargain, but this driving range has seen better days. It has a view of boarded up homes across the street and you can see where robbers have broken into the range office, junkies, according to the management. But all that doesn't matter to Mamoso. He's a devoted customer.
Mr. BERNARD MAMOSO (Golfer): The people, the atmosphere - it's like a barber shop, basically. They have so much knowledge about golf. You come here, you swing your golf club. You see folks walk by, fix it for you for free. That's the treasure. I can spend time, you know, be here all day, hit balls, talk with these people. It's very comfortable being here.
MARUDAS: The driving range was once the home of the Long Knockers golf club. Mainly African-American, the club had 37 members at its peak in the 1980s. The men practice at the range and competed in weekend tournaments.
Mr. JIMMY DREATEN(ph) (Golfer): Long Knockers is down to four right now. All of them passed away.
MARUDAS: Eighty-three-year-old Jimmy Dreaten lives in a senior citizen home but spends every day at the driving range except Sunday. He says all he has left is to pass on his knowledge about golf and teach anybody for free - that is, as long as they're willing to listen to an old man.
Mr. DREATEN: Well, I got this sort of few years to live. I'm going to enjoy. I'm not sit dead and cry because I'm getting old. No, no, no. I can't do that. Life is too good.
MARUDAS: Seventy-two-year-old driving range manager Henry Stone is also one of the last surviving Long Knockers. He shares straight seams for golf and indulges his customers with free tips in between tours around the range.
Mr. HENRY STONE (Manager, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia): It's all right. All arms, turn into it, and don't get ahead of it. Stay behind it.
We have all the glimmer and glamour when the people walk in. That's your glamour and your glitter, to see somebody hit a ball for the first time, you know, we see it throw in the air.
MARUDAS: But even old foes like Jimmy Drayton(ph) once a three handicap light up when they see that ball fly through the air.
Mr. JIMMY DRAYTON (Golfer): You know, for old man, I hit it pretty good out there. I can probably hit it a little further after I get warmed up.
MARUDAS: The days of the Long Knockers are numbered. The driving range is now under new management and posters are up, showing plans for renovations. But Henry Stone says he's been asked to stay on and will do so as long as he can.
For NPR News, I'm Stephanie Marudas in Philadelphia.
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