INDIANAPOLIS -- The hook of this story isn’t that Frank Swingle, a 93-year-old member of Meridian Hills Golf Club here, made a hole-in-one a few weeks ago on the course’s 12th hole. The story is that Swingle is the exact kind of sharp local celebrity that you should dream of being, if for some reason you’re not already. Swingle, who’s surrounded by a crowd when I meet him in the pro shop, has been retired for 47 years, has religiously played twice a week since getting out of the Navy in 1946 and briskly strolls out to our interview on the club’s deck at a pace of a man about 30 years younger. When he made his ace, Swingle says jumped up and down on the green.
A member of Meridian Hills for 59 years (and the oldest person ever to make a hole-in-one there), Swingle not only had an ace but ended his round with a score of 106, his lowest score for 2017. (He also plays with a 97-year-old and introduces me to a member named Bob who’s six months older than he is, so apparently there is some sort of life-giving “Cocoon” thing happening at this club? Investigate later.) We visited the club to catch up with Indiana’s most accomplished nonagenarian golfer, who opened the interview by graciously offering me a date.
This is a bag of dates.
It is! My father was instrumental in bringing dates to the country. (Note: This is true — in 1927, Swingle’s father, Walter, saved a handful of Medjool dates from a French Moroccan disease, imported them to America and is generally credited with saving the brand.) So when I come in, I carry around a bag and ask the ladies, “How about a date?” Some of the older ones, they really whip around in surprise.
So you’ve been playing a while.
Since I got out of the Navy. I was a little late — I was on a destroyer headed to the Pacific and was going through the Canal when they dropped the bomb. I’ve played twice a week almost every week since then.
And how do you celebrate a hole-in-one at 93?
Jump up and down! (laughs)
You felt good about the shot?
I thought it was a pretty good shot. We got up there, and the fella I was riding with was on the green but I wasn’t. He said, “Well, maybe it went over into the bunker behind?” And as a complete joke I said, “Maybe it’s in the hole!” When we got out of the cart and I took my putter and sand wedge, thinking my ball was probably in the sand, but it wasn’t. One of the other four who were playing said, “Look in the hole!” And sure enough! I play with yellow golf balls, and that was the happiest thing I could have seen.
Had the news made it back to the clubhouse before you did?
Matter of fact, I was in the pro shop and one of the girls came in and said, “Did you hear about Mr. Swingle getting a hole-in-one at 94?” And I said, “Hey, I’m 93! I don’t turn 94 until September!” I had to use the driver off the ladies’ tee to make this one, and that’s about as far as I can hit.
You’ve had two holes-in-one before.
I had two of them six weeks apart in 1971. You’d be amazed at the number of people who have done that, my wife included. Of the people close to me that have had a hole-in-one, probably half have had another within another really short time.
How do you account for being in this kind of shape?
Well, my mother lived to be 104. When they asked her, “How do you live to be 100?” she’d say, “Nobody should live to be 100.” (laughs) She was remarkable, she did volunteer work with the California Historical Society of San Francisco, walking to work until she was 95. She had a 100th birthday party, and 200 people came. She knew every one of ‘em. I think that’s part of the reason.
So you’ll keep this up?
I have a friend who’s much better than I am, and one day he said, “Frank, it’s just not any fun if you can’t break 90 anymore.” So I made a resolution that I’d never give it up because of score. And that’s the reason that this might be somewhat newsworthy: the fact that I am probably the worst golfer here at the club. I’m almost sure I’m the higher handicap of anybody here. (laughs) That’s why I was happy to get this, to learn that anyone who was as bad as I am can get a hole in one!