'The game for life': Golf keeping seniors happy and healthy
TOM Tyne pulls out the driver and stares down the fairway. He cranks his arms back and lets rip, watching the ball soar out of sight. A smile beams across his face as his playing partners mutter to themselves: another long day at the office against Tom!
The South West Rocks native plays golf once a week, boasts he can beat anyone on "the day" and has a handicap of 23. He's also 97 years old!
"What other game could you still be playing into your 90's?" Tom asked when questioned about his love of the game by Golf NSW. "Maybe Lotto, but you can't win at that!"
Health, happiness, friendship - golf truly is 'the game for life' for Australian seniors.
The game has long been associated with the older generation - and for good reason! Golf offers unique benefits unlike any other sport: a low-impact physical activity that entices players into nature alongside some great friends.
"I treasure those days," Pat King, 84, said. "If I didn't have golf to go to I would probably be doing something at home and not getting out and talking to people."
Pat regularly hits a round at the Port Kembla Golf Club near Wollongong. And though her handicap has taken a hit in her later years and she's partial to a trip around the course in a cart these days, she wouldn't give up the game for anything in the world.
"I think it's important to keep playing as long as you can," she said.
"It's just such a wonderful game in so many ways.
"I always enjoyed the challenge of it as well as being out on the course itself and the surrounds.
"And I've made some very special friends thanks to the game as well."
Friendship and social interaction is one of the game's greatest gifts to seniors. Australia faces serious questions as its population continues to age, several of them concerning isolation and loneliness.
But golf gives players a break from their routine, a chance to meet new people and make long-standing friendships.
Vic Nunn is a testament to that power. The 85-year-old lives alone and while he doesn't play as much as he once did, he regularly makes the trip to both the Federal Golf Club in Canberra and Bega in southern NSW.
He's even part of a group that take monthly golf trips across the nation!
"I really look forward to those trips and getting together and just being with other people," he said.
"When you live on your own that becomes really important."
"It's hard to imagine what life would be without golf.
"Even now I'm dreading saying it's time to call it a day."
Vic may not be as active on the fairways as he once was, a series of injuries ending his regular hit, but the former four-handicapper believes his more youthful playing days put him in good stead heading into his twilight years.
"Walking. Whether it's on the course or elsewhere, is a fantastic pastime," he said.
"Your mind wanders away, and it's not only exercising your muscles, it's exercising your mind as well and keeping it active.
"I miss walking the golf course because in a cart you don't see the same things as you do on foot. You can see the break and feel how the ground moves underneath you when you walk."
The health benefits of playing the game as you age are enough to convince anyone to pick up the clubs and head out the door: Seniors who play golf are happier and are less likely to suffer from chronic disease such as coronary heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
But if you needed concrete, flesh-and-blood evidence, then look no further than Tom.
A war veteran, Tom maintains the game has kept him in great physical condition - even spurning the chance for a comfy ride in a cart just to prove he can still walk-the-walk as much as he talks-the-talk.
"I'll play with anybody and give them a good run," he said.
"I've always had a bit of muscle in my arms and if I have that I know I'm going to go out there and do all right.
"Everyone comes up and shakes my hand now. I'm getting more shakes of the hand and compliments since I turned into the 90s than ever before.
"So I'll keep playing as long as I can. Golf's been a big part of my life, and I'll keep it that way for as long as possible."