Friday, August 22, 2008

Don Kennington - Gentleman Golfer

In 1988 after being invited by Harry Howell, I joined a group led by Don Kennington (wearing the green shirt in photo) on a trip which gave me my first exposure to the unique experience of “links golf”. Back then it was not difficult to self schedule tee times on the Old Course at St Andrews, Muirfield, and other British Open venues. Being an Auburn University graduate, I felt at home with a group that was mostly comprised of Auburn alumni. Don was a member of the Auburn Golf team back in the mid 50’s and even though he was now in his mid 50’s he was still a very good golfer. I was always impressed at how Don could consistently score low rounds regardless of the difficulty of the course. Don was a big man with a big heart and a sly grin that quickly revealed his gentle nature to anyone who happened to meet him. Don had a storied golf past filled with remarkable golf accomplishments. It had started when he was in his teens winning the inaugural Press Thornton Dothan Future Masters event in 1950. This tournament for young golfers is still held each year at Dothan Country Club. After his collegiate career had ended, Don completed a degree in Veterinary Medicine and began his practice in Dothan. Some years later Don would travel to Scotland to compete in the British Amateur Tournament held at St Andrews. He was not eliminated until after he had reached the quarter finals, a significant achievement.

This exposure to links golf no doubt led to Don’s affection for these annual trips. On the last trip I took with Don before his death, Don confided to me just how much he looked forward to these annual trips. In a quiet moment he once told me that even after he was no longer physically able to walk the distances required to play links golf he would, nevertheless, like to continue planning and traveling on these trips even if he had to sit in the clubhouse while the rest of the group played. Most of the group that traveled with us were life long friends of Don. They were constantly ribbing Don. This was mainly centered around his inflexibility in altering schedules and his insistence on always reserving the right to make the decisions on the trip. Years later after I began planning trips myself, I came to appreciate Don’s gentle insistence on being the “in charge” guy. At times the peppering of humorous barbs directed at Don would reach a level that made me think that they had gone too far. If this banter ever rattled Don, he never gave evidence of it always maintaining his gentle good natured manner. This group included several doctors. One of these, Patrick Jones, a pathologist, always claimed that Harry Howell was his only living patient. Another member of this group was Lamar Miller, a urologist, was constantly entertaining the group with humorous comments.

One year as we met in the Atlanta Airport waiting our departure, Lamar told this story. Needing trousers for the trip, Lamar went shopping at the local department store. After he realized that his old size 38 would no longer hold his girth, he conceded that size 40’s would have to be purchased. Not wanting his wife to know this just before his leaving on the trip, Lamar made another stop at another store on his way home. Here he purchased a pair of scissors which he used to remove the size 40 tags. Problem solved! On another trip while waiting at the gate in the Atlanta Airport, Lamar was paged by the check-in gate to come forward for a consult. Misreading the name on his ticketing which was A. Lamar Miller, the announcement came over the speaker as Alamar Miller. As you can imagine, from that time on for the rest of this trip he would be referred to by all those on the trip as “Alamar”.

Don was big guy who I would come to learn was a world class snorer. Once as we dined at the Rusacks Hotel in St Andrews, Don excused himself early and retired to his room. By the time the rest of us had dessert and coffee, Don was sound asleep. As we walked by the door to his room, we could hear a roar coming through his door. Later Don would be diagnosed with sleep apnea and on subsequent trips, after receiving his breathing machine, his sleep was more enjoyable for both him and those with whom he roomed.

We lost Don in 1999. He was a consummate gentleman, always encouraging the lesser talented ones of us on the trips. In addition to his great talent and warm good nature Don had a remarkable memory. After a couple of rounds of play with Don I realized he didn’t need to keep a score card. He could remember the score for each member of his foursome on every hole. He could even remember each player’s shot on each hole. I was always amazed at this ability.

I still miss Don. Each time I play a new links course I think of him. In 2001, I joined Ballyliffin Golf Club in Ireland as an International member. Don never played Ballyliffin, but he would have been comfortably at home there. Ballyliffin members exhibit the same warm hospitality that Don always extended to new members of his group.

Don Kennington, a great guy, a great golfer, and a great traveler! Thank you, Don, for introducing me to links golf in the magical sand hills of Scotland and Ireland.
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