On April 19th, 2021, Don Salanty did what he does four times a week while at Terravita Golf and Country Club, a Troon Privé facility in Scottsdale, Arizona. He teed it up with some buddies. Had a good round going too, until he double bogeyed the 15th and 16th holes. But then he made par on the final two holes for an 88. Far from a career best score, but still pretty impressive for a 90-year-old.
Even better? It was the 1,000th time he has shot his age or better.
The lifelong golfer didn’t started tracking that statistic until he and his wife Sallie moved to Terravita in 2004.
“Steve Mallory (the club’s former director of golf) was the one who kept bugging me about it,” he recalled. “I didn’t know my total, but I had kept scorecards and handicap records, so I could see I was doing it 2 or 3 times out of every 20 rounds. Then it became 3 or 4 times. So when I got to 50 overall the next year, I really started keeping track. But only because Steve bugged me!”
Salanty plays from 150 to 200 rounds a year, primarily at Terravita but also at The Club at Cordillera Club, a Troon-managed facility in Edwards, Colorado, during the summer. “As I’ve gotten older it’s actually been harder to not shoot my age or better,” he admits. “My index is 12.9, so I still play halfway decent. But I’m a testament to endurance.”
It’s a far cry from when he first played the game in the early 1950s as a senior at Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland where he studied engineering. “That’s when I played in a fraternity tournament at a fancy golf club in Pittsburgh and shot 150,” he recalled. “My second round was 127.” And he was hooked.
His only “teacher” all this time has been three-time major winner Tommy Armour, who wrote a book in 1953 called How To Play Your Best Golf All the Time. “That’s how I learned to play,” he said. “I still have a copy of that book. I’ve taken a handful of lessons over the years, but I get that book out once a year and just glance through it. I’ve underlined the parts that are important.”
A Cleveland native, Salanty spent time in Chicago, New York, and Calgary during a career in the crude oil business. He and his wife Sallie are parents of four children: Sheri, Tom, Jim, and their late son Bill.
In addition to having a wife supportive of his golf habit, Salanty points to three reasons for spending so much time playing the game. “One, you’re outside and it’s often beautiful,” he said. “Two, you do get a little bit of exercise. Three, you spend a lot of time with people you really enjoy. Those are the keys to why I keep playing. And there’s always hope on the first tee that you’re going to do a little better this time than the last time.”
He also enjoys the competition, and has regular rounds with the Terravita Men’s Golf Association, the Saturday Bandidos group, and other friends. “We usually have different games going on with multiple wagers, but not for a lot of money. It’s really not the amount that counts, it’s did you win or not? But the toughest competition I have is the one with myself every time I play.”
His improbable journey to 1,000 rounds of shooting his age or better did not go unnoticed around Terravita.
“Everybody was pretty excited, “ said TJ Beam, the club’s Membership Director. “People were talking about how he was at round No. 998, and then he got to No. 999. He was on track to hit 1,000 on our Men’s Golf Association day, but that was a scramble format, so it wouldn’t have counted. Instead he played and did it two days before that. The Men’s Group was really pumped up for him. Don is a great guy.”
At the season-ending dinner for the Terravita Men’s Golf Association, Salanty was saluted with a standing ovation and some gifts. “They’ve all been very supportive and encouraging while keeping track of my progress,” he said. “There’s a lot of people at Terravita that shoot their age or better. I was just forced to keep count by Steve. And I’ve lived a long time. These last five years have been pretty easy to do it.”
“It’s fun to play with him,” said Jeff Bander, a fellow Terravita resident who did just that during round No. 991. “I think one of the reasons why he’s had such success over a long period of time is that he really has a good attitude. If he hits a bad shot he doesn’t really get upset, unlike most of us who start cursing and get mad at ourselves. He kind of ignores those shots and goes on to play the next one. And to see someone that age play so well is inspiring.”
Salanty, who warms up for an hour before every round, prides himself on consistency. “I keep the ball in play and my short game is pretty good. The biggest problem these days is I don’t have a 200-yard shot anymore. But I don’t work out other than playing golf. I just make sure I have the right kind of whisky!”
Health permitting, he’s not done yet.
“Well, if I live to 95 or 96, I can get to 2,000 rounds shooting my age or better,” he said. “That’s a lot of golf, but it keeps me going.”
Tom Mackin is a Contributing Editor for Troon Magazine.