January 4, 2010

Golfers wanted

Jacob (Daddy) Logan is looking for a game--and he's buying

Daddy Logan's van doubles as a billboard inviting anyone to play.

Daddy Logan's van doubles as a billboard inviting anyone to play.

All summer, 87-year-old Jacob Wilson Logan drove around Baltimore in his '91 Chevy van with signs on the sides saying he'd play anybody, anywhere, anytime. He'd pay green fees and buy lunch. Listen to him long enough, you'd hear him promise $1,500 to anybody 82 or older who beat him. "Cash," he says, "or a $3,000 savings bond."

I love old people. My ambition is to be one and do it about the way Jacob Wilson Logan does it. The little man tees it up every morning, plays 27 holes most days. Along the way, he talks because he is one talking man. He'll tell you about life and love, about gambling, race relations, avoiding young women, and why it's good to carry a shotgun on your bread truck.

He told me, on the first tee, that 14 clubs are too many.

"Six'll do," he says.

Three woods, 6-iron, sand wedge, putter.

"Them extras," he says, "cause confusion."

He calls himself Daddy in homage to the charismatic preacher Charles M. Grace, known through the mid-20th century as Sweet Daddy Grace. Logan's preacher-man voice begins at a high pitch and screeches higher when he's worked up. At such times, he often announces, "The truth is the light of the world! Am I telling the truth? You know it!"

On the morning of his wife's funeral, Daddy Logan drove to a golf course. But no playing partners arrived for an 8:30 tee time. "So I left," he says, "and buried her."

Her name was Estelle Stephens. He first saw her in a restaurant by a Baltimore shipyard during World War II and told her right then, "I'm going to marry you, girl." Six months later, he did. They had three children, 11 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. They lived happily ever after, 63 years. It was not an act of indifference, then, to be sitting in a muny golf shop the morning of his sweetheart's funeral. The new widower showed up because he'd made a promise.

A sign on his van had invited three golfers to Baltimore's Forest Park Golf Course. He arrived after dawn to wait for strangers who might or might not come. He definitely would not play, but, as promised, he'd pay. He waited until 8:45 a.m. before leaving for Estelle.

The van is a rolling bill-board. Printing high on a side window tells how Tiger and Oprah got him started in golf. At the back, on the spare-tire cover, a message reveals a divine interest in Daddy Logan's golf: "Has been chosen by God to be the oldest golf player in the world." At our fifth hole, I asked how he knew God's plan.

"A feeling," he said. "I feel it within myself. You got to have the feeling. Like, I don't play with a glove. Gotta have feeling. The feeling, I got."

kindred

Photo: Peter Gregoire

A scouting report on Daddy Logan's golf: For a 5-feet-7, 130-pound octogenarian, he drives it a long way, maybe 175 on a muny's baked fairway. Never wastes a chip or putt. Puts his hand on the ball occasionally to get it where it's sitting pretty. Like most of us dogged victims, he's happy with bogeys. Scouting report, bottom line: He's really good for a guy who never played until he was old enough to be dead.

He started at 73. He'd quit work and was looking for a way to stay in motion. That's when he heard the high school kid Tiger tell Oprah you didn't need to go to college to play golf. Logan, who had left school after the third grade, thought, This is for me.

He had last touched a club caddieing in North Carolina, where he made 50 cents for nine holes. After that came a half-century of life that allowed no room for golf. "I was 12 when I went to work for a rich, white man. Only three ways a colored boy could make money: teaching, preaching and being a house man. I wasn't going to be no teacher, and preaching wasn't for me. Did the driving, did whatever the family asked. That was my college education. I wouldn't have got where I am if I didn't work for rich, white folks."

Where he got, if he says so himself, was rich. "I'm a money man, I'm a hustler, I have ambition, I make money. Had a restaurant, my bread company, grocery-store trucks. Now I'm inviting people to play golf with me because I'm going to make money at it." Make money, how?

"I can't tell you my business! If I ask you, would you tell me your business? No, and right so."

He says that by the mid-1960s in Baltimore he took in $1,000 a day running Daddy Logan's Bread Company with 46 employees, 17 trucks, two warehouses and one double-barreled shotgun: "I'd been robbed five, six times, so this one time, boys in the street stopped my truck, probably looking for dope money. I jump out with my shotgun. Them boys, they ran."

On our 14th hole, talk turned to women.

"I played the other day with this young woman. Oh, my. She was pretty as a speckled pup. Legs, looks, sexy. She was kissing on me all over my neck. Tickling my legs and almost, not quite now, woke Johnny up. But she was 40, and she'd be wanting to go dancing after, and I'm an old man headed for a nap in the van." Laughing: "Am I telling you the truth! The truth is the light of the world! She was a pretty thing. But I don't need no young woman messing me up. No dancing after, no sir, no way. I'm telling the truth, if I see her again before she sees me, I'm ... " Smiling: " ... gone!"

Aside from hazards in short skirts, Daddy Logan says, golf is good for an old man. "Relaxes me, keeps my brain working. My doctor told me, once you get past 85 all right, you won't get Alzheimer's. Keep the brain working, because if it stops, it ain't coming back."

So he plays 18 every morning. After lunch, he sleeps in the van before nine holes in the afternoon. He's in bed at 9 o'clock and up at 7:30 a.m. to do it again. "I eat right, sleep right, behave myself. Don't need glasses, no high blood pressure. Because my daughter was worried, I asked my doctor if 27 holes was too much pressure. He said, 'Hell, no. Pressure is what keeps you going.' I used to say I'd live to be 100. But I'm thinking I'll do a little better, 105 maybe." At our last hole, Daddy Logan rolled a 20-foot par putt toward the hole. "Go on home now!" he said, and it did.

Back at the van, he talked about a big game coming up. An 88-year-old woman named Pauline Bellish had called. Like Logan, she took up golf late, 10 years ago, just to stay in motion after her husband's death.

The Bellish report on the match: "Logan's a pretty good little player. We were even early on, then he beat me by four strokes. I asked him, 'Did you set me up on the first nine?' "

The widower denied the suggestion that he'd hustled a widow. It was just that her course had tall grass in front of every green. Logan said, "It took me nine holes to change my style."

Pauline Bellish said she had a "just great" day and would love to play again. Jacob Wilson Logan enjoyed the day, too. "Sure, we can do it again," he said. After all, at her age, even older than him, Daddy Logan is pretty sure that Pauline Bellish won't be wanting to go dancing after.