Golf is a lifelong love for older Atlantans

Insider: TPC Sawgrass Golf (Bandea)

Oneda Castillo’s involvement with golf began as a way to get outside with her new baby. She joined her husband, Ronald Castillo, one afternoon to watch him hit a few balls and ended up picking up the clubs herself while her husband held their little one, Bianca.

To put it mildly, Oneda Castillo took to the game, and four decades later, the Fayetteville resident, now 70, can look back on a professional career that includes competition within the Ladies Professional Golf Association and membership in the African American Golfers Hall of Fame. Today, she remains thoroughly ensconced in the golf world as an LPGA Class A teaching professional and as golf director for Atlanta-based Women in Golf Foundation Inc.

It’s a pure love of the game, though, that keeps her on the course.

“Golf is a game that you don’t have to be good at to have a good time while doing it,” she told the AJC. “It’s more about who you’re with and where you are.”

Oneda Castillo, 70, of Fayetteville, on the golf course. Although she’s made golf a profession, Castillo also enjoys playing casually with friends.

Credit: Contributed

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Credit: Contributed

She enjoys getting together with friends to play casually.

“It gets us up out of the house,” she said. “We’re socializing. It’s such a wonderful stress reliever.”

Although she kept golfing during the times between a knee surgery, knee replacement, and hip replacement, the resulting relief from those procedures has allowed her to play more comfortably.

“I now can go out there and walk that 18 holes again,” she said. “I feel no pain. It’s wonderful. It’s just such a blessing that I can get my exercise, be out competing with myself … I still have a wonderful time with friends and family.”

Golf isn’t without its challenges for older adults, but the reasons Oneda Castillo still enjoys the game come across similarly in other Atlanta seniors’ accounts.

Staying amateur

Eric Neidermeyer, 59, of Alpharetta, picked up golf after he broke his ankle in high school and needed to pivot from football to a noncontact sport.

Eric Neidermeyer, 59, of Alpharetta, has played golf since his high school days.

Credit: Contributed

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Credit: Contributed

“I got pretty good right away. I played a lot of sports as a youngster. I played a lot of baseball, so the hand-eye coordination kind of came naturally to play golf,” he said.

He got into tournament golf in his late 20s.

“I always stayed an amateur. I didn’t get paid to do it. So, it was one of those things where you’re forking out your own money for greens fees and travel,” he said. “It’s not a cheap hobby.”

The tournament structure appealed to him, though, and he now plays with the Atlanta tour of the Golfweek Amateur Tour.

He finds that golf is also great for walking.

“When you walk 18 holes total and in between holes — I used to carry a pedometer in my back pocket — you’ll walk anywhere between 8 to 10 miles a day,” he said, “you get your steps in.”

He’s found that certain aspects of the game have become harder with age. He’s had to be careful about reduced flexibility, especially in his back. Most seniors, he said, also find that they can’t hit the ball as far as they used to and that they don’t swing as hard anymore. Greater flexibility in club shafts to match slower swing speeds is helpful.

Declining eyesight can be limiting, too, he said, but the social nature of golf helps.

“Hand-eye coordination is very big,” he said. “Eyesight, as you get older, is big. If you have contacts, put them in because you’re going to have to see that little white ball … And that’s the beauty of having other people in your foursome that watch where the ball goes.”

The setting and the people

Southwest Atlanta resident Lena Tice, 78, plays often at Alfred “Tup” Holmes Golf Course, one of four city-owned courses. Although she golfed intermittently before her 2010 retirement, her involvement became more active after that transition.

Like Oneda Castillo, she enjoys the setting and the people.

“For me, it is a very, very enjoyable game. I just love the outdoors. I love being outside in the sunshine,” she said. “You have the trees and the water and the animals, and it’s amazing the wildlife that you sometimes see on the golf course.”

Tice, too, gets her steps in while she plays.

“I enjoy walking. I have a push cart that I use sometimes when I walk. Depending on the terrain of the course, sometimes I will carry a small bag, but it’s with less than a full set of clubs,” she said. “My goal is to average about 10,000 steps a day.”

That number is usually higher, she said, when she’s been out on the course. Golf, she pointed out, also naturally encourages positive interaction with others.

“I say that golfers are one of the nicest groups of people on the whole that you will come in contact with,” she said. “Golf is one of the few sports where you don’t have referees and umpires. People play by the rules. They do the right thing, they are respectful of other people on the golf course.”

The sports’ no-contact, low-impact characteristics help make it a sustainable choice for seniors, she said.

“It’s something you can play for a lifetime,” she said. “I’ve played with ladies that were in their 90s.”