Every Thursday afternoon of every summer since 1921, members of the Boston Summer Twilight League have teed it up at some of the area’s more venerable private golf clubs. They have taken their whacks at each other in a highly competitive over-40 league for mid-to-high handicappers in a full-handicap, four-ball league that proudly bills itself as the oldest in the United States.
How does the Boston Summer Twi make such a claim?
“Carefully,’’ said Lou Rodier, 73, captain of the Charles River Country Club team. It is one of eight clubs that comprise the 18-week Summer Twi, including Brae Burn, Oakley, Pine Brook, Wellesley, Weston, Winchester, and Woodland. All but Pine Brook participate in the 18-member Northern Twi, another local four-ball league, founded in 1934, that bills itself as the oldest in the country.
But the Summer Twi has asserted its seniority.
“People mention something about the [Summer Twi] league and they think it’s the Tuesday night bowling league with guys in ripped T-shirts and blue jeans and so forth,’’ Rodier said with a chuckle. “No, these are the captains of industry, shall we say, lawyers and doctors.’’
Every week team captains select 10 players from their rosters of 50-60, and make five four-ball matches. Low handicappers are paired in the first match with the rest of the matches set in corresponding order of player handicaps.
Points are awarded for each hole and the twosome with the most points wins the match and one point for their club. Half points are awarded for ties with a total of five points awarded to the clubs.
An additional point is awarded to the club with the greatest number of hole points, thus making a sum total of six points available.
“Typically, the foursome will sit together at the table and enjoy a dinner after a match,’’ Rodier said. “So, there’s a lot of camaraderie that comes out of it and a lot of terrific long-term relationships have been built. It is very competitive and it is kind of upscale, I will say that.
“It’s not a beer league.’’
While competitive, these are not cutthroat matches. Quite the contrary.
Since its inception, the Boston Summer Twi has promoted a spirit of good sportsmanship among its competitors, many of whom would be eligible for the Champions Tour. But no matter the age difference, or club affiliation, players embrace the same values when it comes to upholding the rules of the game and playing it with proper decorum.
That much was made abundantly evident to Bob Olsen, 92, founder of R.C. Olsen Cadillac in Woburn who retired two years ago as the league’s greatest ambassador when he stepped down as Winchester’s captain of 47 years.
“I was playing in a tournament at Pine Brook and the captain there had a new player he wanted to play,’’ recalled Olsen, a 19-handicapper who may have given up his pilot’s license to fly a Cessna 182 but still retains his license to golf and plans to continue playing in Winchester’s father-son tournament.
“This player, in the first nine holes, he used profanity and threw his clubs and so on and so forth. After nine holes, [the Pine Brook captain] told the player, ‘Go back to the clubhouse; you’re not in the tournament and you’re not in this league anymore. I’ll play the back nine by myself against them.’ ’’
Then there was another act of integrity Olsen witnessed that revealed the true character of the men who participated in the Summer Tri.
“We were on the 18th hole at Pine Brook, a very tricky par 4, and our match was tied,’’ Olsen recalled. “On my second shot, I was just a little bit short of the green. My main opponent from Pine Brook was in a sand trap. So I hit my chip up, pretty close, then he went into the sand trap and hit it.’’
After reaching the green, Olsen said his opponent from Pine Brook emerged from the trap and extended his hand.
“He shook my hand and I said, ‘What are you doing that for?’ and he said, ‘It’s your hole,’ ’’ Olsen said. “I said, ‘Why?’ and he said, ‘I double-hit out of the sand trap.’ Nobody, and I mean nobody, knew that except him. He conceded the hole and he conceded the match.’’
While the members of the Summer Twi succeeded in removing the undesirable element, there is an allowance for colorful characters to add to the rich tapestry of its history.
“It’s a great group of players,’’ said John McKenna, 55, assistant captain at Brae Burn who also serves as the league’s unofficial historian. “I think it’s a group where the competitive fires still burn brightly. Roly West, our captain, is a Hall of Fame candlepin bowler. Hall of Fame in anything is Hall of Fame in my book.’’
West, 68, was inducted in 2005 into the International Candlepin Bowling Association Hall of Fame. “I considered myself the Sandy Koufax of candlepin,’’ West said. “I had a brief career and quit was when I was very young, about 22, and burnt out. I bowled too much when I was too young.’’
West took up competitive fast-pitch softball and played in a typical beer league in Needham and Wellesley for about 12 years with 10 other players, all of whom decided to quit at the same time. “Somebody asked me, ‘Roly, what are you going to do?’ And I said, ‘I’m going to join a golf club,’ but I didn’t play golf,’’ West said.
West took up the game and used it as another way to channel his competitive spirit.
“If you want to be good at something you have to be competitive, don’t you think?’’ West said. “One of the reasons I gave up bowling was I got too mad at myself. It wasn’t any fun.’’
The Summer Twi, however, provided West with a treasure trove of fun memories.
West recalled in 2006 how he paired Thieu Nguyen, a Vietnamese gentleman who stood no taller than 5 feet 5 inches, with another Brae Burn member in the third group of the playoff finals against a twosome from Weston headlined by none other than John Havlicek, the former Celtic great who stood nearly 6-8.
“Thieu was in for 4 and looked like he was going to win the second hole,’’ West said. “And Havlicek had to chip it in to halve the hole, which he did.’’
Nguyen went to retrieve the ball. “Little Thieu walked over to Havlicek, handed it to him, looked up — looked way up — and yelled, ‘Havlicek stole the hole! Havlicek stole the hole!’ ’’
Havlicek’s chip-in, however, did not help Weston steal the title as Brae Burn prevailed as the 2006 Summer Twi champion.
“It’s fun to get out there and still be competitive in your 50s, 60s, and 70s,’’ McKenna said. “It’s nice and it’s amazing how young everyone can get. At the end of the day, there’s always a dinner and, despite how competitive it was, everyone goes in and relives the exploits of the afternoon, but they walk away with more friends than they started with that day.’’