Story/Photography by Dick Hildebrand
Orest Spooner is a name well known to most Windsor and Essex County golfers. Since he was first exposed to the game more than 70 years ago…the sport has been part of his life. As a golf professional and club manager, his resume shows a vast experience. Oh sure, he’s played in a number of pro tournaments including the Canadian Open, and has logged numerous rounds in the 60s but these days his preference is to get together with a friend or a fellow member at the Beach Grove Golf and Country Club and play a round…just for the fun of it. He’s quick to point out that he never got into the business for the money, the glory, or the fame but because, “I love the game — it’s just as simple as that.” He admits he wasn’t a great tournament performer because he’s not a competitive person and is a stickler on the rules. In fact, he says, “golf and curling which were both introduced to North America by the Scots are the only two sports in the world where players who violate the rules call the penalties on themselves!” The Honor System.
He’s been a fixture at Beach Grove for nearly 30 years, which included at least 15 years where he was also involved in the curling program during the winter. Despite his love of golf, Spooner says he never wanted to be a head professional. “I’m not cut out for that,” he says, “but when I left my position as pro-manager at the now closed Lakewood Golf in St. Clair Beach, I immediately called Dale Thompson, the pro at Beach Grove and got a job as Associate Professional, a position I still have to this day.” However, he has scaled back many of his activities and generally covers the first tee as a starter.
Orest Spooner was born in Moose Jaw Saskatchewan, the son of a Ukranian immigrant father, who spent four years in the Canadian Air Force and a mother who hailed from the prairies. Following moves to St. Thomas Ontario, Ste. Jean Quebec and Vancouver, the family settled in Toronto where Orest spent most of his formative years. At the age of 9, hoping to earn some money to buy a bicycle, he got his first taste of golf as a caddy. Over the next few years, he golfed and even spent time studying engineering at the University of Toronto until 1958, when he decided to give the air force a try. He spent two days undergoing assessment interviews at the Clinton Air Force Base north of London…but when he crashed the Link Trainer (a grounded flight simulation machine), his career move crashed with him and he returned to Toronto. Eventually, after being interviewed by the head pro at the prestigious Toronto Golf Club, he was handed a broom and told to sweep out the back shop. As Orest recalls, “I swept the floor as he watched me. When I was done I handed him back the broom and he said….you’re hired. So I became a caddymaster — in my first year in professional golf.” A short time later, Spooner became the head assistant pro, a position he held for about seven years until 1967 when he was named head professional at the London Hunt Club. “I was not a good fit,” he says, “but they were kind enough to keep me there for five years until I resigned and moved to Windsor where I went to work as pro-manager at Lakewood.” His original contract was only for one year, but lo and behold, he’s still here with no plans of going anywhere. In March of 1989, following a change in management, he left Lakewood and moved down the street to Beach Grove where he says, “I just love the course, the atmosphere, the club — it’s like one big happy family.”
Spooner attributes his happiness to the game of golf and a successful marriage that produced three children. In the late 1950s, being as he says “socially inept”, he managed to strike up a friendship with Anna May Mills, a Northern Ontario native who had joined the wait staff at the Toronto Golf Club while she attended teachers’ college. “She’s the only girl that I ever had any relationship with as a steady,” says Spooner, “and I was the only guy that she ever had a steady relationship with. They were married in August of 1961…a love journey that the couple says, in golf parlance, “that they hope will break 60.”
In September of last year Orest’s contribution to Beach Grove and to golf in general was recognized by the organization. He was given an honorary membership and presented with a large framed plaque with a club flag on the upper portion and a painting of the venerable old clubhouse on the lower half.
As he looks back on his career and his life in general, Orest stops in mid thought and says: “I am now 81 and I have yet to figure out what I want to do for a living! SERIOUSLY...that’s the honest to goodness truth, because I never had a driving desire to be anybody, or anything. I loved sports to see how well I could do, but I never had that burning desire to be a great pro golfer on the PGA tour.” At the same time, he also shows his side as an amateur philosopher and has come up with a suggestion on how to cure the world’s problems… “through unselfish co-operation, or love, plain and simple.”
He still plays golf regularly, even though time has slowed him down a bit and the scores have inched upward. As he likes to say “I’m majoring in Golf 101 — in my last four games I shot 101. I did have an 82 on one occasion last year. After all, you can’t expect much more from a guy who has suffered from A-fib, two torn rotator cuffs, bad knees and a hernia from hitting a shot out of foot-deep rough.” And, just like he lives his life, Spooner adds: “when I’m faced with a choice of shots, I pick the one I’m least likely to make. If there’s a tree in front of me, I try to go through the crotch of that tree. As a result, I get some balloon scores.”
Finally on possible retirement, Spooner slyly smiles and makes it abundantly clear. “I’ll retire when I drop dead, or become incapacitated, or they kick me out.”