TAYLORSVILLE — Glen Armstrong, a retired chemist, is a local legend at Fore Lakes Golf course. Last week he carded scores of 35, 36 and 37 during his three regular nine-hole outings — pretty much the same as always. For the uninitiated, that’s 4 to 6 over par.
“He’s amazing,” says Julie Houtz, assistant manager at the course.
Maybe we should mention this little detail: Armstrong is 98 years old.
“Everyone who comes here knows him,” says Houtz. “He’s been coming here almost 40 years. He’s Grandpa Armstrong. We say ‘Hi, Grandpa,’ when he comes in the door.”
Fore Lakes is an 18-hole executive course — with two par 5s, four par 4s and the remainder a mix of long and short par 3s. Armstrong has produced some magic here. Golf Digest once calculated the odds of making a hole-in-one at 12,000 to 1 for the average golfer, noting that it would take an average of 3,000 rounds to do it. Armstrong has nine holes-in-one — one for each complete decade of his life. All nine of them have been achieved since he retired in his mid-60s. Some of them have been featured on local TV sports shows.
Armstrong has produced two aces in his 90s. The last one was also his longest. Golf Digest calculated the odds of acing a 150-yard hole as 80,000 to 1. Armstrong was 95 when he aced the 172-yard 13th hole at Fore Lakes (he was playing the back nine). Who knows what the odds are of making an ace at that age.
“You’ve just gotta get close to the hole and get lucky,” Armstrong says. “I guess I’m just lucky.”
“Go get a hole-in-one,” people like to tell him. Armstrong replies, “‘I’m done; you get one.”
“He’s amazing,” says Armstrong’s oldest son, Marv. “For somebody his age who is not only playing, but playing at the level he does, it’s phenomenal. He struggles obviously with the driver. He’s hitting only 175 yards. But nobody out-chips and out-putts him.”
“He just likes to get outside and play and meet people. Everybody knows him out there. I have people stop me all the time to ask me about my dad and how he’s doing.” — Marv Armstrong, on his father Glen Armstrong
Armstrong has played in a threesome with the 70-year-old Marv and Marv’s 45-year-old son, Brett. “There’s been two times he’s beaten both of us,” says Marv.
“He’s just an impressive guy,” says Jerry Whitehead, one of Armstrong’s frequent playing partners. “He keeps going on and on and on.”
Whitehead is a mere 85. One day he and Armstrong shot holes-in-one on the same hole, just hours apart (they weren’t playing together at the time). Such things just seem to happen where Armstrong is concerned. He was present when Marv buried a hole-in-one himself.
“I got more excited about his hole-in-one than mine,” says Armstrong.
Armstrong was born on March 2, 1922, the year Joseph Stalin rose to power in Russia and the British were ruling a quarter of the world. Armstrong graduated from Granite High (which no longer exists). He earned a degree in chemistry at the University of Utah and went to work as a chemist for Kennecott Copper. He left the company for a few years to train as a pilot in the Army Air Corps. Just before he was scheduled to deploy in World War II, the war ended, and Armstrong eventually returned to Kennecott.
He worked for four decades. When the company planned to lay off one of his colleagues — a man with three young children — Armstrong volunteered to retire in his place to keep him on the payroll. He was 64.
He did not become a regular golfer until shortly before his retirement. Until then he played just a few times a year, preferring instead to hunt, fish and ski in his free time.
“If I had taken it up sooner I might have been better,” says Armstrong. “But I never had much desire to play. I was out doing other things. I was nothing special at anything, but I did everything.”
He bowls in the wintertime — he averages about 150 these days — and resumes his golf game in the spring.
“My kids say I’ve been everywhere and done everything twice,” says Armstrong, a friendly, humorous man.
He is remarkably healthy as he nears his 100th birthday. Well, except for the prostate cancer. He refused surgery — “I don’t want that at my age,” he says — and instead opted to take medicine regularly. “Evidently, I don’t have a fast-moving type (of cancer),” he says. “I’ve seen others have the surgery and they’re long gone, so I think I made the right decision.” He passes his annual physical. “The doctor says I’m the healthiest 98-year-old he’s ever seen,” says Armstrong, laughing.
“I’ve gone to the doctor with him,” says Marv. “The doctor tells him, ‘Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.’ His memory is amazing for someone that old. He still drives — and I watch him because I want to make sure he’s safe, and I don’t see him as any type of nuisance on the road. Everybody asks him, ‘What are you doing to live so long? … All my dad’s friends have died. His friends now are early- and mid-80s.”
When asked The Question, Armstrong replies, “I eat a lot of fish and stay away from all the meats. In the morning I eat bananas and raspberries on my cereal. I guess that helps.”
He’s never been a jogger or even an exerciser in the strict sense of that term, but he’s always been active — hiking, walking, hunting, bowling, golfing — and he’s always been slim (he’s 6-foot, 176 pounds). His genes might have something to do with his longevity. His dad died at 85, his mom 89, his brother 92, his fraternal uncles late 90s.
Armstrong’s wife Virginia died seven years ago, at the age of 88. “She’s probably wondering where the heck I’m at,” says Armstrong. They raised two sons and two daughters — Marv, Mark, Pat and Bonnie. In retirement, Armstrong performed volunteer work in the Salt Lake City temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for years, but not since the temple began a lengthy renovation. “I’ll be 100 when it opens again,” says Armstrong. “I think I’m done.”
Armstrong’s big concession to age is that he rides a cart. Until 15 years ago, he walked every hole while playing four to five days a week.
“He just likes to get outside and play and meet people,” says Marv. “Everybody knows him out there. I have people stop me all the time to ask me about my dad and how he’s doing.”
He’s still going on and on and on.