Louis Dolce Sr. poses with David Baluik, PGA

Louis Dolce Sr., is what many golfers might refer to as a range rat. On a Tuesday afternoon he shows up early to get loose, and starts hitting balls well before the rest of his group arrives at the facility. He heads to the putting green to roll some putts before heading back to take more full swings under the watchful eye of PGA Professional David Baluik (Glocester CC), who makes some minor tweaks between rips. 

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Louis yields his spot on the one-person, indoor driving range as his peers patiently wait their turn, but he never drifts too far away, always seizing his next opportunity to step up and swing. Louis is 95 years old, mere weeks from his 96th birthday, and this particular Tuesday at the Rhode Island Veterans Home, as he puts it repeatedly, “gave me 10 years on my life.”

The Coast Guard Veteran who served during World War II has lived at Rhode Island Veterans Home since his wife passed away almost a year ago.  When the New England PGA Foundation hosted a PGA HOPE clinic at the Home for its 190 residents, he didn’t let a minute of the opportunity escape. He arrived early and waited patiently as the inflatable hitting area was set up, and lit up when he was given permission to start hitting golf shots 45 minutes early.

“I couldn’t believe I’m going to hit a golf ball again,” he said during a brief break between swings. “I have trouble with my balance, I have spinal stenosis in my back and I said ‘Jeez I’ll never do it,’ but I warmed up and it was prime. I love it.”

It’s been three decades since Louis was a member at Triggs Memorial Golf Course, playing regularly with a group all in their 60s who the course staff affectionately nicknamed “Morning Sickness.”

“I don’t know where that name came from,” Louis insists. “We put up a buck a piece and we had a handicap and we had some fun. We didn’t play for a buck and a quarter, that was too much money.”

Louis is one of dozens of Veterans who participated in the two-hour PGA HOPE clinic, along with PGA Professionals Kevin Jean (MontaupCC), Ed Kirby (Aquidneck Club) and Baluik. The variety of golfers covered the spectrum. Some held a club for the first time, while others rekindled a love for the game that they didn’t know they would experience again. Some swung freely on their own, others required help to stay standing. Some swung from a wheelchair, or with one arm, or with one arm from a wheelchair. But by day’s end they had one thing in common: everybody left with a smile, with many asking for more.

“The line was so long, you should bring two next time,” one Veteran said, motioning toward the inflatable hitting area. Meanwhile in another corner of the room, negotiations were being made between a small group of Veterans and the Home’s Physical Education instructor to set up a permanent hitting station. “When are you coming back?” others asked.

The PGA HOPE Clinic will return to the Rhode Island Veterans Home on March 17, and you can bet Louis will be first in line to take a swing.

To volunteer at the PGA HOPE clinic in March, contact NEPGA Foundation Coordinator Christian Comeau, PGA (ccomeau@pgahq.com).