EIGHTY-SIX YEARS YOUNG: DON O’HEARN RETURNS TO PLAY IN THE NS AMATEUR 51 YEARS AFTER HE LAST WON THE TITLE

 

86 year old Don O’Hearn is one of the 156 competitors vying for this week’s MCT Insurance Men’s Amateur, he won the 1963 Amateur at Brightwood

 

As Brightwood Golf and Country Club celebrates 100 years in the business, one long-time member is set to celebrate his own impressive milestone at the historic Dartmouth club. Eighty-Six year old Don O’Hearn has now been a member at Brightwood Golf and Country Club for 70 years, and those sixteen years of his life when he wasn’t a member Don was never far away from the course he grew up on. 

 

Don O'Hearn has spent his entire life at Brightwood Golf and Country Club

 

Don O’Hearn was born on February 20, 1928 in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia just a mere stone throw away from the #2 at Brightwood Golf and Country Club. When Don was born Brightwood had been established for fourteen years, and his father Martin had been the first ever caddy at the course. Probably a result of their house being within close proximity to Brightwood, the O’Hearn family developed a strong golfing tradition, Don’s brother Lawrence “Butch” O’Hearn became the first and only Nova Scotian to receive his PGA Tour Card, brother Clarence “Gabby” was a strong amateur player winning various NSGA titles, another brother Bernard, was set to become a club professional at Chester Golf Club, and regarded as arguably the best amongst the brothers passed away at age 29. Even Don’s Aunt Margaret was a talented golfer becoming a professional, and serving as a Head Caddy Master at Brightwood for many years. In total, eight of the eleven O’Hearn children played golf to some extent with many of the brothers and sisters excelling at the sport.

 

Known for a silky swing O'Hearn says he doesn't enjoy practicing, but learned to play from constantly swinging players clubs as a caddy

 

At the age of nine Don began work as a caddy at Brightwood, starting a relationship that has now spanned eight decades. Most likely unimaginable for today’s youth a caddy’s salary during the 1930’s was actually quite lucrative “We used to make $0.35 a round” said O’Hearn smiling, adding “that was good money back then, I used to buy a chocolate bar and a pop for $0.10, and the rest would go to Mom for her to buy my winter clothes”.  O’Hearn would caddy until he was 16 years old, and the learned the game from being on the course everyday “we used to have a club in our hands all the time, as a caddy we would constantly be swinging the club. We had a great time as caddies, and after we’d finish for the day we would sneak out onto the course to play the holes away from the clubhouse, it wasn’t as busy back then you see” said O’Hearn with a grin.  

 

After seven years as a caddy O’Hearn became a member of Brightwood when he was sixteen years old, however because of an incident involving bananas he almost lost his golfing privileges altogether. “Who told you about that!” asked O’Hearn when questioned about the event, clearly surprised his tricks had been documented by NSGA Historian Allan Dunlop. Early in his first year O’Hearn had almost been expelled from the course because of a broken window frame on the old clubhouse window. “I came up to the course and there were a few buddies of mine who were standing near the clubhouse basement, I guess some of the guys were kind of hungry so they were trying to push the window far enough aside to grab a bowl of bananas near the window” explained O’Hearn. The friends would end up being successful as O’Hearn opened the window far enough but cracked the frame in the process, seeing as he was the only culprit recognized O’Hearn faced a suspension from the club.

 

Don on the tee sometime during the early 1990's 

 

Fortunately for O’Hearn he was allowed back into the club so long as he paid for the stolen bananas. As for the window “Albert MacIntosh who owned a local pharmacy and was the director here at Brightwood told me they would file the broken window under damage caused by the Magazine Hill explosion of 1945, so I got lucky, looking back it was stupid of me in the first place” said O’Hearn with a chuckle. O’Hearn continued to play golf competitively but found it increasingly difficult to balance his work career as a steam fitter and still have time to play events. Eventually O’Hearn began working with the Nova Scotia Government plying his trade with the Department of Public Works, again his job prevented him from playing much competitive golf “I worked ten straight years without a vacation day, I used to travel around the province for sometimes two months at a time to places like Shelburne so I didn’t have much time for competitive golf” said O’Hearn. 

 

In 1957 with the Amateur at Brightwood O’Hearn decided to ask his boss for a few days off work to compete, however his superior was not forthcoming in allowing him to take time off to play. “I really wanted to play that event because it was at home; you know what my boss said? He asked me what was more important my job or golf, I said my job of course but said it was important to me, and he still wouldn’t let me go” explained O’Hearn. After explaining his situation to John Lloyd (Former Mayor of Halifax) he encouraged O’Hearn to call the Deputy Minister of the Department “I made the call and he said they can’t do that to you Don, so I got my three days off I was really happy to play, of course in the 60’s they introduced mandatory vacation and I never had that issue again”.

 

After “not doing that well”, yet still finishing in the top 20 at Brightwood in 1957, O’Hearn was back to play Brightwood for the 1963 NS Amateur Championship. O’Hearn would go on to shoot 72-71-64-74 en route to a 1 stroke victory over his brother Lawrence, his third round of 64 tied a course record and set a competitive course record at the time. “I remember being interviewed by the reporter from the Herald, I think it was Bill McCall, and he asked me about beating Butch by 1 stroke, and I remember saying he’ll end up winning more amateurs then me, then he turned pro the next year” said O’Hearn laughing.

 

Don practicing his putting prior to this week's MCT Insurance Amateur Championship 

 

 Don would be the only brother to win the Amateur Championship, although it was not his only title as he would go on to win two senior championships in 1983 and 1991. In 1989, while partnering with his brother Clarence “Gabby”, the O’Hearns became the first team of brothers to win the Senior Men’s Four Ball Championship. At the club level he won the Brightwood Championship in 1957, while also competing in various Rosebowl Championships for Brightwood. O’Hearn mentioned playing with the likes of Peter Doig, Pud Reardon, and Judge Doan Hallett were some great memories “I used to love playing with them, they were great guys so it was always nice when there was events at Ashburn or we would play together”.

 

O'Hearn pictured third from the left in the back row celebrates a Brightwood Rosebowl win 

 

When asked what his favourite memory at Brightwood was O’Hearn took a moment to ponder, seven decades worth of memories “I have two, one was winning the Nova Scotia Amateur in 1963 anytime you can win the marquee event with the best players for me that was really special, I also married my wife Jeanine right here at the club so that is special to me as well”. The hardest moment for Don at Brightwood was seeing the old clubhouse being torn down to be replaced by the current one. “I loved that clubhouse; don’t you think that’s beautiful?” as he stood there marveling at a picture of the old clubhouse, almost as if he had never seen it before. “The night they had the meeting to discuss it being replaced I tried to convince them otherwise but to no avail”.

 

Brightwood's former club house which was replaced with its current building 

 

Today Don still plays three times a week with his friends “we usually play on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday” explained O’Hearn, who still maintains a sharp handicap of 10.  When asked what he enjoys most about playing golf he said it’s a combination of using it as a social outing while getting to play the game he loves, “We have a great time we really do, and we still always play for something, at least $5” said O’Hearn. 

 

With this year’s Amateur Championship being played at his home course O’Hearn decided he would like to play the Amateur during Brightwood’s 100th anniversary, “I have to explain the only reason I am playing is because it’s the 100th anniversary I thought it would be special to get out and play”.  And what does O’Hearn hope for, expect for this week’s MCT Insurance Amateur? “I’d like to make the cut, it won’t be easy but if I play well who knows” he said beaming with a smile.

 

As O’Hearn took to the first tee on Thursday afternoon some fifty-one years after winning the same event at the same course a large group of people were there to see him off. Up first in his pairing, O’Hearn smacked a drive roughly 225 yards straight down the middle of the #1 fairway as a large cheer broke out amongst the crowd assembled. As he walked down the fairway it was like watching history, an ageless wonder that can still tee it up with the best in the province, Don would go on to shoot a first round total of 78. I asked Don in an interview a week before the tournament if he plans to continue playing regularly “of course so long as they’ll let me play, Brightwood’s my home, it always has been”.

 

Kody Blois is a graduate of Saint Mary's University, President of the East Hants Sport Heritage Society, and is the Tournament and Communications Coordinator for the Nova Scotia Golf Association. You can follow him on twitter @kodyblois or follow his blog kodyblois.blogspot.ca