John Kaiser started playing the game late in life, and although he was competitive, he was unlike Norwalk businessman Al Shankman.
Longtime pro at the Eagle Creek Golf Club, Gary Wilkins, knew them both as great friends as well as friends of the game — and even greater friends of the Fraternal Order of Elks.
“Al was the player I wanted on my team,” Wilkins said of his good friend from 30 years ago. “Now there was a competitor. He probably played to a 10-handicap. Not much better than that. But, man if you needed a putt to go down to win a hole, you called on Al to roll the ball.”
Wilkins is sure many of the players he had games with, usually on Wednesday and sometimes on the weekend, would verify his claim.
“I still remember that group — Tom Downer, Jack Heaston, Jim Ramsey, Louie Frey, Mike Battles, Al Preston and Dutch Theisen. I am betting Al got deep into their pockets any number of times. And it was his putter that many times got the job done.”
As the president of Maxie Tire, Shankman was affiliated with Firestone Tire & Rubber.
“That gave him the opportunity to play the Akron courses, and he always took his buddies down there to play a round, have dinner and probably a stop at the players lounge,” Wilkins said. “Lots of stories got back to the club after those trips.”
Wilkins also remembers Shankman as the Elks member who got things done.
“He was a longtime golf course trustee and the perfect man to head up projects,” Wilkins said. “He got stuff done.”
As far as prowess on club championship day, records show Shankman winning the A flight in 1977, edging a much younger Pete Roche, 1-up. The following year, he again made the Labor Day field at the Elks club — but this time lost 6&4 to Dr. Hal Schultz.
Shankman, a Canadian Air Force pilot during WWII in 1946, will forever be known as the initiator of the season-ending Barely Open. He was also instrumental in the playing of the annual Calcutta pari-mutuel event. As a member of the Elks Club, he worked with three pros: Hamp Auld, Howie Ware and Wilkins.
There are two things John Kaiser did as far as golf. First, he started playing late in life. Secondly, he was the fire behind making his daughter, Lisa, a championship flight player and eventually a three-time champion.
“But, like many lady players out at the club, a number have traded golf for different avenues in life,” Wilkins said. “Kelly Everman for one. Lisa followed. Later, it was Tacy Bond.
“Golf was a fun game for John”, Wilkins added. “And because of that, he hit a minimal amount of good shots. But, when did, his buddies and the club as well knew about it. He too had his entourage of friends he had weekly games with. All of them cherish the memories of him on the links and at the 19th hole.”
As a barometer of how he did improve over the years, in 1979 he lost the E Flight crown to John Payne, 3&2. But in 2010 he had improved his game to where he was a C flight player. That year he finisher third after shooting 96-86—182. The late Tom Heydinger won that flight that day, shooting a two-day total of 179. Two strokes higher came Dale Casper, one of the founding father of the Heritage Memorials and this tournament.
“I would say John Kaiser was one of the pillars of his day as far as both sponsoring and helping to fund events and fundraisers,” Wilkins said. “He was involved in the Lung Association events both at Plum Brook and out at Eagle Creek. The same holds true with the Stein Hospice scramble. He footed the bill for the trophies for the Norwalk Invitational. If funds were needed, John opened his pocketbook.”
Casper, Wilkins, Ken Bleile, Bill Terry, Nancy Bleile, Dave Morgan, Mark Crawford, Karen Schneider, Jim Mongiardo are present members of the Heritage Park committee.
This year’s event follows the same format as the first one, one that saw Downer and Carolyn Spaar enshrined. The 12-hole shotgun event has four-player teams go to a chosen drive and hit second shots from that spot. Three of the four scores (net) are added. On some holes, there is a choice of using the regular hole or one the size of a dishpan.
On other holes, there is an ‘angel.’ The picture and the score of a past honoree is shown along with his score that can be used if it helps the team score. Club pro Dustin Lieber will be on No. 1 and available for driving help if asked. Few are more than willing to let the long-hitting pro as his 325-yard pokes are free of charge.
Club member and Willard car dealer Tom Sharpnack puts his usual new car on the line.
The day ends with an awards luncheon.
The tournament is open to the public. There is an entry fee — but well worth the memories.
For additional information, call the course at 419-668-8535.