Renaissance Man Fires 77, Best Career Round, At Age 80
Doug Graham of Farmstead has done a lot of things in his life, but he never before shot better than his age.
It finally happened on August 1 when the 80-year-old carded a five-over-par 77 at the 6,294-yard Spooky Brook Golf Course in Franklin Township. What made the achievement more special is the fact that Graham, who has a handicap index of 15.7, had never before broken 80.
Graham, a native of South Africa, is a unique individual and renaissance man who possesses boundless energy. In his lifetime, he has been a talented musician (guitar, bass, flute, harmonica and conga drums), painter, tiler, plumber, contractor, and toilet-bowl manufacturer, among other titles. He is also a former marathon runner.
He counts as a friend one Gary Player, the South African PGA Hall of Famer. He took lessons from famed South African golf pro Phil Ritzen, and composed songs for Nelson Mandela. In the early 1960s, he had the opportunity to play bass in the bands of jazz legends Louis Armstrong and Herbie Mann.
He is currently working on a musical project called Youth Inc., a non-profit that is intended to unite children from around the globe.
“I didn’t think the 77 was anything important. One of the guys took my card and said we should contact the NJSGA. When I play golf, it’s a fun time. What makes it more fun is that when I play against Bill Schulte, I always try my best to beat him,” Graham said.
Graham and Schulte were partners the day Graham shot 77. They are part of a group of two dozen golfers who play an informal Ryder Cup, often at the Plainfield West Nine.
“Bill Schulte provided incentive. He beat me with a 25-footer about six years ago, and I said one day I’ll beat him. That day, everything kicked in. My putts were sinking and I was hitting a long ball,” said Graham.
“Doug is a one-of-a-kind guy. We just have so much fun competing against each other. I didn’t realize what was going on, I was having so much fun,” Schulte said. “We got to 18th green and he said if he birdied the hole, he’d shoot 77.”
“That day, he was really hitting the ball, for a guy his age and his size, he can get it out there. He has an unorthodox swing. There’s not an ounce of weight he doesn’t use in his shot. He controlled it that day. It was just amazing.”
Graham was born in Cape Town in 1937, one of 14 children. He emigrated to the United States in 1986 and became a citizen in 1992. His wife, the former Susan Walsh, is a four-time club champion at Panther Valley in Allamuchy.
“She beats me all the time,” he says.
He took his first lessons in 1968-69 from Phil Ritzen at Windsor Park G.C., just north of Durbin, S.A. He bought his first set of clubs at a pawn shop for $40, and still owns them. He fashioned his first pair of golf shoes by hammering four-inch nails through the soles of his buccaneer shoes.
Some 46 years later, he caught up with Ritzen in 2015 at Rio Pinaar Golf Club in Orlando, a course he bought. It was Player who brought Ritzen to the U.S. to work at Orange County National G.C. in Orlando.
On Nov. 1, Graham e-mailed Player on the occasion of the former Masters champion’s 82nd birthday.
The two have known each other since 1961 when Graham was part of the Henny Bekker Band and Player was an audience member in Durbin. From 1966-72, Graham was part of South Africa’s No. 1 band, the Four Saints, working six nights a week at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Durbin.
“I never played golf until 1968. I played music,” said Graham, who usually runs from hole to hole pulling a cart and frequently plays rounds in less than three hours.
Graham once ran 179 miles in three days, from East London to Port Elizabeth in South Africa.
“I like to run because it keeps everything moving,” he said.
For the man who is constantly in motion, beating his age in golf is just one more milestone in a lifetime of amazing achievements.