“Golf has been good to me,” said Mal Strange, during our recent chat at the Brunswick Golf Club. That’s like anyone else saying, “The air has been good to me,” as golf has infused Mal’s life for nearly all his 84 years.
I first met Mal back in the fall of 1960. He was the young pro at Brunswick, then a nine-hole course with an unprepossessing “club house,” which featured steamed hot dogs and little else. I was a member of the Bowdoin golf team, new to Maine and new to the idea of steamed hot dogs.
When I recently ran into Mal at Hannaford and learned that he is still coaching the Brunswick High School golf team and still giving lessons, I asked if I could write about him for this column. Ever affable, he agreed.
Okay, here are some highlights of Mal’s golfing life: Began caddying at Brunswick at age 12; won the Maine High School Golf Championship and also the State Junior Championship in 1952; turned down a golf scholarship to Rollins College to go into the U.S. Air Force; played on the Air Force Golf Team; served as pro at the Brunswick Naval Air Station golf course (now Mere Creek) for a year before becoming the head pro at Brunswick in 1959, where he served for 37 years; began coaching the golf team at Brunswick High School in 2000; played on the highly competitive professional golf circuit in Florida for over 30 winters; has been giving golf lessons at Brunswick and area courses for nearly 60 years.
Even after all these years, Mal still loves the game, although he can’t play because of a bad back.
When asked his philosophy of teaching golf, Mal explained, “Almost everyone does something naturally right with their golf swing. I just observe what that something is and build from there.” That philosophy carries over into Mal’s relationship with everyone. He accepts you for who you are with a smile and goes from there, genuinely enjoying people, especially those with a love for the game. His personal charm enabled Mal to keep his post as head pro at Brunswick for nearly four decades, a most unusual tenure in the field.
For Mal’s retirement, the members of the Brunswick Golf Club funded a trip for him and his wife Judy to tour around the United States, visiting National Parks and other sites. As they were driving through Minnesota, Mal remembered that while in the Air Force, he had broken the course record with a 65 while playing in the Pipestem Invitational Golf Tournament. He convinced Judy to take a “short” detour (200 miles) to revisit that course for old time’s sake.
They found the course, but the clubhouse had been moved to a new location. The parking lot was jammed, and a woman told Mal that he couldn’t play because the Pipestem Invitational Golf Tournament was being played that day. “Really?” Mal asked. “I played in that tournament 42 years ago and broke the course record with a 65.” The woman gasped, “Are you Mal Strange?” She couldn’t believe it and neither could Mal. She asked Mal if he’d be willing to be interviewed by a local reporter, and Mal agreed.
Mal loves stories so I shared one of my own, which occurred when I was 15. I was playing in the National Jaycee State Qualifying Tournament in Delaware. The top two golfers in each state moved on to the national tournament in Phoenix. “I started the round birdie, birdie, par, birdie. On the fifth hole I promised the other players that I’d send them a postcard from Phoenix. Big mistake. On that hole, I carded a 13, thanks to the two huge sand traps at each side of the green. So much for Phoenix.” Mal laughed.
Golf has been good to Mal Strange and Mal has been good to thousands of golfers over the years. A street and a tee have been named after him at the Brunswick Golf Club. He’s been inducted into the Maine Golf of Fame. He still feels pride in having won two state championships as a youth nearly 70 years ago. And he still loves being around golfers and golf. By any measure, that’s a damned good score.
David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns. firstname.lastname@example.org.