2004: Newsmakers - Rounds pile up for Oregonian

Why does Nelson Haas play so much golf?

In 2003, Haas played 648 rounds. That total was up from 532 rounds in 2002.

The record for rounds played in one year on a regulation course has been in dispute since 1991, when Merle Ball of Sebring, Fla., claimed to have played 1,290 “games” and hit 65,800 range balls – all in the same year.

Golf Digest, which maintains a clearinghouse for golf records, had listed the record as 542 rounds played in 1969 by Ollie Bowers of Gaffney, S.C.

Later, in 1997, Ralph Lapp of Bass, N.C., played 561 rounds.

Ball, then 73, presented verification to Golf Digest, but the sheer magnitude of the feat (3.53 rounds per day for 365 days, plus 180.2 range balls per day) makes it sound impossible.

Then along came Haas.

Haas lives in Prineville, Ore., is 67 years old, has an 11 handicap, plays exclusively on a course that is closed more than a month because of weather, walks rather than rides, amuses himself by looking for lost golf balls, and keeps precise records.

Thus Haas can recite from his personal golf bible: In 2003, he played on 312 days (yes, he averaged more than two rounds per day). He made 599 birdies, four eagles and a single ace. His best score was 73. All this was at Meadow Lakes Golf Course, a demanding layout featuring water on every hole.

Haas knows something about another Bible. A retired pastor with the Worldwide Church of God, he remains active in community programs such as Meals On Wheels. At 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds, he is in superb physical condition.

“We walk almost all the time,” said frequent playing companion David Parmenter. “If somebody else has a cart, we might ride. Otherwise we walk.

“Let me tell you a story. There is a storm fence all around the course. It’s a chain-link fence, maybe 6 feet high. Nelson doesn’t have a whole lot of money, so he pays for his golf by finding golf balls. We’ll come to this storm fence, and he’ll see a golf ball on the other side. Before you can blink, he goes right up over the top of it. There’s no stopping him.”

To set the record straight, Haas donates half his golf balls to a junior golf program at the course. The other half he sells.

And how many balls did he find in 2003 while playing 648 rounds of golf?

“About 6,000,” he answered. “I’ve got a good eye for golf balls.”

Why does he play so much golf?

“Sometimes it’s hard to figure out why he’s so persistent,” said Parmenter. “He’d play in some pretty terrible weather.”

Parmenter is retired from the National Weather Service. “There were days when we’d play 18,” he recalled, “and it was so miserable out there that I would immediately go home. But he would stay and play again.”

Prineville is located almost in the center of Oregon. The elevation is about 3,000 feet, and sunshine is plentiful despite several months of cold temperatures. Haas benefitted from mild weather in 2003. On Jan. 28, he played 106 holes.

“One of my goals was to play 100 holes in one day, and I did it,” Haas said proudly.

“He sets goals in almost everything he does,” said Parmenter. “It’s not for fame or riches or anything like that. He’s a real quiet person. If I had to describe him in one word, it would be gentleman. He’s a gentleman’s gentleman.”

The U.S. Golf Association knows Nelson Haas. For the second year in a row, he received an award for posting more scores than any other golfer in USGA territory, which includes the United States and Mexico. Haas has earned this distinction even though the Oregon Golf Association won’t allow him or anybody else to post scores in December, January, February and first two weeks of March.

“The conditions are so different from mid-summer that the handicaps wouldn’t be accurate,” said OGA executive director Jim Gibbons.

Why does Haas play so much golf?

“We’re pretty much his home,” said Wayne Van Metre, the course superintendent and director of operations at Meadow Lakes. “We’re closed maybe 40 days a year because of the weather.”

Head professional Lee Roberts marveled at the achievement of Haas.

“Everybody is really friendly here, and Nelson doesn’t like to play alone,” Roberts said. “He’ll just walk up to whoever is standing on the first tee and introduce himself.

“It’s not like he runs around the golf course or anything like that. He enjoys being with other people, and he plays seriously.”

Gibbons reflected candidly on the feat.

“I’m kind of envious of him,” he said. “He enjoys golf for what it is – a sport in which you can compete against yourself, do it as much as you want and enjoy the company of others. He’s doing it the ideal way.”

Haas may have to find a few more golf balls this year. The cost of an annual membership at Meadow Lakes, owned by the city of Prineville, was raised for 2004. It is now $725, plus $1 for each round played.

“It’s been a snowy winter,” Haas said softly. “I don’t even know if I’ll get in 500 rounds this year.”

And why does he play so much golf?

“My wife left me,” he finally revealed. “We were divorced. I suppose I do it to keep from being lonely.”

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