Bridging the generations through the game of golf at Seneca Hills

Have you seen those puzzles that show you five pictures and ask you to find the one that doesn’t belong? You will see an apple, a pear, an orange, a banana and a puppy. It was not difficult to determine which one seemed out of place.

Such was my thought process (yes, my mind does tend to wander) as I entered the beautiful clubhouse at Seneca Hills Golf Course. Sitting around a large table were members of the Tuesday Morning Ladies League. Using the above analogy, all dozen members of the league were various types of fruit, but there was one puppy and yes, she did seem a little out of place.

With all the ladies nearing or having already reached the status of senior citizenship, you can understand why 15-year-old Ava Sarka stood out. If age was the only mitigating factor, Sarka was indeed misplaced. But that’s the great thing about golf, anyone can play the game. There is no minimum or maximum age. Just tee it up and have at it. Perhaps Ava wasn’t out of place at all.

Having heard of this young lady, I set out for Seneca Hills to investigate. After arriving at the course, I sat in a rocking chair and awaited her arrival. Ava was the first to show up and graciously sat down for an interview. One of the first questions I asked was how someone so young ended up playing with women who were significantly older.

She pointed out that she started playing in the league a year ago when course owner Bobby Pollitt asked if she was interested. Ava had been involved in junior golf and the ladies league was always looking for new golfers. She did not hesitate. No one seemed to think the age difference was a big deal. Not Ava, and certainly not the other ladies.

It was obvious that there is a bond between the youngster and her older “friends.” That was apparent to me as each member of the league showed up. They greeted Ava warmly, but so too did the men golfers who would be playing the opposite side of the course that morning. It seemed that everyone knew Ava.

Perhaps the greatest proof that the mix is working nicely came as the ladies drew for teams. As they compared numbers, one of the ladies exclaimed, “Oh, good, I get to play with Ava!”

One of the things that Ava can take away from playing with the ladies is golf etiquette. These women have played for years and they know the subtleties of playing the game. Things such as where to stand when someone else is putting so as not to be in the way or how to be ready when it’s your turn, so the pace of play can be maintained.

While chatting with Ava, I asked her about the age difference. She said it really didn’t matter. She enjoys playing with these ladies. In fact she informed me that the oldest lady in the league was Dorothy Smith who is 89 years young. If my math is correct, that would make her nearly six times as old as the teenager. I had a chance to chat with Dorothy briefly and that led to the funniest moment of the morning.

When I suggested to Dorothy that I was going to write a story about Ava and I would likely include her in it, I told her I wanted to make sure I spelled her name correctly. She looked at me somewhat incredulously and said, “Smith?” I assured her I could handle the last name and that it was her first name that I wanted to check on!

Dorothy told me that she didn’t play golf until age 40. She caught on quickly however, as she became the club champion at Plum Brook County Club near Sandusky. She later moved to the Pinehurst, North Carolina area and yes, she has played Pinehurst No. 2.

I asked Ava when she got her start in golf and was told she took up the game at age 12 when some friends got her started. She has progressed very nicely in just three years. Last fall she was the leading player on the Columbian girls golf team.

While talking with Ava I searched for a single word to describe her. She was intelligent, poised and seemed very mature for her age. As we continued to discuss various topics the word came to me. Ava Sarka is an athlete.

I recalled reading about her softball exploits this past spring. Playing right field for the Tornadoes, Ava batted .421 and tied for the team lead in doubles. She also made the all-league team. Not bad for a freshman.

When asked which sport was her favorite, she hesitated before choosing softball. Her future though may be tied to golf. She wants to go to college and get a degree in sports therapy. Her golf skills could very well lead to a scholarship and she is aware of that possibility. Perhaps that explains the fact that her playing in the morning league was only the beginning of day for this athlete.

After nine holes of league play, she was going to stick around Seneca Hills. The junior golfers would be coming in later that morning for what Pollitt likes to call “open gyms.” The golfers would be paired up and play nine holes. For Sarka that will make 18 holes of golf on a hot and humid day. That however, would not be the end of her athletic day. She needed to be done by 3 o’clock so she could get to her golf lesson!

This fall Ava Sarka will begin her sophomore year. She is looking forward to the high school golf season. Then in the spring it will be time to take to the diamond again. For now though, she is content to play a lot of golf with her friends.

Both old and young!

Al Stephenson is golf columnist for The Advertiser-Tribune.

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