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Golf for the ages

Red McConnohie and his 14-year-old grandson travel to England with other players from Avila Golf and Country Club to take part in the club's annual tournament with the English club.

By RICK GERSHMAN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 24, 2001


photo
[Times photo: Mike Pease]
Chad Wiley, 14, stands with his grandfather Red McConnohie, 78. The two were the oldest and youngest golfers when Avila Golf and Country Club members played a friendly competition against Prince's Golf Club members in England.
CARROLLWOOD -- All the British opponents approached or eclipsed middle age, so perhaps that made it a fair fight: If you were to average their ages, Chad Wiley and Red McConnohie would be a pair of 46-year-olds.

But while Wiley, 14, can drive a golf ball just fine, he isn't old enough to drive a car. As for McConnohie, at 78, he's got a year on famed Viagra spokesman Bob Dole.

This grandson-grandfather partnership used a combination of youthful vitality and experience -- and both have plenty of each -- to anchor a sextet of American golfers in competition in England.

Wiley and McConnohie respectively were the youngest and oldest players from Avila Golf and Country Club to compete in a friendly weeklong competition at Prince's Golf Club in the Sandwich Bay area of Kent.

For the past four summers, members of Avila and Prince's have alternated playing a Ryder Cup-styled competition at each other's courses. Wiley, who turned 14 just before the trip, was invited for the first time to be an alternate. He already has two varsity letters for golf at Tampa Prep, where he will enter ninth grade this fall. His grandfather, who has played each year, paved the way for his inclusion.

"I just said he's capable of playing decent golf," McConnohie said of his grandson. "I figured that as an alternate, he could fill in and play so I could get some rest."

It didn't work out that way, however. Two Avila players, including the captain, were unable to make the trip. So Wiley ended up playing more than 120 holes of golf, while his grandfather played 36 holes every day.

The Prince's course, best known as the site of Gene Sarazen's 1932 British Open victory, was quite a challenge for Wiley. A heavy breeze off Sandwich Bay complements a hilly, bunker-laden course surrounded by thickly weeded rough.

But he handled it like a champ. In fact, he was a champ -- Wiley went undefeated in head-to-head play, defeating players with twice to three times his experience. But victory did not come without several trips into the jungle-like terrain that bordered the fairways.

"I lost a lot of balls out there," Wiley acknowledged. "It was a pain in the butt looking for them."

"You'd run out of balls, and they charged $5 per ball out there," said Roger Morell, a Carrollwood resident who also played for the Avila squad. "So you had an incentive to keep them (in play)."

The experience made Wiley almost look forward to landing in the rough on an American course: "I was thinking that when I came back, the rough (by comparison) would be like a fairway."

Avila had about half as many players as the opponents, though the home squad did provide for the Yanks: Though Prince's typically is a walking course, 12 carts were provided so the players could ride in style.

The Americans repaid the generosity: the competition ended in a tie, the first time Avila has not come out on top. The Avila golfers graciously named their opponents the victors and gave them the trophy.

It was the first trip out of the country for Wiley, a Florida native, and he did his grandfather proud. Said McConnohie: "I think he did great. He had good manners and acted as a gentleman."

Wiley was similarly impressed with his hosts.

"They really treated us great -- they flew the American flag everywhere and made us feel at home," said Wiley.

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