They say that “age is just a number.” But so is a golf score. And for most golfers, as one number increases, so does the other.
Not so with the seemingly ageless Denny Dolci—56 and going strong.
Dolci, golf pro at Buhl Farm Golf Course and Driving Range, has had a great year in Tri-State PGA Section competition. And not just with the Senior (over-50) Division. He plays at the same level with the young guns on the section tour.
Recently he finished runner-up in the Tri-State Match Play Tournament, no small feat when you play so many matches in 3 days. And he admits he wore out a little bit in the final-round loss to Justin Collins after five consecutive wins.
“Six rounds in three days is a lot for me,” said Dolci, former Sharon High and University of Louisville golf star as well as former champion of The Herald-Tam O’Shanter Junior Golf Championships. “But I really enjoy match-play; it’s a nice change of pace. It does fit me well. I’ve had some success at it. But I still enjoy the individual stoke-play the best.”
Early in the season, Dolci said he was struggling with his putting. He even went back to using an old putter to try to straighten out things. But that wasn’t the answer.
“I put a new putter in the bag,” he said. “When I got the putter, I went through a drastic change. It really helped me out.”
He won money in most of the Tri-State tournaments he competed in this spring and summer. And he excelled against other Seniors.
He finished third in the Senior Club Pro Championship and qualified for the National Senior Club Pro Championship in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“Any time I get to play in national competition, it’s fun,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting out there and competing. I hope the course is conducive to my game.”
He also qualified and competed in the United States Senior Championship, sponsored by the USGA, in 2013.
He admits that competing with young pros is not an easy task.
“I’m coming down the back nine (age-wise),” said Dolci, with a laugh. “It’s not just one or two younger players that hit it a mile. It’s the way the game has evolved. It’s better to hit a wedge (to the green) than a 6-iron. The longer hitters are winning golf tournaments and only hitting 4 or 5 fairways sometimes. They all swing hard.
“Of course on tour, they get the right ‘everything’ as far as equipment goes. When we grew up it was an art to hit a driver. They had those small persimmon heads. They took the art away from the game. And the balls go so far, they really can’t move it that much.”
Recently Dolci took part in the annual Palmer Cup Match, with Tri-State PGA pros going against top Western Pennsylvania amateurs. While the amateurs won the overall competition, Dolci teamed with Dick von Tacky Jr. to win a 4-ball match.
“It was a lot of fun, but it was bittersweet,” said Dolci of this year’s matches.
“It’s not the same with Arnold Palmer not there. He used to play with us when he could. And he never missed lunch or dinner or signing an autograph. I have so much respect for him. He was a member of the Tri-State.
“I was there the last time he played in the U.S. Open at Oakmont (Country Club, near Pittsburgh). On the 18th hole, the ground literally shook from the applause and cheering for him. It was a moment I’ll never forget.”
Dolci finished out the local season at the Tri-State Tour Championship Monday. Shortly after the Senior Club tourney he plans to head to Florida with his wife Michelle for the winter season. While there he serves as a caddy at Seminole Country Club, a place where the PGA Tour pros migrate, as well.
“It keeps me in shape,” said Dolci of the caddying job. “It’s a lot of work, so I have to be at the top of my game. I’ve had a chance to caddy for most of the pros, from Arnold Palmer, to Rory McElroy to Adam Scott and others. It’s kind of a social time for them. There is so much life down there.”
As a pro, Dolci has been around. He served for a long time at the former Sharon Country Club — which became Avalon at Buhl — as well as St. Jude Country Club, and Tam O’Shanter Golf Course, before his current post.
Dolci admitted he loved being back at Buhl Farm Golf Course, affectionately known as “Dum Dum” and the only free golf course in the world.
“I’m back to where I was as a kid,” he said. “I grew up going around this place and stopping at the old pump hole for water. There have been changes, but there are some great memories of this place.
“We started the little junior tour this year; we had, like, 25 kids. We let ‘em get out and play. The had fun, really. And it helps kids learn the game, something they can do for their whole lives.
“It works out well here for me. With (Avalon at) Buhl there (across the street), I still have some members I teach.”
And he said he enjoys working with Buhl Farm, where Tom Roskos — a golf pro and former national long-drive competitior — serves as executive director.
“They do a great job there,” said Dolci.
And so does Dolci — at every course where he works or plays!